Lamar Jackson has only been playing in the National Football League (NFL) for three seasons. He’s only 23. His dazzling athletic skills have often been compared to scrambler extraordinaire Michael Vick. Vick gave people the opportunity to witness something they had never seen before at the quarterback position. Believe it or not, Jackson does it a little bit better.
The Tennessee Titans learned that lesson in the AFC Wildcard matchup on Sunday. Jackson went for 179 yards passing but then lit up the Titans with his legs, rushing for 136 yards and an electrifying 48-yard touchdown run that tilted the game in Baltimore’s favor, even though it was early in the game.
Last season, Jackson and the Ravens were the badasses of the AFC before they met up with Tennessee in an AFC divisional round playoff game. Even though he threw the ball for 365 yards and ran for another 143 yards, Jackson could not complete the job to get his first playoff victory. As a result, the Ravens got embarrassed in a 28-12 defeat.
Jackson and the Ravens had a whole year to think about that painful loss. If that defeat was difficult to absorb then the Ravens losing 30-24 in overtime in Week 11 this season, was like pouring salt on the wound. Round three would end up differently as Jackson willed Baltimore to a 20-13 win.
“It feels good,” Jackson said after the game in a postgame press conference. “I knew we had the capabilities of doing that. There’s always going to be naysayers no matter what. I appreciate the win, hard-fought team victory. They played great as well. Tennessee played a pretty good game on both sides of the ball, but I’m grateful for the win. You know, that’s all God.”
Jackson’s versatility as the scariest dual-threat quarterback in the NFL was cemented in his game-changing touchdown run.
With Baltimore down 10-3, Jackson went back to pass on a Ravens’s drive in the second quarter. When the option was taken away, Jackson did the instinctive thing: run. Jackson darted up the middle of Tennessee’s defense, put one Titan defender’s jaw in the turf with a juke, and then outran everyone else to the endzone.
“I saw a lane and I took advantage of it, and you know, it was off to the races and it just happened to be a touchdown,” Jackson said.
That one spectacular dash to the goal line symbolizes the specialness of Jackson.
“That’s one of the best runs I’ve ever seen,” Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s the best run I’ve ever seen by a quarterback. I think it’s greater than the Cincinnatti run he had a year or two ago. That’s just a phenomenal play…it just got us back in the game. We needed points. It got us back in the game.”
What Jackson is doing to the rest of the NFL is simply stupefying. Jackson is Michael Vick times 10. Now get a load of that. What Vick did on the football field was something many people had never seen before. Vick left people’s mouths to drop when he was running around the field tearing up the NFL with his electrifying leg dances around some of the league’s best defenders.
Well, can you imagine a more improved version of Vick, somebody who can flat out embarrass you with his arm as well and then destroy your reputation as a defender with his legs?
That guy is Jackson, only three years into his career as a pro. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has basically made a mockery of NFL defenses since he came into the league. Remember during Jackson’s rookie season? Many people thought Jackson was nothing more than a flash in the pan, another dual-threat bust. Yeah, well, things have changed. In 2018, Jackson was just getting his feet wet in how to handle NFL defenses.
His five touchdown performance against the blitz-happy New York Jets on Thursday Night Football only put the hammer down on his case as the league’s best player during his MVP run in 2019.
Those MVP chants Jackson was getting is well-deserved. That’s because there has been no one (not even Vick) who has done what this 22-year-old second-year player from Louisville University has done in the NFL. Against the Jets, Jackson shattered Vick’s record (1,039 yards) for yards gained in a season. His final numbers for the 2019 season was 1,206 yards rushing in just 15 games.
By throwing for five touchdowns in a game as he did against the Jets, Jackson took over the NFL lead in passing touchdowns with 33 with two more games to be played in the regular season. He wound up the season tossing 36 touchdowns and passing for 3,127 yards. It was Jackson’s third time that season that he threw for five touchdowns in a game. Want more proof of Jackson’s Most Valuable Player status? Here are a couple of examples.
When it comes to running the football, Jackson finished the season as the No. 6 rusher in the entire NFL. He has rushed for 100 yards or more multiple times. Now that’s sick. Even more numbing about Jackson’s play this season is what he has been able to do “in the pocket.” So far, Jackson has completed 66 percent of his passes, posted a 112 QBR and only tossed 6 interceptions.
As the fifth quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft is standing head and shoulders above his peers. While the other guys have gotten the hype and a steady flow of endorsements (Baker Mayfield, where are you?), Jackson is producing on the field. His ballclub is winning, too. In 2018, Jackson led the Ravens to a playoff run after being injected midway into the season as a starter.
For the 2019 season, all Jackson did was to guide the Ravens to an NFL North Division title this season and help Baltimore clinch another postseason berth and clinching the best record in the NFL, Jackson and the Ravens dominated some of the league’s best teams along the way. Jackson and the Ravens kicked the craps out of the New England Patriots and their top overall defense in a 37-20 win.
Jackson ran all over the field (101 yards) against the San Francisco 49ers in the Ravens’ 20-17 victory. Jackson and the Ravens then showed up and showed out at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, stomping all over the Rams in the process of a 45-6 Monday Night Football win.
In short, Jackson has taken over the NFL. That’s a good thing for the league. In an age where elder signal-callers like Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Ben Rothensiberger are a few moments away from hitting the post-football planning, Jackson has become the revelation the NFL has needed.
Jackson’s play has taken back the negative narrative from the last few seasons with the Colin Kaepernick saga and just some bad football from the quarterback position. Jackson has dramatically changed all of that with his legs and his right arm.
That was then. This is now. Jackson and the Ravens flamed out against Tennessee after his wonderous 2019 season. The 2020 season was rocky at the beginning. Jackson didn’t match the flair and the numbers he put up a year ago. He completed 64 percent of his passing while passing for 2,727 yards and 27 touchdowns. And for the second consecutive season, Jackson broke the 1,000-yard mark (1,005) in rushing.
What matters now is that Jackson snatched his first -playoff game win since he’s been in the league. So all the haters that have been critical of Jackson losing his only two postseason appearances prior to the Ravens upsetting the Titans, can now go back into woods somewhere and be quiet.
“I wasn’t really worried about it. It’s my third year in the league,” said Jackson. “I don’t really care what people say. I’m just happy we got the win and then move on to the next round.”
The Ravens, as a team, are on a roll, having won their last six games, including the victory against Tennessee. Next up for Jackson and the Ravens are the Buffalo Bills. It’s another chance for Jackson to showcase what Lamarball is.
I write about sports, racial and social justice, culture, and everything else in between. Beat writer for the Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and Clippers. Part of the inaugural Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship class. Howard University alum.