After Sunday's performance, what will Lamar Jackson's trolls say next? Denver's thin air helped him?
Facing the NFL's top-ranked defense and playing in the hostile Empower Field at Mile High, Jackson threw for 316 yards and a touchdown, the second-most passing yards of his career in a regular-season game.
Denver defense dared Jackson to beat it with his arm – and he did.
The only time Jackson threw for more yards was in the season-opener in Miami in 2019, when he put up 324 passing yards and five touchdowns. After that game, Jackson coined "pretty good for a running back" and went on to win the league MVP.
But that didn't silence the critics. As Jackson said, they came creeping back last year. And, regardless of any proof, Sunday's performance probably won't quiet them either.
"There's gonna always be noise," Jackson said with a grin after the Ravens' 23-7 win. "You've just got to block it out and play football."
This year, it was that Jackson was going to finally be "figured out." If opponents have solved his legs, Jackson has effectively pivoted to beating them with his arm.
After season-ending injuries to top running backs and despite a banged-up offensive line, the Ravens are leaning more on Jackson's passing to win games, and he's delivered with three straight.
"I can't believe people said he couldn't throw," wide receiver James Proche II said. "It's crazy, right? That's wild – like barbaric. That's like saying water's dry."
The Ravens tied a longtime record for most consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards (43), with Jackson putting them over the top on the final play, but it was Jackson's right arm that did most of the damage to the Broncos defense.
After missing two days of practice this week due to a sore back, Jackson attempted 37 passes Sunday in Denver – tied for the most of his career (regular season).
Jackson continued to attack deep, connecting with wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown on a 49-yard touchdown on a pass that traveled 60.8 yards. It was the longest completion of Jackson's career and the second-longest by any quarterback this season.
Now are there doubts about Jackson's arm strength?
Jackson entered the game averaging the longest yards per attempt of any quarterback in the NFL. He was coming off a performance in Detroit in which he threw for 287 yards and would have easily had a career-high had it not been for drops.
Yet, when he and the team's offensive coaches watched film of the Broncos defense, they knew they were going to come downhill and try to stop the run first and foremost.
"When we watched film, we watched the linebackers really give it away how close they were," Jackson said. "When at the line of scrimmage, the linebackers were right behind the defensive line, so they want to stop the run. We watched it on film over and over again. We knew we had to beat them with these kinds of passes and these types of play calls, and we did."
Talking about Jackson last week, Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio said it's "almost like Barry Sanders is playing quarterback." But it wasn't Jackson's legs that beat him.
"We obviously wanted to limit his opportunities to carry it and scramble," Fangio said. "We did that but they were able to complete the long passes, which negated that."
The Ravens offense got off to a slow start with three straight punts, but Jackson turned to his trusty tight end, Mark Andrews, for a beautiful 24-yard yard floater to get things going. He hit Andrews again for 12 yards on the next play, setting up the Ravens' first touchdown on a Latavius Murray run.
Jackson then showed great feel with wide receiver Sammy Watkins on his next pass, reading the defense's coverage and adjusting to connect on an easy slant for 9 yards. That helped set up the bomb to Brown, which Jackson left just in reach for the speedster despite a defender bearing down on him.
"We made some plays where we had to," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm biased. You know [Jackson is] just really special. Lamar will be the first to tell you it wasn't just him."
Denver has one of the best secondaries in the league with safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson and cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and first-round pick Pat Surtain II. But Jackson and his targets beat them.
"They are still a great secondary. It wasn't easy throws," Jackson said. "Guys were getting open. It's the NFL. Our guys are good, their guys are good. Our guys just won the battle today."
Jackson could have had a lot more stats in the box score. A 30-yard touchdown pass to Andrews on the first play of the fourth quarter was wiped off by a face mask penalty by fill-in left tackle Andre Smith that had no bearing on the play.
Jackson and the Ravens also marched 15 plays and 78 yards on another fourth-quarter drive but stalled at the 2-yard line. Jackson missed another long bomb to Devin Duvernay and a couple other misfires that could have added to his day. Those will be the ones he thinks about this week.
Jackson completed passes to six different players, getting Proche (five catches, 74 yards) and Duvernay (three catches, 31 yards) going offensively. Soon, Jackson will have rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin at his disposal too.
"The sky's the limit," Jackson said. "We've just got to keep it going. One play at a time, one practice at a time. Just stay locked in and focused on our duties."