Thu, 01 Oct 2020

MVP Lamar Jackson Picks Up Where He Left Off

Baltimore Ravens
14 Sep 2020, 23:25 GMT+10

Ryan Mink

Those expecting a Lamar Jackson regression are going to have to wait.

The reigning MVP picked up where he left off Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, throwing three touchdowns en route to a 38-6 blowout of the Cleveland Browns.

Jackson didn't do it with his legs. He carved up the Browns with surgical passing, completing 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards. He hit them deep, intermediate and short, outside the numbers and inside them too.

Jackson started his 2019 MVP campaign with a perfect passer rating and five touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins. He finished just shy of it at 152.1 in his 2020 debut.

"Lamar Jackson just played a phenomenal game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He just played a top-level game in every single way and I think he probably was the difference in the game."

There's been a lot of talk this offseason about how Jackson could possibly replicate such a magical 2019 campaign in which he broke the single-season quarterback rushing record and led the NFL in touchdown passes.

Jackson's continued maturation as a passer - from his mechanics to his deepened understanding of the Ravens' offense and opponents' defensive schemes - gives Baltimore optimism that his best is still yet to come. He's is just 23 years old after all. Jackson said he does feel like he's a better passer now than when he was as a rookie.

"It's just dedication," he said. "Coach 'Urb [Quarterbacks coach James Urban] is doing a great job - the QB drills, being consistent, even though sometimes, we might just repeat it, just to keep that dialed in in our heads and keep my body dialed in."

Back-to-back drives in the first half gave us a reminder that Jackson can not only run it back as MVP, but be even better.

First was a 99-yard touchdown drive that was the first the Ravens have ever recorded in a home game. Jackson hit Miles Boykin with a 25-yard gain, then connected with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown on a 21-yarder to get it going. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins finished it off with a 4-yard score.

Jackson's most impressive drive came just before halftime when the Ravens broke the game open with a seven-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that took just 35 seconds. Baltimore took over possession at their own 31-yard line with just 41 seconds left. Jackson connected on four straight completions, pushing the Ravens to the 9-yard line.

That's when he found a familiar, favorite target in tight end Mark Andrews. That connection hasn't waned either. Jackson fired a pass to the back of the end zone to Andrews for a 9-yard score that gave Baltimore a 24-6 halftime lead and it was basically a wrap from there.

Andrews finished with five catches for 58 yards and two scores, including a spectacular one-handed catch to cap the Ravens' first drive of the 2020 season with a touchdown. He said he has not been part of many drives as efficient as that two-minute drill at the end of the first half.

"The consistency on that drive was incredible," Andrews said. "[Jackson] is obviously the best player in the world, and his arm reflects that. It reflected it last year and it's this year as well. But he's going to continue to grow, and he has."

As has been talked about all offseason, the threat level of the Jackson-Marquise "Hollywood" Brown connection has been elevated now that Brown is finally healthy. Brown had five catches for 101 yards in the first half alone, including a gorgeous 47-yard bomb that Brown caught in stride.

"You could tell he's a lot more comfortable and he's a lot more pinpoint with it," Brown said. "It's our job to be to the spot because that's where he's putting it. He's doing a nice job throwing it away from defenders, throwing it where you can catch and run."

Dating back to last year, Jackson has now thrown at least three touchdown passes in four straight regular-season games, which tied Vinny Testaverde's record from 1996, the Ravens' inaugural season. It's Week 1, and we're already getting more records.

What's more important than the records, however, is how Jackson's development as a passer will present problems for opponents. The Browns were intent on slowing down Baltimore's rushing attack, which posted just 107 yards, led by Jackson's 45. If opponents sell out to take that away, Jackson will pick them apart.

"I think it just shows you that we can do both phases - we can run it and we can pass it," Brown said. "It's going to be hard for each team to game plan for us."

"The misconception of the offense is that we're only a run-first team," Andrews added. "We've shown time and time again that we can throw the ball. We use the run game to throw off that. We're going to be dangerous in the pass game."

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