Sports

Inside the incredible numbers that define success for Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The football world is still trying to figure out what label to put on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s incredible comeback in Monday night’s 31-25 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Some saw it as a Tom Brady-like performance in regards to poise and precision. Others have compared Jackson to Michael — Jordan, not Vick — because of how he took over the game.

Colts owner Jim Irsay believes Jackson’s game should be placed in a class by itself, tweeting: “Lamar Jackson’s performance may have been the single greatest performance in the NFL’s 100 year history.”

Jackson answered questions that had lingered over him throughout his four-year career. He carried the Ravens with his arm, throwing for a franchise-best 442 yards. He showed amazing accuracy, completing 86% of his throws (a NFL record for a 40-pass game). And he delivered a monumental comeback, rallying Baltimore from 19 points down in the second half.

“Magical — that’s the only way I can describe it,” Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams said.

Before Jackson goes for an encore performance Sunday against the Chargers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), here’s a look at how his historic performance will affect the narrative surrounding him in the future:

Has Jackson finally silenced the critics?

Stat: Jackson is the only quarterback in at least the last 20 seasons to be ranked in the top 10 in passing and rushing through his team’s first five games. Jackson ranks No. 5 in passing and No. 8 in rushing. Randall Cunningham (1990) is the only quarterback to finish a season in the top 10 in passing and rushing, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Early in Jackson’s career, the criticism motivated him. Remember his “not bad for a running back” retort after he threw five touchdown passes in the 2019 season opener in Miami.

Now, it seems like Jackson has been able to close out the chatter about whether he can become an effective passer in the NFL.

“I don’t know if they’re going to stop talking about it,” Jackson said this week. “But all I know is my focus is on winning, and like I said before, [to] keep getting better. I never care [about] what they’re saying.”

“This league is full of superstars, but he’s certainly at the top of the list.”

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley
on Lamar Jackson

Jackson is right that the questions about him throwing the ball persisted even after he led the NFL in touchdown passes in his 2019 MVP season and recorded two games with a perfect passer rating. The difference this year is his passing is now the main act of the offense. His ability to throw outside the numbers, deep downfield and inside the red zone is why Baltimore ranks No. 1 in total offense.

Unlike his first three seasons, the Ravens don’t have a dominant rushing attack, outside of Jackson scrambling. After losing its top two running backs — J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards — to season-ending knee injuries, Baltimore has not gotten much from Latavius Murray, Ty’Son Williams, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell.

Jackson’s arm is going to be the reason the Ravens make noise the rest of the season, which should quiet those who doubted him.

Is this the best of Jackson?

Stat: 850 players have either gained 300 yards rushing or thrown for 1,500 yards in a five-game span in NFL history. Jackson is the only one to do both in a five-game span.

The Ravens were hoping this would be the year Jackson would take the next step as a passer. But it’s been more of a big leap so far.

How much better can Jackson get?

“I really haven’t seen my peak yet,” Jackson said. “It’s still early in the season.”

It’s realistic to expect Jackson to play better, and it’s not all about Jackson’s growth. First-round pick Rashod Bateman could provide another target for Jackson in the passing game on Sunday after he missed the first five games with a groin injury. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is expected to return at some point after being sidelined since the season opener with an ankle injury.

“He’s just scratching the surface on how good he can be,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He’s still 24 years old. I mean, this is crazy – what he’s capable of doing. I know he’s notorious for what he can do with his legs, and I feel like he got a lot of disrespect on his arm talent, and I think a lot of people are eating their words right now, and it feels good to see.”

Jackson is the youngest starting quarterback in the AFC North.

Has Jackson catapulted himself back into the NFL MVP race?

Stat: 18 teams have produced fewer total yards than Jackson’s 1,860 this season. Through five games, Jackson has accounted for 84% of the Ravens’ total yards. On Monday night, he was responsible for 499 of Baltimore’s 523 yards of offense.

Since the start of the season, Jackson’s odds to win NFL MVP shortened, but he finds himself behind more players.

His odds improved from 16-to-1 to 10-to-1 but he now trails five quarterbacks, instead of four. He is behind Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert.

The Ravens’ opponents might handicap the MVP race differently.

Lamar Jackson is probably the most dynamic player when he gets the ball in his hand,” Chargers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Bosa said. “He’s the best to do it.”

Jackson’s numbers through five games are comparable to his 2019 MVP season.

Through five games in 2019, Jackson produced 1,579 total yards, 12 total touchdowns and a 67.8 Total QBR. Through five games this year, he’s totaled 1,860 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 61.7 passer rating.

“You’re seeing a player that never played in the NFL,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “There have been some guys similar, but there hasn’t been anybody like Lamar Jackson. The thing about Lamar is there is danger on every snap. This league is full of superstars, but he’s certainly at the top of the list.”

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