He’s a dynamic force at quarterback who is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, leads the NFL in passer rating and his name isn’t Patrick Mahomes.
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens will face Mahomes and the Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a marquee matchup largely shaped by next-generation quarterbacks.
Can Jackson’s second season unfold in a similar fashion to that of Mahomes’, whose 50 touchdown passes and 5,097 passing yards last year on the way to a conference championship-game appearance earned him NFL MVP?
Jackson, also a top-20 rusher on the strength of his 120-yard game last week against the Arizona Cardinals, is off to a terrific start ... and has the Chiefs’ full attention.
“It’s hard enough in this league to defend a quarterback who can throw the ball much less add to it the speed he has,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “He can wreck a game with his feet, and I think he’s becoming a real good drop-back passer.”
The Chiefs got their fill of Jackson in Week 13 last season. Starting for the fourth time after taking over for Joe Flacco, Jackson had the Ravens in position to win at Arrowhead. The Chiefs trailed by seven late when Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for an improbable 41-yard gain on a fourth-and-9, and converted another fourth-down pass for the game-tying touchdown.
The Chiefs won in overtime in a game Jackson didn’t finish because of an ankle injury. In nine regular-season starts over two seasons, it’s Jackson’s lone loss.
And hasn’t been forgotten.
“It’s still with me right now,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t go away until I get that opportunity again and play very well.”
Ravens tight end Mark Andrews called the teams’ 2018 meeting a “growth” game for Jackson and the Ravens.
“A lot of guys kind of grew up in that game,” Andrews said. “I think Lamar being able to play in a tight game like that was big for his growth. I don’t think it’s a game a lot of people have forgotten to this day.”
For a majority of the current starters on the Chiefs’ defense, film study is the only image of that game. They weren’t in Kansas City last year. But the Chiefs’ defensive unit took a step in the right direction last week in Oakland. After the Raiders scored 10 points on their first two possessions, the Chiefs pitched a shutout.
Jackson’s mobility presents a different challenge than the Raiders’ Derek Carr, and most other NFL quarterbacks. Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu likened Jackson to former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a dual threat who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl.
“He kind of reminds me of Kaepernick, the way he uses he legs,” Mathieu said. “The key for us (in the secondary) is sticking to our man and Chris Jones and those guys keeping him inside the pocket and making him throw the ball.”
Mahomes doesn’t run like Jackson, but his ability to scramble and extend plays is integral to his game. Mahomes has been just as impressed with Jackson as a quick learner.
“Seeing his progression with understanding the offense, going from year one to year two,” Mahomes said. “That’s a huge switch, and it lets him have more success as a passer.”
The same thing happened to Mahomes, and Sunday has the makings of becoming another exciting chapter in an ongoing clash between the league’s next generation of great quarterbacks.