OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Lamar Jackson is peeling off eye-opening runs and passing to perfection, and the Baltimore Ravens are ringing up touchdowns aplenty while indiscriminately beating unbeaten and winless teams.
Seems like coach John Harbaugh knew what he was doing when he rewrote the playbook this past offseason to accommodate the multifaceted Jackson, whose instinctive jaunts and precise throws have helped the Ravens (7-2) peel off five straight wins and move into contention for a top seed in the playoffs.
One week after handing the New England Patriots their first loss in a 37-20 rout, Baltimore hammered the Bengals 49-13 . Quickly dismissing the notion there would be a letdown against lowly Cincinnati, Jackson guided the Ravens to touchdowns on their first three possessions before finishing up with a sensational 47-yard run and a perfect quarterback rating.
Jackson, who is in the conversation as the NFL's Most Valuable Player, appears to be playing at peak efficiency. Then again, he's only started 16 games as a pro, so who's to say there isn't room for improvement?
"He's playing really great. Not to say he can't play better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "I think Lamar is all in on getting better. That's all he thinks about. And then you see it pay off, as a coach you're fired up about it. You're excited about it. And sometimes you're amazed by it."
There's seemingly no limit to the depth of Baltimore's revamped playbook. On Sunday, offensive coordinator Greg Roman unveiled a play featuring three former Heisman Trophy winners : Jackson, backup quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Mark Ingram. Jackson took off around right end and pitched to Griffin, who finished for a 12-yard gain.
"Guys like to have fun," Harbaugh said. "We have a lot of athletes. (RG3) is an athlete. Why wouldn't we have stuff like that if we can?"
Harbaugh and Roman's plan to build an offense around Jackson is thus far working exactly as planned.
"We're happy that we're having success with it," Harbaugh said. "It's gotten us to this point, where we are with our record."
The offense, and that's a rarity for a team traditionally built on defense. Jackson went 15 for 17 with three touchdown passes and finished with a 158.3 rating, the highest possible. He also hit 158.3 in the opener against Miami and is the second quarterback in NFL history to do it twice in a season, joining Ben Roethlisberger, who did it in 2007.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Bengals rushed for 157 yards, but that's partially because the Ravens lost defensive tackle Michael Pierce to an ankle injury. Brandon Williams "took it upon himself to get the run stopped," Harbaugh said, but Joe Mixon still totaled 114 yards on the ground.
Ravens CB Marcus Peters took an interception 89 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals. Combined with Marlon Humphrey's 70-yard run with a fumble against New England and Peters' 67-yard interception return against Seattle on Oct. 20, Baltimore is the first team since 1970 to record a defensive touchdown of at least 65 yards in three consecutive games.
Defensive end Zach Sieler actually played pretty well on Sunday, especially with Pierce out, but he twice missed an opportunity to collar rookie Ryan Finley for a sack.
"He's got to get him," Harbaugh said. "I don't know what it's like to be a 300-pound guy chasing a quarterback, but he'll get his share. He plays really hard. It will pay off for him."
Harbaugh isn't sure if Pierce will be ready to play this Sunday against visiting Houston, but he is confident the 340-pounder won't be out for long.
"I would say he's day to day right now. Nothing serious," Harbaugh said. "It won't be a long-term injury, which is good news, based on the MRI today."
2 — The number of games Baltimore leads second-place Pittsburgh by in the AFC North. The Ravens also have a victory in hand over the Steelers. Cleveland stands four games back.
Riding their longest winning streak since 2006, the Ravens host Deshaun Watson and the Texans on Sunday.
"No greater challenge than Deshaun Watson," Harbaugh said. "Right at the top."