Late for Work 11/26: Reaction From Record-Setting Monday Night Football

QB Lamar Jackson

If you're still buzzing off the late-night win, you're not alone. It was electric, exciting, and exhilarating if you were rooting for the team in purple.

Lamar Jackson couldn't have asked for a better Monday Night Football debut. He tossed five touchdowns and nearly ran for another as the Ravens rolled their way to a 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams in primetime.

The West Coast was no problem for John Harbaugh and company as they improved to 9-2 and are now winners of seven straight.

"What the Ravens star did Monday night, on the road, before a national TV audience, against a Rams defense considered one of the NFL's strongest, would probably have been laughed out of the room by studio executives," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Too unbelievable. Not enough drama.

"In a win at LA Memorial Coliseum, just over 10 miles south of this city's iconic Hollywood sign, Jackson was more Avenger than mere mortal in maybe his most well-rounded performance of this breakthrough season."

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get right into it. Here are pundits' takeaways from the win:

Booger McFarland Admits He Was Wrong About Lamar Jackson

One by one, Jackson continues to convert his critics into believers, and he added another one to the list last night.

Back in 2017, ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Booger McFarland tweeted that Jackson wouldn't play quarterback in the NFL.

McFarland has since been on the record admitting multiple times that he was wrong, and told ESPN's Scott Van Pelt that he's all-in on the second-year quarterback.

"I am a believer," McFarland said. "Because what I saw tonight was not a running quarterback. I didn't see a running back. I didn't see a wide receiver. I saw a quarterback. I saw an offense built around a guy that is as special of a weapon as we've ever seen in this league.

"I saw him make throws like Aaron Rodgers … And dare I say I saw the 'new' NFL. The same NFL that John Harbaugh said we were going to see … I think America saw what the changing of the guard looks like."

McFarland and others were skeptical about Jackson following last year's wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Still, he told Shaffer that he sees a different player on the field now.

"I think with the dedication that he has put in and the improvement that he's made, not only has the game slowed down, but he's toying with people out there," McFarland said.

"So I just think you've got to give him a lot of credit for what he's done and how the game has slowed down for him. And on top of that, most of the time, coaching staffs, what they try to do is, they try to put players in their system. You've got to give Harbaugh a lot of credit, because he created a system around his player, which is what every coach should do. But a lot of them don't do it."

Ravens Display Balance on Both Sides of the Ball

From the start, the Ravens' balance on both sides of the ball was on display. The defense forced a quick three-and-out on the first drive of the game. The offense then drove down the field 55 yards on nine plays and took a 7-0 lead when Jackson connected with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown for a 6-yard touchdown.

"The Ravens are an incredibly balanced team," Ebony Bird's Schisler wrote. "The offense grabbed the headlines, yet their defense was stellar in this game. While Baltimore was nine for 15 on third-down conversions, the Rams were two for nine. The defense was dominant. The offense was just incredibly flashy."

Jackson and the offense were the epitome of efficiency as they scored touchdowns on six straight drives. With Jackson's big day through the air, you'd almost forget that the Ravens rushed for a season-high 285 yards, led by Mark Ingram II's 111.

Both parts of the offense play off each other, and Ingram's punishing running style has been a big piece of the success.

"Jackson may be the 'batman' that makes this historic rushing attack so dynamic, but Ingram is a more than suitable 'robin' to provide a rock-solid presence in the backfield," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "In addition, he continues to excel and pass protection, brings infectious energy off the field and provides leadership in the locker room."

Defensively, Press Box's Bo Smolka said the Ravens look faster each week. They held Jared Goff and a healthy Rams receiving core to just 212 yards through the air and completely shut down the run game.

"When the game was in the balance, the Ravens were swarming, often forcing Goff into quick throws off target and stifling the Rams' running game completely," Smolka wrote. "The Rams finished with 22 rushing yards on nine carries and rushed only once in the second half as they played from a deep deficit."

Wink Martindale's unit surrendered only two field goals and more pressure to make Goff uncomfortable in the pocket. Jimmy Smith and Matthew Judon recorded sacks as the defense tallied seven quarterback hits.

The balance on both sides of the ball has even kept the special teams trio, arguably the best in the NFL, off the field over the last few weeks.

Jackson is Running Away With the MVP

John Harbaugh said nobody is crowned in November, but if they were, Jackson would likely be holding the MVP trophy after his performance on Monday night.

"No matter how great the rest of the pack looks, Jackson is quite literally running away with — and also passing himself to —the league's highest individual award, succeeding Patrick Mahomes in 2019," Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer wrote. "The live eye test and highlight tapes are two things, but they are backed up by plenty of statistical evidence to solidify Jackson as the most impressive and important player in the NFL, therefore ushering in a new most valuable player."

