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Can Lamar Jackson Make a Patrick Mahomes-Like Leap in Year 2?


It's the hottest quarterback in the NFL vs. the reigning Most Valuable Player.

There's no better show this weekend in the NFL than Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes on the same field. Just don't expect Jackson to buy into the hype.

"It's Ravens versus Chiefs. I don't really look at it like I'm competing against him," Jackson said.

Jackson and Mahomes have been the best two quarterbacks in the league through the first two weeks.

Jackson has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL (145.2). Mahomes is No. 3 (136.3). Both quarterbacks sit tied atop the league with seven touchdown passes. Mahomes is the only gunslinger with more passes of 20 yards or more (14 to Jackson's 12).

This is nothing new for Mahomes. He exploded onto the scene last year, in his first season as the Chiefs' starting quarterback, en route to his well-earned MVP award.

Jackson previously listed Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as the G.O.A.T.S of the NFL. What about Mahomes?

"He's on his way," Jackson said Wednesday. "Those guys have Super Bowls. He's a dynamic quarterback. It's his third year, and he's been doing a tremendous job."

Now the question is whether Jackson can pull off the same – or similar – feat. In his first full year as the Ravens' starter, Jackson is starting to get some MVP chatter.

It's remarkable to think about the differences in Jackson from the last time he went to Kansas City. It was just his fourth NFL start and second road game of his career. He went into a cold, hostile environment and nearly led the Ravens to victory.

Jackson went 13 of 24 for 147 passing yards that day. The 54.2 completion percentage was his lowest mark of the season. He ran 14 times for 67 yards and lost a fumble late in the game when the Ravens had a chance to drive for the game-winning score.

But Jackson still gave a glimpse that day of what he could become. It was the toughest game of his NFL career, and he stood toe-to-toe with the Chiefs and Mahomes.

"You just saw him rise to the occasion and play big in big moments," said backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, who finished the game for Jackson after his leg got twisted in overtime. "For most of the game, he outplayed everybody else on the field."

Jackson was the best player on the field in Miami, and he stole the show once again in the Ravens' home-opening win against Arizona in Week 2. He set records in both games.

There are still 14 more regular-season games to go, so Jackson has to continue to improve and be consistent week to week. But judging by his trajectory, there's no reason to believe he can't pull off a Mahomes-like leap in Year 2.

"The kid [Jackson] is a heck of a player. He's a talented kid to work with," Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid said.

Reid said the biggest difference he sees from Jackson on tape this year compared to last season when they faced off is his grasp of the offense. Mahomes sees it too.

"The coordinators and the quarterback coaches, they've opened the gate for him," Reid said. "They're doing a million different things and he's doing it well, and it looks like he's loving doing it."

"Seeing his progression with the understanding of the offense, I understand," Mahomes said. "Going from Year 1 to Year 2, there's a huge switch where you start understanding the offense at a different level. It's able to let him have success more as a passer. He's always had the talent, but it's about learning the offense and he's done that now."

Considering that Jackson didn't take over as starter till midway through the year, Jackson didn't have the reps needed to fully master the Ravens' 2018 offense. Thus, the Ravens relied on Jackson's legs more and put less on his plate.

This offseason, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman totally rebuilt the offense with Jackson in mind, and the franchise gave him more weapons, such as first-round wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to work with.

Other than that, Jackson made the biggest leap by putting in the work required.

"Just grind. Get with your teammates. Build chemistry. Build a unit," Jackson said. "Build a union with your teammates, and just grind. That's what we've been doing since the start of OTAs – grinding and showing up on the field. We've been doing a great job at that, and we just have to do the same thing on Sundays."

Jackson has been building up to Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium. It's the only place he's lost a regular-season game in his NFL career, and he intends to avenge that defeat.

"It's still with me right now," he said. "It doesn't go away until I get that opportunity again and perform very well."

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