Late for Work 10/21: Lamar Jackson Takes the Lead in MVP Race


Who else woke up ecstatic on this victory Monday?

The Ravens entered Sunday as road underdogs and put together their best performance of the season in a 30-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks. They now head into the bye week riding high at 5-2 with a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North.

"For now, though, the Ravens cruise into their bye week at 5-2, with time to get healthy and a lot of momentum, not to mention a healthy cushion in the AFC North," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "The schedule is harder over the second half of the season, but there won't be many tougher tasks than going across the country to win at Seattle, and the Ravens proved they were up to that task."

Here are pundits' takeaways from the win.

Lamar Jackson is '1-of-1,' and Must Watch Television

If you haven't jumped on the Lamar Jackson bandwagon, it's too late. That train has already left the station.

"It's amazing to see how many people want to not believe in Jackson," CBS Sports' Will Brinson wrote. "Are they watching the games? This kid is doing stuff we have rarely seen done on NFL fields."

Remember when teams had "figured out" Jackson and the Ravens' offense? That was the narrative all summer after Jackson beat the Los Angeles Chargers in the regular season, then lost to them in the playoffs. That doesn't seem to be the case now, as Jackson continues to shred opposing defenses week-in and week-out.

"He's 1-of-1," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "You see he's special. Some of the plays he had where he's running full speed and stops on a dime and lets the defender go past. You knew you were going to have your hands full containing him. We saw firsthand."

Jackson was thrust into the MVP conversation after the first two weeks of the season, and pundits believe he's firmly in the mix after his performance in the national spotlight.

"The Jackson candidacy could get quite intriguing," NBC Sports' Peter King wrote. "He's on pace to rush for 1,317 yards, which is absolutely insane, with a passer rating of 94.1. Imagine rushing for more yards than Alvin Kamara, with a better passer rating than Carson Wentz. Jackson's on track to do both of those things."

Jackson had more rushing yards than six teams entering Sunday's game. With every twist and turn, he draws comparisons to Michael Vick, but some think that might not even be a fair comparison – for Jackson's sake, that is.

"Vick at his best was a special football player," SB Nation's Adam Stites wrote. "The statistics say that Jackson is even better."

The passing game was limited because of the weather and uncharacteristic drops, but Jackson still totaled his fourth "double triple," a stat created by ProFootballTalk's Michael David Smith.

A player must have at least 100 yards in two statistical categories. Vick leads all players with eight, and Jackson is on pace to shatter that record with four already.

On the field, Jackson's energy has radiated to overwhelming support from his coaches and teammates.

In the Ravens' Week 6 win over the Bengals, Jackson wanted to get Nick Boyle his first career touchdown at the end of the team's final offensive drive, according to NFL Network's Mike Silver.

"Jackson's throw to Boyle fell incomplete, and Tucker came on to kick a 21-yard field goal, but the gesture was not lost on the rest of the Ravens," Silver wrote.

"It was well understood on the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft that the Ravens were getting one of the most dynamic playmakers ever to come out of college in Jackson," Deadspin's Gabe Fernandez wrote. "What had yet to be seen was whether he could take not just his talents into a professional football environment, but also become the leader of the offense that quarterbacks need to be. As Sunday's game showed, the answer is undoubtedly yes."

Ravens Stamp Themselves as Title Contenders

The Ravens hadn't beaten an opponent with a winning record this season, but those concerns were quickly put to rest. In a game with a playoff atmosphere, they took care of business, and pundits like ESPN's Jamison Hensley are ready to stamp them as title contenders.

"The four teams Baltimore previously beat – the Dolphins, Cardinals, Steelers, and Bengals – are a combined 5-20-1," Hensley wrote. " … [B]ut after Baltimore upset Seattle, no one can question whether it ranks among the top teams in the NFL anymore.

"How impressive was this victory? The Seahawks (5-2) had the second-best home record in the NFL since 2012 (46-13 before Sunday), and Wilson had previously lost only once at home to an AFC team."

The Ravens earned confidence from pundits after coming up short against the Chiefs, but Sunday was the definition of a season-defining win.