Jackson is breaking records seemingly every week. His five touchdown passes were the most by any player in their Monday Night Football debut. He also became the first player in NFL history to have 3,000+ passing yards and 1,500+ rushing yards in his first two seasons.

The crazy part is, he hasn't even started two seasons worth of games.

"Nothing the Rams could do was going to make a difference," Schisler wrote. "... Jackson could do whatever he wanted to do. That's why he is the MVP. It doesn't matter what the game plan is against him."

The closest player to rival Jackson in the MVP conversation this season has been Russell Wilson, but he struggled in a 17-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jackson owns the head-to-head win between the two and is the favorite, according to Schisler.

"Wilson is having an incredible season but Jackson has to get this award," Schisler wrote. "The offense works because Jackson is the main ingredient of the Ravens attack. No other player can have the impact that Jackson is having on the Ravens."

Added Iyer: "However you add it up, Jackson has a ridiculous statistical resume and is the most indispensable player in the NFL this season, given he's operating and dominating in an offense built around his strengths. Just as the Chiefs' system and Mahomes led to perfect harmony, Jackson is hitting a high note with the Ravens that no one else can match."

Pundits Solidify the Ravens as the NFL's Front-Runners

So much for the tough stretch of the schedule.

The Ravens have won their last five games by a combined margin of 202-62, which includes victories over four playoff-caliber teams. The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker believes Baltimore is the NFL's best front-runners, and no one wants to step in the ring with them.

"Right now, the Ravens are the NFL's version of prime Mike Tyson," Walker wrote. "Don't waste time getting to your seats, because you might miss the knockout."

It's not just Walker, national pundits are touting the Ravens as Super Bowl favorites, and it's hard not to see why in this dominant stretch.

"As fans, we've become accustomed to the Ravens being the 'little guy' in the sense that they usually fly under the radar and receive little national attention nor recognition," Platko wrote. "This is far from the case in 2019. It's a weird feeling and one that is foreign to this fan base but barring an unforeseen shift in the team's trajectory, nothing is changing anytime soon."

"I think it is safe to say that after tonight, there is one dominant question in the NFL in 2019: How does someone stop Jackson and this Ravens offense?" NFL Network's Scott Hanson said.

When asked how far the Ravens can go this season, NFL Network's DeAngelo Hall, Michael Robinson, and Andrew Hawkins all agreed that a Lombardi Trophy is in reach.

"I think this team can win a Super Bowl," Hall said. "Lamar said he wanted a Super Bowl and I don't see anything standing in the way of this team."

Ravens Neutralize Aaron Donald; Praise for Patrick Mekari

One of the best players on the field was hardly a factor Monday night.

Aaron Donald was almost absent from the box score, credited with just one assisted tackle. The Ravens schemed the All-Pro defensive tackle entirely out of the game and the offensive linemen had a night to remember.

"Donald entered the game with eight sacks, 16 quarterback hits and a league-high 16 tackles for loss and finished with one tackle," Smolka wrote. "Give Ravens offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris credit for schemes to neutralize Donald, and give credit to the players for executing double-teams and consistently winning the battles at the point of attack."

Perhaps the most impressive performance on the offensive line was the play of Patrick Mekari. From one undrafted player to another, Mekari stepped in for an injured Matt Skura and helped pave the way for a record-setting day on the ground.

"[H]e handled one of the sport's most subtly difficult positions as if it was second nature against the Rams," Walker wrote. "Mekari is just the latest example of an unexpected piece fitting neatly into place during this charmed run for the Ravens."

After seeing success against Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and now Wade Phillips, Platko believes the Ravens should do whatever it takes to keep Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman around.

"The value of having him calling plays up in the booth continues to show week in and week out," Platko wrote. "Opposing defenses know what the Ravens want to accomplish and still have no answers. If Roman does in fact garner interest from teams with head coaching openings this offseason, pay him whatever it takes to stay in Baltimore."

De'Anthony Thomas Provides a Spark in the Return Game

The Ravens have struggled to find consistency in the return game this season, but De'Anthony Thomas provided a spark. Two of his punt returns went for 20 and 17 yards, setting up the Ravens' offense in good positions.

"The speedster gave the Ravens a dynamic on special teams they hadn't had all season," NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis wrote. "While he didn't impact the game in a large way, it's something to note moving forward as an underrated positive for the Ravens."

The most encouraging sign of Thomas' performance was his ball security. With the way the offense is playing right now, they just need a returner who can hold onto the ball.

But with Thomas' speed, it's only a matter of time before he breaks a long return.

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