Brock Purdy entered Christmas night as the frontrunner for MVP. A Grinch-like Lamar Jackson came into San Francisco and left with a win and the spoils.
There's no longer any question as to who the biggest difference-maker is for the best team in the NFL. At 12-3, the Ravens and Jackson stand alone at the top.
Jackson was superb once again, orchestrating seven straight scoring drives against the stout 49ers defense to take control of the game in Baltimore's 33-19 Christmas night win.
"I thought Lamar had an MVP performance tonight," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"It takes a team to create a performance like that, but it takes a player to play at that level – to play at an MVP level – it takes a player to play that way. And Lamar was all over the field doing everything."
While Jackson had a Christmas to remember, Purdy had one to forget. The Ravens defense intercepted him four times before his night ended injured (shoulder stinger) on the bench.
Jackson didn't finish with gaudy statistics. He was 23 of 35 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns, and added 45 yards on the ground.
But Jackson didn't have any turnovers, and he orchestrated an offense that scored on seven straight drives against the league's No. 2-ranked defense to grab control of the game. The 49ers hadn't given up that many straight scoring drives in 18 years.
Jackson hasn't put any focus on his MVP case that's been gaining steam in recent weeks, and that continued Monday night.
"We got the 'dub.' I really don't care about [my] performance," Jackson said. "I just want to win, and that's what happened tonight. On Christmas, that was my gift."
Jackson did it in his own, unconventional way. He often bought time with his legs, moving inside and outside the pocket to find open receivers. As Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said last week, Jackson is a "two-play quarterback." There's the scripted play, and then Jackson's play.
One such play, a season-long 30-yard scramble on third-and-16, set up a field goal just before halftime. Then a flipped pass to Gus Edwards for 39 yards on the Ravens' first play of the second half set up a touchdown that came on another extended play on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.
"Those [plays] don't just happen. Those happen because a lot of hard work gets put into it on top of a lot of amazing talent," Harbaugh said.
"They're forced to cover guys downfield, and Lamar is able to run. [If] they don't cover guys downfield, Lamar finds them. He has great vision, and our guys are finding soft spots in the coverage there and getting open, and he hits them. Nobody throws better than Lamar on the move, from awkward platforms, he's very accurate that way."
Zay Flowers was Jackson's top target in this game, as he led the team with 13 targets while no other Raven had more than four. The two connected on a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter that opened the Ravens' lead to 18 points.
"He can do everything. You [saw] it tonight," Flowers said. "He ran it; he threw it; he led the team. That's the MVP."
Baltimore's defense made a statement of its own against the 49ers' high-powered offense, forcing five turnovers in all. If the MVP race is between Jackson and Purdy, the Ravens defense helped make it clear, too. And they backed their quarterback's candidacy afterwards.
"Lamar Jackson is the MVP, hands down," linebacker Roquan Smith said. "Anyone that watches football and knows football and can see the type of impact he has on the game – not even stat-wise, but just individually, the plays that he makes quarter in and quarter out, play in and play out. Compare his film to anyone else in the league. Then, I would love to hear what anyone else has to say after that."
With just two regular-season games left to go, Jackson is now in the driver's seat to win the award for a second time after doing so unanimously in 2019. But that year, the Ravens fell short with a first-round playoff exit. That's what Jackson has his sights on fixing this time around.
"We know what it was in 2019 when we were playing against [teams] like this [and] winning regular season games. When the time came, we didn't finish the season," Jackson said. "We're just going to keep taking it a day at a time, a practice at a time and a game at a time. That's all I'm focused on right now."