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Opinion: Stop doubting Lamar Jackson, who has proven he has unique place among NFL's elite QBs

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/20/2021 Mike Jones, USA TODAY

BALTIMORE – Maybe it’s time to stop asking the questions. 

Maybe, after Sunday night’s 36-35 comeback victory over nemesis Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s time to accept the fact that Lamar Jackson is never going to play quarterback in accordance with some Quarterbacking 101 guide. He’s not even going to play the position like Mahomes, regarded by many as the gold standard for this generation of quarterbacks. But the Baltimore Ravens quarterback is, however, fully capable putting his team on his back and carrying it to victories while utilizing a special array of talents that few can duplicate and that defenses will continually struggle to stop. 

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with Patrick Ricard #42 after a rushing touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. © Rob Carr, Getty Images Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with Patrick Ricard #42 after a rushing touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.

That’s what elite quarterbacks do, right? 

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And maybe – just maybe – we can allow that to be enough.

Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium, it certainly was enough for the Ravens, who earned their first victory of the season and achieved that long-elusive win over Mahomes and the Chiefs. 

“We’ve said it before, but don’t think I’ve ever been happier when we’ve said it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “It’s not perfect. It’s not pretty, sometimes, usually, but it is us.”

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The 24-year-old Jackson on Sunday rebounded from two first-quarter interceptions to pass for 239 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 107 yards and two touchdowns to propel the Ravens past Mahomes and the Chiefs, to whom they had lost each of their three meetings since Jackson and Mahomes became starters and rivals.

And although the Ravens star cautioned, “We still ain’t won the Super Bowl,” he did concede, “I’m glad we finally got that monkey off our backs.”

In the game’s opening stretches, those King Kong-sized expectations placed on Jackson’s shoulders ever since his 2019 MVP campaign, and only exacerbated by Mahomes’ heroics for the Chiefs, certainly seemed to be in full effect. 

Jackson had tried his best in the days leading up to his meeting with Mahomes to downplay the magnitude of their meeting.

“It’s not about me and Mahomes,” he said on Wednesday. “Not to me. Probably to everyone else. But it’s the Ravens versus the Kansas City Chiefs.”

But whether he likes it or not, football fans will always view any meeting between these teams as Mahomes vs. Jackson. And despite his attempts to explain his individuality, Jackson will always find himself measured by the standard Mahomes has set for this generation of quarterbacks. 

Jackson conceded after Sunday’s win that he did badly want to rectify that 0-3 mark against Mahomes. Teammates said they also understood their quarterback’s motivation.


Video: Ravens must make 'moral commitment' to Lamar (NBC Sports)

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Perhaps that pressure factored into Jackson’s accuracy issues as he badly overthrew a wide-open Marquise Brown on his first pass attempt of the night. On the very next play, he missed Sammy Watkins and threw the ball right to Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who returned the interception 34 yards for a touchdown. That miscue intensified the pressure, causing Jackson to force a red zone pass into triple coverage, where Mathieu again swooped in and picked it off. 

“I threw two first-quarter interceptions, one for a pick-six, and that pissed me off,” Jackson said. “And then another one in the red zone, and that pissed me off. (I was) trying to force something and make it happen too fast instead of taking our time and driving the ball down the field like we do. I had to stay focused. … I knew my team was looking at me. If I’m messing up, they’re gonna say, ‘Damn, what are you doing?’ But my guys had my back.”

Over the course of the next three quarters, Jackson delivered plays that Baltimore needed to reel the Chiefs in and eventually overtake them.

He ran with determination and elusiveness. He delivered passes from a variety of arm angles, at times willing the ball into tight windows, other times finding wide-open targets because the Chiefs defenders keyed so heavily on Jackson as a running threat.

Jackson and Mahomes traded scores all night, and every time Kansas City appeared poised to pull away, back came the Ravens, drawing within striking distance. After a 46-yard Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce touchdown midway through the third quarter, Baltimore’s defense held the Chiefs scoreless and forced Mahomes into a costly interception.

Meanwhile, Jackson directed two fourth-quarter scoring drives, capping one with a 2-yard touchdown run and the second with a 1-yard scamper that ended with him doing a somersault into the end zone as his team took a 36-35 lead with 3:14 left.

But one point seemed too narrow a margin, and three-plus minutes far too much time left for Mahomes to operate. Just one week earlier, he and Tyreek Hill hooked up for a 75-yard scoring strike on a one-play, 14-second drive.

But Jackson, in a display of leadership, gathered his defensive teammates on the sideline and told them he needed a turnover. Sure enough, Baltimore’s defenders responded as rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh forced Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to fumble just as his team had entered field goal range.

A minute and 26 seconds remained, and Harbaugh put the ball in Jackson’s hands again and again. The Ravens called for a pass, and Jackson threw a dart to Watkins. Then came three straight quarterback runs. And facing fourth-and-1 with 1:05 left, the coach called to his quarterback, “You wanna go for it?” 

“Hell yeah, we’re going for it,” Jackson yelled back. He promptly lined up, took the snap and darted 2 yards up the middle for the game-clinching first down.

Jackson had done it.

He had finally shown that his style of quarterback play is indeed capable of not only keeping pace with the wizardly passing ways of Mahomes and the prolific Chiefs offense, but he also demonstrated that he and the Ravens could overtake that Kansas City juggernaut. 

Ever since he became the Ravens’ full-time starter, Jackson faced questions about his ability to play from behind and deliver more than just scrambling heroics. His mere two career 300-yard passing games and two fourth-quarter comeback victories prior to Sunday night combined to cast doubt on Jackson’s credentials as an elite passer.

But the Ravens have continued to express belief in the quarterback, this offseason surrounding him with more weapons and continuing to tailor their game plans to his strengths. Sunday against the Chiefs, Jackson finally dispelled the doubts that have hung over him for the better part of three seasons. 

Meanwhile, Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down rather than count on his defense to bail the team out, spoke volumes as well. 

“It says that I have complete confidence in Lamar Jackson to make every play,” Harbaugh said. “I wish I had put him in a better position last week to make a play (in the overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders). I’ll just never, ever not have faith in him to make a play in any situation.” 

As Jackson noted, the Ravens still haven’t won a Super Bowl – the ultimate edge Mahomes holds over him. And this was a regular-season win, rather than a legacy-defining postseason victory. 

However, with his performance against the Chiefs, Jackson showed his mettle while rebounding from an ugly first quarter to direct a dramatic comeback victory against one of the most feared squads in the NFL.

His growth as a passer was on display, but so too was the Ravens' commitment to still allowing Jackson to torment defenses with his legs. 

Maybe it’s time to stop asking about when Jackson will take that next leap as an elite level passer. Whether with his arm or his legs, Jackson proved himself as the ultimate weapon – and elite in his own way.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Stop doubting Lamar Jackson, who has proven he has unique place among NFL's elite QBs

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