Ahead of the 2023 NFL regular season I joined my dear friends RJ Ochoa, JP Acosta to make some season predictions on an episode of Monday Football Monday. Among our list of predictions was who would be the MVP at the end of the season, and JP made his case for Lamar Jackson.
It certainly looks like he nailed that prediction. It is around the one-hour mark in the above-linked episode if you want to hear the receipts.
Jackson all but put both hands on the trophy with his performance Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, as the Ravens quarterback completed 18 of 21 passes for 321 yards and 5 touchdowns, without throwing an interception. With the victory, the Ravens locked up the top spot in the AFC, and guaranteed that the road to Super Bowl LVIII goes through M&T Bank Stadium.
“He played a perfect football game in terms of the passing game,” head coach John Harbaugh said of his quarterback.
In fact, Jackson may have secured the MVP award because he was perfect the past two weeks, in Baltimore’s two biggest games of the season. On Christmas night the Ravens traveled to San Francisco to take on the 49ers, and MVP candidate Brock Purdy. While the San Francisco quarterback struggled, throwing four interceptions in his worst game of the season, Jackson shined. The Baltimore signal caller hit on 23 of 35 passes for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco.
Which means that when you add in his performance against Miami, Jackson completed 41 of 56 passes for 573 yards and 7 touchdowns, without a single interception. He also added 13 rushing attempts for 80 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per attempt.
For those who believe in NFL Passer Rating, that works out to a 145.31 rating in those two games, against two of the league’s best teams.
In fact, if you want to bolster the argument that Jackson was at his best against the league’s best, consider this. The Ravens have played nine games against teams currently in playoff position. In those nine games, Jackson completed 166 of 249 passes (66.7%) for 2,292 yards and 19 touchdowns, with only 4 interceptions. He also has 85 rushing attempts for another 506 yards, and 4 touchdowns, in those games.
Sunday against the Dolphins was perhaps Jackson’s perfect closing argument. He was masterful against Miami, punishing their defense on a number of downfield passing concepts to to help the Ravens break the game open. There was this slot fade to Odell Beckham Jr., where Jackson navigates a bit of pressure in the pocket before putting this through in the absolutely perfect spot for his receiver:
Gus Edwards scored from one yard out on the next snap to give Baltimore a 14-10 lead, their first of the afternoon.
Moments later, Jackson connected with rookie WR Zay Flowers on this vertical route, as the quarterback takes advantage of a bust in the secondary:
The Dolphins are in zone coverage, and the outside cornerback loses track of Flowers, and that creates a huge opportunity for the Ravens. Jackson takes advantage, connecting with the rookie wide receiver on a deep throw downfield, which Flowers finishes off for a 75-yard touchdown.
But while these plays stand out, it was Jackson’s connection with Isaiah Likely later in the second quarter that serves as the exclamation point. With the Ravens holding a 21-13 lead after the two minute warning, Baltimore kept their offense on the field on 4th and 7 at the Dolphins’ 35-yard line.
Miami brings pressure, and Jackson faces an unblocked defender off the right edge. Jackson does just enough to avoid the sack, and is able to get enough on a throw to Likely breaking towards the right sideline, putting that in the perfect spot as well:
35-yards later, the Ravens were in the end zone, and Baltimore was in control.
The MVP race this season has taken a number of twists and turns, and until the holiday season various different candidates put forth their best case. Christian McCaffrey and Brock Purdy made their arguments from the West Coast, and Dak Prescott put himself in the conversation with a game-winning drive against the Seattle Seahawks, something that was missing from his resume.
Two of the players Jackson and the Ravens faced on Sunday — Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill — had their moments as well. Josh Allen in recent weeks has made a bit of a charge, and there was even a moment where it looked like a defensive player, like Myles Garrett, could secure MVP.
But with what we have seen from Lamar Jackson these past two weeks, against two of the best teams in the league, it seems the case has been settled.
Thanks to Jackson’s perfect closing argument.