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All eyes on Lamar Jackson as Ravens welcome Steelers

Dec 4, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) talks with team staff on the sideline in the second quarter after being sacked against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Will he, or won’t he?

That’s the question concerning Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson ahead of the Ravens’ Sunday night home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackson missed his 10th straight practice Wednesday due to a knee injury that has kept him out of the past three games.

Without elaborating further, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he was optimistic that Jackson would play again this season. But missing the first practice in which the team formally introduces the game plan isn’t a good sign for a Week 17 return.

Jackson got hurt in Baltimore’s 10-9 home win against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4, and he missed the last three quarters of that game. The hope was that he would return for the season’s first matchup with Pittsburgh the following week, but Tyler Huntley started that game, as well as the next two.

But the Baltimore offense has been a mere imitation of itself without Jackson providing electrifying runs and the occasional deep throw. The Ravens (10-5) have averaged just 11.5 points per game over the past four games, though they won three of those contests to seal an AFC playoff berth.

In a 17-9 home win over the Atlanta Falcons last week, Baltimore had 184 rushing yards — 99 from Gus Edwards — three short field goals from Justin Tucker and a defensive effort that kept the Falcons out of the end zone.

“To clinch the playoffs with two games left is pretty remarkable. It’s not something that’s done too often,” Harbaugh said.

However, if the Ravens are to do anything beside just making a playoff appearance, they probably will need Jackson on the field. Huntley has averaged less than 9 yards on his 61 completions, and his touchdown pass last week was his first in 91 attempts this season.

Meanwhile, the Steelers (7-8) remain alive in the playoff hunt entering Sunday but could be eliminated from playoff contention before kickoff if Miami wins at New England. Still, the opportunity to beat their archrival would provide enough motivation in case postseason hopes are snuffed out.

The Steelers are trying to finish on a high note and avoid a rare sub-.500 season. They rallied late on Christmas Eve to top the host Las Vegas Raiders 13-10 as rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett found fellow rookie George Pickens for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds left.

It was the fifth win in seven games for Pittsburgh, which has only lost to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore in that span. Pickett missed most of the Baltimore game after sustaining a first-quarter concussion as the result of a hit from Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith.

Defense has fueled the late-season surge. The Steelers, who last finished a season with a losing record in 2003, have allowed just 17.4 points per game in the past seven contests, and that includes allowing 37 to Joe Burrow and Cincinnati on Nov. 20.

“We’re still in the hunt,” said defensive lineman Cam Heyward, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week after collecting seven tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one pass defended against the Raiders. “I like to think we just keep getting better and better as the weeks go on.”

–Field Level Media