Lamar Jackson. Have yourself a night, young man.
Down 22-3 late in the 3rd, after 3 quarters of sloppy play, the Baltimore Ravens seemed out of this game. The defense couldn’t get stops, the running game was going nowhere, and the Ravens had failed to convert any 3rd downs. The deficit itself was daunting enough, but the play up to that point made it feel even larger.
Worse still, the game had been dedicated to Haloti Ngata, a team legend. Ngata was forced to watch the depressing performance instead of celebrating a victory with his family on a night made for him.
And then Lamar Jackson happened.
After a short two minute drive, Lamar threw a 40 yard bomb to Marquise Brown. The score was now 22-9 with time left in the third and seemed to jolt the Ravens’ offense awake. When the Colts predictably drove down the field and made a field goal to make it 25-9, Lamar got right back to work in the 4th.
Circumstance forced him to drop back snap after snap, and he responded with darts across the field to Mark Andrews. He checked down when he had to, ran when he had to, and punished the Colts down the field. Another touchdown and 2-point conversion later, and this was suddenly a one-score game. 25-17. The drive only took two and a half minutes off the clock.
Then the Colts started driving again, this time into field goal range. The Ravens’ defense still had no answers for anything Indianapolis did on offense. However, a huge Calais Campbell blocked field goal meant the Colts got 0 points for their drive. The game was still winnable.
Just like that, the Ravens drove down the field again behind Lamar’s impeccable throwing. The Colts’ entire defense seemed exhausted at this point, understandable given they had to chase receivers and worry about Lamar running every single play. With barely any time left on the regulation clock, Lamar found Mark Andrews for their second touchdown connection. 25-23. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game had somehow gone to overtime.
Once the Ravens won the toss, everyone seemed to know the game was over. Lamar even said so himself. And everyone who thought that was proven right. The final drive of the game was methodical, featuring checkdowns to running backs. The final play came on a dart to Hollywood Brown just inside the endzone. 31-25.
On a night where seemingly nothing was going the Ravens’ way, Lamar Jackson stepped up like few quarterbacks in the game can. In the second half and overtime alone, he was 29-32 for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a new career high in passing yards at 442. He accounted for all but 19 of the Ravens’ total offensive yards. The first QB to ever complete 85% of his passes in a 400 yard performance.
The list of records and mind-boggling statistics all point to one reality; Lamar Jackson delivered an all-time performance with his arm to bring a listless team back from the grave. His heroics also brought the Ravens to 4-1 on the year and atop the AFC North standings.
Such comebacks are the hallmark of franchise quarterbacks. In the truest sense of the title “Most Valuable Player,” Jackson stands out as an anomaly. No Quarterback in the game has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total offense. After games like last night’s, it’s also clear he can single-handedly win games for his team even when the rest of the team isn’t playing well. There is a compelling argument to be made that removing Lamar Jackson from the Ravens would hurt them more than removing any other player from any other roster.
Despite his performance last night, there are also fair reasons why Lamar should not be the frontrunner in the MVP race. The largest factor is the way this Ravens team is 4-1.
While they’ve had an impressive win over the Chiefs, their remaining wins have come against less than stellar competition in the Lions, Broncos, and now Colts. With the Chiefs struggling, the Ravens’ victory over them looks less impressive by the week. Excluding the Broncos game, every win the Ravens have was nail-biting until the final snap. And when you factor in the improbabilities of their victories- a fumble from a running back that hadn’t fumbled since college, a missed delay of game, a 66-yard field goal- these wins look less and less definitive. Realistically, the Ravens could be 1-4.
Winning close games against poor competition is not what MVP quarterbacks do. To win the award, you need statement wins against good teams. Lamar himself benefitted from this during his first MVP season; his wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football catapulted him from breakout star to unanimous MVP. Thus far this year, Lamar lacks such a statement win.
The second largest factor is the other Quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady is ageless, Justin Herbert has been spectacular, Josh Allen has regained his 2020 form, and Kyler Murray is playing playground football on the NFL. All four of those Quarterbacks’ teams can match or exceed the Ravens’ team record, but their wins have been more decisive and against arguably better competition. While the Ravens squeaked by the Chiefs, the Bills dominated them. It’s telling that all four teams are above the Ravens in the latest NFL power rankings according to ESPN. The Ravens are also the lowest-ranked 4-1 team in the NFL in that poll.
So…is Lamar MVP or isn’t he?
The short answer is “yes, but no.” The long answer is “he’s probably the most valuable player in the NFL, but the award factors in more than that. It factors in team success, who a team beats, how they beat them, and even things like how “new” the player is. Lamar benefitted from being the “new” superstar in 2019; now, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert get the same benefit against him. And right now, when factoring in all of the common criteria for MVP, the league will likely give it to Kyler Murray for his breakout campaign”.
However, the NFL season is long. Longer than ever, actually. There’s still a lot of time for the MVP race to become solidified. If Lamar continues this level of play, he’ll remain on the voters’ radar all season. Even if he doesn’t, one thing is perfectly clear; Lamar Jackson put the “M” in “MVP” last night.