FOXBORO, Mass. – Hop on Twitter and search “Lamar Jackson first.” You’ll find a lot of results.
The Baltimore Ravens quarterback is the first player in NFL history with back-to-back games of over 100 rushing yards and at least three touchdown passes. He’s the first player in the Super Bowl era with 10-plus passing touchdowns and 100-plus rushing yards in the first three games of a season. He joins Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham as the only players in NFL history to throw four touchdown passes and rush for 100 yards in a single game.
Jackson is completely unfazed by this. He says he’s just trying to win games playing “Lamar football.” It sounds simple, but Jackson is the only player in NFL history who can play “Lamar football,” and his style of play extends beyond his world-class speed, big arm and tight-window throws. And Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made sure to point that out multiple times after his team's 37-26 win over the New England Patriots in Week 3.
Jackson completed 18-of-29 passes for 218 yards with four touchdowns and an interception and rushed 11 times for 107 yards with another score in the victory, helping Baltimore come back from a 20-14 deficit. The 2019 NFL MVP now leads the league with a 119.0 passer rating and 10 touchdown passes while having the NFL’s second-highest average depth of target. He’s averaging 9.3 yards per carry and already has five rushing plays of over 15 yards. He has 12 total touchdowns in 12 quarters of play this season.
“He’s one of a kind,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said Sunday. “He’s in an ‘elite division;’ there’s no one who’s really able to do what he can do for a team.”
A league source said after watching Sunday’s game that “elite-level quarterbacks are the greatest asset in the league,” and that Jackson’s performance was a prime example.
Jackson faces fierce competition from Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and other talented players, but his unique style of play puts him right in the mix for NFL MVP for his performances through three games.
“You never do get used to it because he plays his way, and he's kind of determined to play his way, but his way is winning football,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said after the game Sunday. “It's fundamentally sound quarterback play. He's running the show out there. He's making the checks. He's managing the clock. All the things that you would say an operator or a manager does, he's doing all those things, too. He's doing those things, and he's making plays sometimes when the play doesn't make itself.”
Harbaugh was clearly making a point that it’s not all just physical tools allowing Jackson to succeed. He’s mastered the mental aspect of the game, as well, and it can be easy to overlook that because he is so physically gifted.
“If there's people out there that doubt that at this point in time, I don't know what to say to them,” Harbaugh said. “I don't think we can help them at this point.”
Jackson made two big-time throws and made only one turnover-worthy play, pending review, in Sunday’s win — all while playing behind a fourth-string left tackle. Ronnie Stanley has yet to play this season while still recovering from an ankle injury, Ja’Wuan James tore his Achilles in Week 1 and third-string left tackle Patrick Mekari went down in the first quarter of Sunday’s win, giving way to rookie 6-foot-8, 380-pound Daniel Faalele. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter who’s in protection. Jackson confounds pass-rushers.
“He’s tough,” Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said after the game, ready to recount tales of when he just missed on two sacks. “I was in five-tech one time, and I beat the tackle around and came free, and I should have just broke down. I’m not running down Lamar. I also had one when I bull-rushed the guard right in him and missed him on a one-hand sack. He’s special.”
And it’s easy to see Jackson’s unique traits on the field. He glides down the field at a different speed than the rest of his peers on long runs. He fit the ball perfectly into tight windows on touchdown passes to wide receiver Devin Duvernay and tight end Mark Andrews. He baits defenders, dances around the pocket and waits for his receivers to break free. And if they can’t, he’ll scramble for a long gain. But Harbaugh is seeing improvement from his quarterback off the field, as well, all while Jackson was negotiating his own contract extension with the Ravens’ front office this offseason and went into the year uncertain about his future with no deal beyond this year.
If the Ravens and Jackson don’t reach a contract extension after the season, then Baltimore will almost certainly place the franchise tag on their quarterback. And if they can’t reach a deal after the 2023 season, they’d be smart to franchise him again.
“His process as a quarterback in terms of preparation has taken another step,” Harbaugh said. “He's always been going this way. That's another step in that direction. I think he's really kind of gotten to a point where he's really kind of found himself in terms of his quarterback preparation process.”
Jackson credited it to being more mature and expanding his knowledge of the game.
Harbaugh expounded on it further.
“I just think it's a natural next step in terms of like finding his rhythm during the week, what he's looking at, how he studies defenses, how he breaks defenses down,” Harbaugh said. “It's not a lightbulb thing. It's an evolution of studying the game that you see quarterbacks go through. He's still a young quarterback. You watch him play, does it look like he understands what he's going up against and what he's dealing with out there? Right, and that's the result of that process and that work effort that he's putting in. It's really impressive.”
Jackson was great last season, but through three games he’s thrown for just six fewer touchdowns than he recorded in 12 games last year. He’s already matched his 2022 total for rushing touchdowns. And it helps that Baltimore has stayed slightly healthier this season, but he’s still doing this with a depleted receiver corps and no Stanley or Gus Edwards. J.K. Dobbins only returned from a torn ACL at running back this week. Faalele was forced into the game early.
During Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s week of preparation before Sunday’s game, he was asked by a reporter if Jackson had answered questions about whether he could be a pocket quarterback since entering the NFL as the final pick of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
“Without a doubt,” said Belichick, who had two shots at taking Jackson in the first round of that draft. “It’s the type of the player, the MVP type of candidate. I think he’s more than answered them.
“But, we’ll see what his contract is, that will answer them.”
It’s fair to say Belichick and the Patriots helped raise the price on “Lamar football” Sunday.