Take a look at Lamar Jackson’s numbers from Sunday: 19 of 27 passes completed for 167 yards, two interceptions against one touchdown. Passer rating of 68.0. You see that anemic performance, and you’d think Baltimore struggled, stumbled and fell short.
The scoreboard says otherwise. In one of the key AFC matchups of the early season, Baltimore stomped a mudhole in the Los Angeles Chargers, 34-6.
Both teams came into the game 4-1 with hopes of challenging the Bills for AFC supremacy. Now the Ravens have shredded all doubts about their early-season wins, and the Chargers are suddenly a glowing yellow question mark.
The difference? A typically crushing Baltimore defense … and Lamar Jackson, coming up big exactly when he needed to.
Part of the reason Jackson’s passing numbers don’t seem particularly impressive is that he racked up another 51 yards on the ground. He’s a constant threat to tuck and run, too quick for anyone bigger and too big for anyone faster to bring down.
Three new RBs, three TDs
What’s all the more impressive is that Jackson is working with a largely untested backfield. Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Le’Veon Bell each ran for a touchdown Sunday — and none of them played for Baltimore last year. That requires adjustment, not just the standard learning-a-new-playbook adjustment, but an entire learn-how-to-coexist-with-a-unicorn adjustment.
“They was hitting the holes hard. All three of them got a touchdown. That was dope,” Jackson said. “Those guys don’t want to get out there and be missing assignments and blowing plays.”
The interceptions weren’t backbreaking. The first, which came one play after the Baltimore defense picked off Herbert, resulted in a Chargers touchdown … that only cut the lead to 17-6. The second, with 6:38 remaining in the game, didn’t lead anywhere; the Ravens were already 28 points ahead.
“I didn’t see the linebacker (Kyzir White, who intercepted the first pass). I threw a great pass to him,” Jackson laughed after the game. “I was shocked, but it happened.”
The NFL’s winningest young QB
Wins are a terrible stat for measuring a quarterback’s value, but sometimes they provide enlightenment. Jackson won his 35th career game Sunday, passing Dan Marino for the most wins by a quarterback before turning 25. (Marino’s postseason record is a cautionary tale all its own, but that’s another story.) Jackson’s record as a starter is now 35-8. He won’t turn 25 until Jan. 7, two days before the end of the regular season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Jackson said when told of the record. “I don’t know what to say. Got to keep going.”
Baltimore is now, for the moment, in first place in the AFC, pending the outcome of Monday night’s Bills-Titans game. In the weeks ahead, Baltimore draws Cincinnati and Minnesota at home, with a bye week between, followed by road dates in Miami and Chicago. After some early-season rockiness, the Ravens appear firmly in control of both their division and their destiny.
Underlying this entire season? The question of Jackson’s contract. He’s in the fourth year of his rookie deal, meaning he’ll only make $1.77 million in base salary this year. He’s negotiating his deal himself, which means he won’t be paying an agent … but it also means he’s put negotiations on hold while he’s playing, staying “immersed” in football, according to ESPN.
Jackson has put himself at risk of suffering injury that could impact his negotiating position, but he’s also solidified his position in a way that fellow Class of ‘18 QB Baker Mayfield hasn’t. Every game that goes by now is just adding value to a quarterback who’s already one of the most important in the league. And that’s no lie.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]