Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson has earned MVP endorsements from teammates, analysts and several former NFL players, but ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is still not on board, and his reasoning is highly suspect.
“I think that with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, as great as he has been, there’s been too many times [he] struggles at pivotal moments,” said Smith yesterday, leaving many on social media to wonder if the longtime radio and personality has even watched Jackson and the Ravens in 2021.
The longtime television and radio personality has clearly not been paying attention to Jackson in so called “pivotal moments,” as Baltimore’s franchise quarterback has led his team to three double-digit comebacks in the second half this season.
First, Jackson outdueled Patrick Mahomes to notch his first career victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 after being down by 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Then, he overcame a career-high 19-point deficit in the second half of the Ravens’ Week 5 game versus the Indianapolis Colts, setting multiple records in the process. Throw in his 14-point comeback against the Minnesota Vikings this past weekend, and it’s difficult to see why Smith doubts Jackson’s ability to deliver in high-leverage situation.
The “struggles” that Smith mentioned may be a reference to Jackson’s overtime interception on Sunday, but if Smith had actually watched the play, he would see that the interception wasn’t Jackson’s fault.
In fact, Jackson was driving the Ravens’ offense down the field and had fullback Patrick Ricard wide open, but Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr made an extremely athletic play to tip the pass up and secure the pick.
After Baltimore’s defense forced a three-and-out, Jackson overcame tough starting field position at his own 10-yard line to lead a 13-play, 82-yard drive that set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal.
While the Ravens would certainly rather not play from behind as frequently as they have this season, Jackson’s ability to take over games in the second half is an advantage few other teams have.
Brady or Jackson For MVP?
But Smith prefers a different quarterback for this year’s Most Valuable Player award: Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m going to roll with Tom Brady for the moment,” said Smith, marveling at the 44-year-old’s production despite his age.
Smith also cited Brady’s ability to keep Tampa Bay’s offense humming despite injuries to Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski as further evidence that the former New England Patriot should win his fourth MVP trophy.
But Jackson has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries this season, losing his top three running backs for the season before it even began. He’s also playing behind an offensive line that only has two of its Week 1 starters playing the same position, with injuries to Ronnie Stanley and Patrick Mekari still hurting Baltimore’s pass protection.
Brady has also made mistakes in key moments this year, including a pick six against the New Orleans Saints that sealed a loss for the Buccaneers.
To his credit, Brady owned the mistake after the game, saying, “It cost us the game,” per Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
Keyshawn Johnson Backs Lamar
But three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson countered his ESPN colleague and defended Jackson and the Ravens, saying, “Their record doesn’t indicate he’s struggling, and neither do his statistics.”
Johnson noted that Jackson is on pace for 5,800 yards of total offense this season, which would set an all-time NFL record.
“You cannot say that he’s not the MVP,” argued Johnson, who predicted that other quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams would be able to bring similar success to Tampa Bay if they replaced Brady.
But if the Ravens had to do the same, Johnson thinks they’d be “getting ready for Christmas without Lamar Jackson in the lineup.”
There’s plenty of football left to be played this season, so the MVP race is still fairly open, but if Jackson continues his excellence in both running and passing the football, he’ll be a top contender to be the youngest two-time winner in league history.