In his first game back home in South Florida two years ago, Lamar Jackson cooked the Dolphins.
It was Sept. 8, 2019, and Jackson hit 17 of 20 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Afterwards, he coined the phrase: "Not bad for a running back." It was a defining moment in Jackson's young career and the launching pad for his 2019 MVP campaign.
Now Jackson heads back to Miami for the first time since that game, again in the thick of the MVP conversation, but no doubt a different quarterback. Jackson's passing performance that day was eye opening. At this point, all eyes are on him.
"Lamar Jackson is not only the Most Valuable Player in the NFL; he's the best player in the NFL," ESPN's Marcus Spears said this week, comparing Jackson to LeBron James. "Because every team that walks into that stadium knows that they have to stop Lamar Jackson in order to beat the Ravens, and can't nobody can do it."
"If you watch that football team, there is no more MVP-ish type performer than Lamar Jackson is right now," ESPN's Ryan Clark added. "They only win if he plays excellent. Not like a little good, not average, not good enough. He has to play excellent for them to win football games, and they win football games they're not supposed to because of him. That's what an MVP is."
Jackson's passing has taken the next step in his quarterback evolution and it hasn't been a subtle step. It's in part because of the Ravens' season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, but Baltimore has morphed into a heavier passing attack while still leaning on Jackson to be the leading rusher.
Jackson has accounted for 79% of the Ravens' total offensive yards this season. His 2,209 passing yards is ninth in the NFL and his 600 rushing yards is sixth.
In Week 2, he overcame his kryptonite by beating the Kansas City Chiefs. On Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, he pulled off a third comeback victory when trailing by double digits in the second half, slaying the narrative that he couldn't lead his team back with his arm.
The only unchecked box on Jackson's resume is a Super Bowl, and while he's talking about it less this year, nobody should be fooled into thinking it's far from his thoughts.
As Jackson goes back to Miami for "Thursday Night Football", there's less to prove to the outside world than he had two years ago. He's proven it. When asked about that game two years ago, Jackson didn't even look back at it as a big moment for himself.
"I remember 'Hollywood,' [Marquise Brown] his first catch was a touchdown. That was crazy. It was his NFL debut – a touchdown?" Jackson said. "That's what I remember the most about that game and the score."
A reporter had to remind Jackson of his "not bad for a running back" line.
"Oh, at the end of the game," he said with a laugh. "Yes, in the locker room, that too. But that was two years ago, I don't really care about that, man."
Jackson is just having fun. Short rest after running the ball 21 times against the Vikings? No big deal. Jackson even laughed while at the bottom of a pile of Minnesota 300-pounders.
"I love football, so it doesn't really matter to me [being on short rest]," Jackson said. "It's just the recovery part from the last game, but I'm good. I'm ready to play, especially in South Florida, for sure.
"We have guys here on this team from South Florida – not just myself. It means a lot, because we know what we've faced down there. We know what we've seen, [and] we know how it is down there. We like to put on for where we come from and let other guys and little kids see us and have them wanting to do the same things we're doing in a positive way."