In addition to leading game-winning drives, Lamar Jackson is finding multiple ways to lead the Ravens.
He's doing it on the field. He's doing it behind the scenes. That's nothing new, but in his sixth season, Jackson has handled the expectations of his new contract and his first year directing a new offense with an unshakeable calm and focus.
Whether it's making key plays or sending powerful messages, teammates and coaches love the vibes emanating from Jackson, who's having an MVP-caliber season not just on game days but every day.
"You've seen a lot of changes he's done to be not just the star player but also the leader of the team," Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey said following the Ravens' 23-7 victory over the Jaguars. "From getting the extra workout, being the first one in, breaking the team down, the speeches, getting on guys. He told me, 'Hey bro we need you to play better' this past week.
"It's been really encouraging. He gets his big contract and he's really filled all the roles, upped them from what he's already done. He's always going to step up his play, but how he's carried himself, leadership wise — people see it and people really respect it."
Jackson has never shied from setting the bar high, as the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy who promised to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore on the night he was drafted. Everyone knows how the Ravens want their season to end – hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. And they're clearly on the short list of Super Bowl favorites heading into their Christmas night showdown against the NFC's No. 1 seed, the San Francisco 49ers.
With each season, Jackson has gained more experience playing quarterback, and has learned more about how to use his gifts to get where he wants to go. While still in the process of this year's journey, Head Coach John Harbaugh loathes comparing one season to another.
However, Jackson is four years older than he was in 2019, when he was voted the unanimous MVP and led the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 season. Through the highs and lows of each year, Jackson has never stopped growing and it's no surprise to coaches or teammates that he's flourishing in all the roles that come with being a franchise quarterback.
"Lamar has been a great leader in his own way all the way through," Harbaugh said. "I think we all grow; we evolve, circumstances change, [and] we find ourselves in a different place.
"I've always admired Lamar for every part of what he's doing, and I also understand like all of us, we're all dealing and going through things and we're doing our best and he's always been that way. He's always done his best, and he's doing his best right now. And I would say this, He's an A-plus leader right now. He's taken the team in that sense, he's been glue. He's been glue for the guys, and it's been great to see."
Jackson had many signature moments during Sunday's victory. The most talked about was his 26-yard completion to Isaiah Likely that was made possible by Jackson alluding the grasp of defensive end Dawuane Smoot. As Jackson was on the ground after making the throw, it was clear that Smoot was both frustrated and impressed.
Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton had empathy for Jaguars defenders Sunday night. Hamilton said after one of Jackson's "bunch of crazy plays," he leaned over to fellow safety Geno Stone and said, "That dude's special."
"I'm glad we don't have to play him, because it'd be so frustrating as a defense," Hamilton said. "You know you have him bottled up, and out of nowhere he scrambles and dudes are back there [in the secondary] covering for 10 seconds. It's hard to do that in this league with guys getting open and making plays. He presents a lot of problems for defenses, and I'm glad he's on our team."
Jackson sometimes gives amusing answers when people ask him what's going through his mind when he makes such a play. Does he remain calm while doing it?
"Do I look calm?" Jackson said, drawing laughter at his postgame press conference. "Just keeping a level head. Like I said, I'm not trying to make a mistake. I'm just trying to keep us with positive yards, keep us moving, and that's what we had to do tonight."
Jackson is so focused from week to week, he said he was unaware that the Ravens clinched a playoff spot Sunday night until he was told. Jackson calls his approach being "locked in," and it's clear that his leadership has the Ravens headed in the right direction.
"I've said it before; I believe he's the best quarterback in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "I've said it many times before, and he continues to prove it. He proves me right."