"Like they have so many times under Harbaugh, the Ravens also proved that they're capable of going on the road and winning against a tough team," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Their pedigree will make them dangerous regardless of who they face if they advance to January football."

The Ravens now move up to the No. 3 seed in the AFC as the fight for the playoffs begins to take shape. Everything is set up for a highly-anticipated Sunday Night Football matchup against the Patriots in Week 9.

The Defense Is Coming Together With New Faces

Wink Martindale and the Ravens' defense were left with a litany of questions after allowing back-to-back 500+ yard performances in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

Fast forward three weeks and a unit with new faces held one of the NFL's top offenses and an MVP-caliber quarterback in check.

"This is the type of performance fans were hoping to see all season," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. " … [T]he Ravens finally saw everything come together."

Two of the four leading tacklers for the Ravens weren't even on the team three weeks into the season. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort combined for 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and one sack in an active game for the linebacker duo. 

"After two weeks of Bynes receiving well-deserved attention for solidifying the middle linebacker position, Fort delivered his breakout game with two tackles for loss and a sensational open-field stop on Wilson," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "He demonstrated a terrific nose for the ball and has been surprisingly effective as a blitzer in Martindale's aggressive schemes."

Walker also gave credit to rookie Jaylon Ferguson, who stepped in and played well for an injured Pernell McPhee. Wilson was sacked just once but was pressured consistently throughout the game. The Ravens also limited a strong rushing attack, holding Chris Carson to just 65 yards on 21 carries.

Brandon Williams was active sideline to sideline and provided one of his performances of the season.

"Williams was wreaking havoc along the interior of the defensive line in this game, both as a pass-rusher and run defender," Pro Football Focus wrote. "He finished the game with multiple run stops and added a couple of hits on the quarterback when he was asked to rush the passer."

But perhaps the biggest impact came from a player who was acquired less than a week ago. Down 10-6 in the second quarter, cornerback Marcus Peters baited Wilson to target receiver Jaron Brown in the flats, and Peters stepped in front of the pass for a 67-yard pick-six.

It was Wilson's first interception of the season and a major momentum swing for the Ravens.

"Peters might inspire groans later in the season when one of his risks leaves an opposing receiver running free," Walker wrote. "But we got an immediate glimpse of the rewards that come with his style."

Peters played 90 percent of the defensive snaps and allowed just one catch, according to PFF. Not too bad for a player who had just two days of practice in a complex defensive scheme.

"Martindale felt comfortable bringing some zero blitz looks on Sunday despite Peters being with the team for less than a week," Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr wrote. "Look out, AFC North, if he's growing into a more efficient player."

Stevens already believes Peters is worth every penny.

"Considering he cost very little to acquire, Baltimore has already been proven to be a major winner in this trade," Stevens wrote.

"The Ravens were able to do more things schematically thanks to having Peters on the field. With another lockdown cornerback, Martindale could continue to dial up unusual blitzes. It also allowed Martindale to create a game plan that included very little safety help, using Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark more in run support."

Pundits acknowledged that the defense couldn't have come together at a better time heading into the bye week. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and Patrick Onwuasor could be back on the field in Week 9.

McPhee's Injury Could Escalate the Need for a Pass Rusher

Despite the win, the Ravens still didn't escape the injury department. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee left the game with an arm injury and did not return.

Harbaugh did not have any updates on McPhee's condition after the game, but Zrebiec reported that the veteran pass rusher may have suffered a "significant triceps-type" injury.

If McPhee were to miss an extended period, Zrebiec believes it could escalate General Manager Eric DeCosta's need to acquire a pass rusher.

We highlighted the possibility of the Ravens trading for a pass rusher even before McPhee's injury. Players like Von Miller, Michael Bennett, and Yannick Ngakoue have been floated around as potential trade targets.

You can add Falcons' defensive end Vic Beasley, who is reportedly on the trading block, according to ESPN's Jordan Schultz. Beasley is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

The Ravens have just $2 million in cap space after acquiring Peters, according to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland. But after a convincing victory that has them in contention for a Lombardi Trophy, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

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