In sports, it’s not about how you start. More often, it’s about how you finish.
After five weeks of the NFL season, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was hands-down MVP. Now, with three weeks to go in the season, he’s no longer even in the conversation.
Enter Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens’ star quarterback.
A few weeks ago, things had gone so awry that most thought his Ravens weren’t going to make the playoffs.
Some had written off Jackson big time. Others doubted his ability. It was a mistake, a prisoner of the moment reaction.
And after tonight in Cleveland on Monday Night Football, not only can they make the playoffs, but make real noise in the postseason as many expected when the 2020 season started.
It starts with a big road win against the surprising Browns. This game can change everything.
The Ravens (7-5) need this game desperately if they are going to make the playoffs, just like they needed last week’s, too.
And the Ravens came alive via Jackson. It will take another Action Jackson scenario to play out.
For the first time in a while, the Ravens looked like the old Ravens as Jackson used his legs, more than his arm, to rack up points for his team. In the Ravens’ 34-17 victory over the Cowboys in Baltimore, Jackson — coming off a 15-day layoff after getting COVID-19, rushed for 94 yards and an electrifying 37-yard touchdown run. He also threw two TDs.
In all, the Ravens amassed 294 yards on the ground and looked a lot like the team that at one point won 12 straight games and was the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last season.
Still, that seemed like a distant memory for a lot of people this year. Jackson, an unanimous MVP last season, was downgraded by many experts because of his accuracy struggles with throwing the football this season.
There were all kinds of stories where NFL folks were saying that they would take Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray over Jackson in a minute.
The disrespect was amazing.
Granted, Jakson has looked different this season. But to be fair, the Ravens were hit with some big injuries and personnel losses, especially to their offensive line. Since the end of last season, guard Marshal Yanda retired. He was considered their best offensive lineman.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley — their best pass protector — suffered a season-ending ankle injury, and their top run blocker, TE Nick Boyle, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
It’s not an excuse. But injuries have, no doubt, been a factor as to why this team isn’t as dominant as it was a year ago.
Still, people who count out Jackson are making a mistake.
He’s special. He’s dangerous. This is a moment where Jackson can remind people that he’s still got it.
“There is no mystery with Lamar Jackson — an extremely talented player,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski told the media recently. “He’s hard to get on the ground. Bottom line, he is a great, great player. Outstanding with the ball in his hands, and then he can beat you with his arm or legs. It is a challenge, and it is a challenge that all 11 guys on defense have to be about their business.”
For sure, Jackson will have his work cut out for him. The Browns have held teams to 18.8 points at home this season.
On the other hand, the Ravens have continued to play well on defense, allowing just 19.3 points per game.
Still, the Browns (9-3) are a strange team and may not really be as good as their record indicates. According to Elias Sports Bureau data, the Browns have a minus-15 point differential this season. That’s the worst by any team with at least nine wins through 12 games in NFL history.
In Week 1, the Ravens thrashed the Browns, 38-6. That was predictable. The Ravens were in the upper class of the AFC and the Brown were still viewed as also-rans.
But a lot has happened since the Ravens’ season-opening win. The Browns skyrocketed to a 9-2 record, while the Ravens have struggled to a 6-5 mark during that same span.
Jackson has a chance to get people talking about him in a good way again.