Everybody, Even Steelers Fans, Like Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson doesn't just present a huge challenge for defensive coordinators. The Ravens quarterback also is making writers and analysts work extra hard.
It's becoming more difficult by the week to come up with adjectives to describe Jackson and his style of play without repeating oneself.
Spectacular, sensational, phenomenal and incredible have all been taken. As has dazzling, amazing and thrilling. When watching Jackson, there's simply no such thing as hyperbole. (Wait, was that hyperbole?)
Those words all describe Jackson the player. As the public continues to get to know Jackson the person, another word keeps coming up: likable. The 22-year-old Jackson's humble demeanor, infectious enthusiasm, work ethic, fierce competitiveness and team-first attitude are earning him as much praise as his athleticism.
Case in point: In addition to all the memes, gifs and videos Jackson's highlight-reel plays have generated, he also received national attention for helping up a photographer after inadvertently knocking her over on the sideline during the Ravens' win at Pittsburgh last month.
After the Ravens defeated the Arizona Cardinals at home in Week 2, Jackson was creeping along in traffic when a group of fans walking back to their car noticed him. The fans told Jackson they came all the way from Kentucky (probably Louisville fans) to watch Jackson and the Ravens play, so Jackson pulled over his car, got out and started leisurely signing autographs for them.
While the video of Jackson's spin move on his 47-yard touchdown run in the Ravens' 49-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday has received nearly 7 million views, video of the endearing interaction between Jackson and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh on the sideline also is making the rounds on social media.
"This interaction between Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson during Sunday's blowout win against the Bengals is all genuine – Jackson's teammates love him," Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote.
Breer recounted a conversation he had with Jackson after the Ravens knocked off the New England Patriots on Nov. 3. In speaking about tight end Nick Boyle's touchdown reception, Breer noted that Boyle isn't usually a big part of the passing game, but "the exceedingly polite Jackson stopped me."
"You gotta take that back, Albert," Jackson said. "He's been doing a great job. He just hasn't been scoring those touchdowns 'til the third quarter. He's been doing a great job."
Breer continued, writing: "Jackson routinely credits teammates, like a lot of quarterbacks do. But this seemed like more than that — he was going out of his way to take up for Boyle. That sort of thing is probably what his teammates appreciate about him, among other things."
It's not just teammates and fans that appreciate Jackson.
"He interacts with the guys cleaning up the towels off the floor to Mr. Ozzie [Newsome] as he calls him, with equal respect," Ravens Quarterbacks Coach James Urban told The Athletic's Dan Pompei. "He's really cool that way."
Even Steelers fans are finding it hard not to like Jackson.
"I'm from Pittsburgh and lifelong resident. So it's a rule that I can't have too much affinity for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson – I mean, there is the part about him playing for the Baltimore Ravens that doesn't allow that," Pittsburgh sports talk show host Colin Dunlap wrote last week. "If it's purple, it's bad. Down with the Birdies and all that. But I'll tell you, if it wasn't for that, this young man would be so easy to root for. Jackson is so darn likable.
"To this point I like every single thing about Lamar Jackson. His charm and arm. His legs on the field and his personality off of it. The young man seems to be the total package and the exact kind of person you want youngsters to follow. I'm a Pittsburgher so I can't root for him. But, man, will it be fun to watch his career take shape."
What They're Saying About Jackson
But enough about Lamar. Just kidding. We never get tired of talking about Lamar.
The pundits are still marveling over his performance in Cincinnati, where he posted a perfect passer rating (158.3) for the second time this season (becoming just the second QB to do so), threw three touchdown passes and ran for a TD.
Here's a sample of what they're saying:
"Good Morning Football's" Nate Burleson: "There's one thing we don't talk about when it comes to Lamar, is his IQ. We talk about his arm, we'll talk about his legs, but for you to execute a game plan like this week in and week out – he's going to be dominant for a long time. And here's the thing: He's only in his second season, so imagine when he gets into the film room and his mind catches up with his athletic ability. This dude is unstoppable."
"Good Morning Football's Kyle Brandt: "The RedZone should be the PurpleZone. It should just be all Lamar Jackson. You have to watch Lamar right now. I think right now he is more exciting than Michael Vick was in his prime. I think he passes better. It's gone past Michael Vick. Imagine if Devin Hester touched the ball 50 times a game. That's what it feels like. Even on his handoffs there's juice. I don't know what you're doing on Sundays, you better watch the Ravens games. It's the best thing going in sports right now."
Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann: "What we are seeing, game to game, quarter to quarter, snap to snap, is what happens when a physical specimen that is basically without peer has an equal amount of work ethic and pride in his craft to continue to improve. Lamar Jackson appears to have his eyes set on a larger prize than most aspire — he appears to be on a quest to become legendary. … But I think the thing that makes it all come together for him, and has contributed the most to this accelerated growth, is his intelligence — specifically his innate ability to process information quickly and make sound decisions while the proverbial 'bullets are flying.'"
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger: "Give this guy every award there is right now. Are you getting tired of seeing this every week in, week out? I'm not. I love it. And so do all the Ravens and their fans."
The Athletic's Zrebiec: "Everybody is talking about Lamar Jackson's 47-yard touchdown run Sunday and for a good reason. It was spectacular. The play from Sunday that resonated most with me, however, was his 20-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown less than three minutes later. Jackson stood in the pocket with defensive end Sam Hubbard and another Bengal converging on him, knowing he was about to take a huge hit. He stayed patient and made a perfect throw to Brown just before getting drilled. Jackson absorbed arguably the hardest hit he's taken all year and after getting up, he patted Hubbard on the helmet as if to say, 'Good hit.' That play said a lot about Jackson's development and toughness."
The Guardian’s Oliver Connolly: "What Lamar Jackson is doing is warping our perception of football. … The Ravens as an organization deserve credit for handing their entire football operations over to this once-in-a-lifetime talent. Never have we seen such a smooth, efficient runner. Jackson is unique aesthetically and statistically."
FS1's Nick Wright: "He is a quarterback that if you have a very bad defense, he's going to make you look historically bad. … If you're doing your MVP list, and you don't have Lamar Jackson somewhere in the top five, maybe the top three, it's because you were down on him going into the draft and you don't want to admit you were wrong."
Russell Wilson – another top MVP candidate – helped the Seahawks end the 49ers' undefeated streak on Monday Night Football. Wilson was 24-of-34 for 232 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His pick came in overtime, but the Seahawks still pulled out the win.
Thanks to Improved Defense, Ravens Might Be 'AFC's Most Complete Team'
As dynamic as the Ravens offense has been all season, the contributions the defense has made during Baltimore's five-game winning streak cannot be overlooked.
After the Ravens surrendered 500-plus yards in back-to-back losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns to fall to 2-2, Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta was proactive in addressing the issues on defense, and it has paid dividends.
Signing free-agent linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes and acquiring cornerback Marcus Peters for backup linebacker Kenny Young and a reported fifth-round pick has rejuvenated the unit.
"They've helped solidify troubled positions and allowed Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale to be more creative with his schemes and how he manufactures pressure," Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "The end result is a five-game winning streak and the improvement of a defense that was among the worst in the league but now sits at 14th in yards and points allowed. Not too shabby for two guys that were midseason free agents and a trade that cost a backup linebacker and fifth-round pick."
Peters' ability as a playmaker – he has two interceptions since joining the Ravens, both of which he returned for touchdowns – has boosted a secondary that had been hampered by injuries and inconsistency.
"How about Marcus Peters grabbing his second pick six for the Ravens since being acquired for a backup linebacker and late pick?" CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote. "Baltimore's secondary was getting gashed by injuries at the time, but now Jimmy Smith is back as well, Earl Thomas has settled into his ballhawking role and the Ravens' defensive backs just might be as good as some thought they'd be before the season."
Ebony Bird’s Noah Zomback wrote: "While [the Ravens'] defensive strengths lay strongly in the secondary, this pass rush has quietly been getting to opposing quarterbacks. Matthew Judon sits among the top of the list when it comes to QB hits, hurries, and sacks. Also, the run blockers Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce have been getting the job done against opposing running backs.
"Our defensive MVP, however, and possible Defensive Player of the Year has to be cornerback Marlon Humphrey. He, like Peters, also has two touchdowns for the Ravens this season; however, he has also locked up some of the league's most talented wide receivers. He has been breaking up passes, forcing fumbles, recovering fumbles, and shadowing top wide receivers all season long and he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down."
With an improved defense that leads the league with five defensive touchdowns – all of which occurred over the past three games – to go along with the No. 1 scoring offense, the Ravens are as dangerous as any team in the NFL.
"If Lamar Jackson continues to play at the level that he is playing, and the defense keeps creating turnovers, the Ravens are borderline unbeatable," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote.
FS1's Wright said: "Baltimore, right now, looks like the most complete team in the AFC."