Football is back! (Sort of.)
The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears squared off in the 2018 edition of the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday evening, but if you tuned in expecting to see any of the stars -- or even most of the regular starters and rotation players -- you were almost entirely out of luck.
Joe Flacco didn't play. Neither did any of the Ravens' top three running backs (Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, Kenneth Dixon) or wide receivers (Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead), their two best offensive linemen (Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley), or most of their defense (C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams, Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle, Jimmy Smith, and more). On the other side, Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, four of the Bears' five offensive line starters, and most of their young and improving defense did not play, either. In their place, we got guys like Chase Daniel, Josh Bellamy, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts, Josh Woodrum, Gus Edwards, Chuck Clark, and more.
Oh, and Lamar Jackson. But more on him later.
This was a sloppily-played game right from the start, with each of the first two drives ending in turnovers. Chase Daniel had a pass tipped in the air, which resulted in an interception on the first drive. Robert Griffin III then saw his pass bounce off the hands of Breshad Perriman and into the hands of a waiting Bears defender. It was that kind of night.
The two teams combined for six turnovers in all, with the Bears committing four and the Ravens two. They also combined for 11 penalties, 12 sacks, and just 10 third-down conversions on 32 attempts. If you remove the eight rush attempts by Ravens quarterbacks Griffin, Woodrum, and Jackson, the two teams averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. Worse yet, they averaged just 4.7 yards per pass attempt.
The Ravens led for almost the entire evening and held a double-digit lead for most of the second half. The Bears scored what could have been a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but a two-point conversion attempt failed after Tyler Bray overthrew his receiver in the back of the end zone.
In other words: it was an ugly game from start to finish. Which should perhaps not be that surprising given the lack of starter-quality talent on the field. Still, it was nice to have football back in our lives, even if just for a night.
Here are a few more things to know about the Ravens' 17-16 victory ...
Hall of Famers in the house
Being that this was the Hall of Fame Game, there were several gold jacket wearers in the house for the festivities.
Ravens legend Ray Lewis and Bears legend Brian Urlacher are being inducted as part of the Class of 2018 this weekend, but they weren't the only HOFers on hand. Fellow 2018 class members Brian Dawkins, Bobby Beathard, Jerry Kramer, and Robert Brazile were on hand as well.
Before being introduced to the Canton crowd, Urlacher gave the players on his former team a pregame speech -- after he signed a whole bunch of autographs for them, of course.
Lewis, naturally, did his signature entrance dance one last time.
Not present: Terrell Owens.
Burton scored the first touchdown of the year for the Bears. No, not that Burton; the guy who played a starring role in last year's most important touchdown (hello, Philly Special!). Fullback Daniel Burton, who caught a short pass from Bears backup Chase Daniel to kick off scoring for the 2018 season.
Lamar Jackson's up-and-down debut
Lamar Jackson showed us all why he was a first-round pick, but also why he might not necessarily be ready to start right away. Jackson showed off his speed and agility by escaping the pocket to scramble for positive yardage on each of his first three drop backs in the pros, and he showed nice timing and delivery on some short and intermediate routes as well.
His first touchdown pass, an eight-yarder to fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, came while he dropped down his arm angle to get the ball around the defensive line on a nice timing pattern. That throw came after he juked a couple Bears damn near out of their cleats on a scramble, but also after he forced a throw into traffic and got one of his tight ends lit up, only for the play to result in an unnecessary roughness call.
Jackson was later intercepted when he didn't put enough zip on a throw to the left side of the field, and the corner sat on the route and jumped in front of the intended target.
Jackson ultimately finished just 4-of-10 passing for 33 yards, the touchdown and the interception, while he added five carries for 28 yards. It was a debut that did not exactly tantalize, but did not necessarily disappoint, either.
Javon Wims shows out in second half
The Bears added a whole lot of talent to their pass-catching corps this offseason. Chicago signed Robinson to a three-year, $42 million contract. They inked Trey Burton to a four-year, $32 million pact and came to a four-year, $26 million agreement with Taylor Gabriel. And that was all before drafting former Memphis wideout Anthony Miller at No. 51 overall. But none of those guys played on Thursday night.
The Bears may have found another weapon late in the draft, though. Seventh-round pick Javon Wims, who went No. 224 overall out of Georgia, flashed a lot of talent on Thursday evening, repeatedly hooking up with Tyler Bray on contested catches. Wims leapt over Ravens cornerbacks for jump balls down the sideline, worked the middle of the field on zone patterns, and finished the night with seven grabs for 89 yards on 10 targets.
He barely got any work in the first half, if he was out there at all, so we should certainly temper expectations, but Wims showed nice body control and good hands, and that's a start.
Kamalei Correa stars for Ravens defense
Not many actual stars took the field on Thursday evening, but if this game was any indication (not the safest assumption in the world), then the Ravens may have a late-blooming star on their hands. Third-string linebacker Kamalei Correa, playing the MIKE spot for Baltimore with C.J. Mosley on the sideline, had himself a monster game.
Correa started things off early with a near-pick-six of Chase Daniel.
He would later add five tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble, which led to another turnover.
Correa was a second-round pick back in 2016 but has played only sparingly during his two NFL seasons. He had 11 total tackles, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble during his first two years in the league, but maybe he's got more playmaking skills to show off.
The first preseason game of the year was our first chance to get a look at some of the new NFL rules. That happened right away as one of the most notable changes came on kickoffs. Players on the kicking team are no longer allowed to get a running start on kickoffs, as they have to line up between the 34- and 35-yard line.
The other notable changes came on the catch rule -- where we of course had a review just a few minutes into the game -- and on helmet-to-helmet hits, where there were several controversial rulings throughout the evening. (Even former NFL referee and NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay seemed confounded by some of the calls.)
One of those appeared to be a straight-up bad call at the goal line on a ball where Jackson led his tight end directly into contract, but he appeared to be hit shoulder-to-shoulder. Twitter was ... not thrilled with the call.
Perfectly legal hit by #46. That's a garbage call.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) August 3, 2018
Hurts the rule when you call penalties like that.
If that is a penalty, then you may as well take the pads off. I mean, that’s just dumb.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) August 3, 2018
That penalty at the goal line didn't look like what has been explained...— Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) August 3, 2018
That drive ended with Jackson's aforementioned touchdown pass to Hurst.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the Class of 2018 will take place Saturday night in Canton, OH. The next set of preseason games takes place next Thursday, Aug. 9. The Ravens host the Rams that evening, while the Bears travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.