I’ve always wondered about the internal politics of the jersey swaps you see at the end of NFL games. It has to be awkward if you’re a star and a backup on another team comes and asks for your jersey. Is there an on-field version of ghosting another dude?
More often than not, the jersey swaps make sense. Players of relatively equal stature always seem to complete the maneuver, and sometimes, a cool moment even materializes.
That’s what we got Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, when Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson swapped jerseys after the Ravens’ stunning 41-7 victory.
Watson’s Texans got decimated against a likely playoff foe and he was thoroughly outplayed by his peer, yet he managed to elevate this already cool moment shared between two young black quarterbacks — each thriving in a league that used to doubt players who looked like them — to another level by adding a note on the jersey he handed to Jackson.
It read, “Keep going fam! Always love! 100! MVP.”
“He’s like a brother to me,” Watson explained later. “Keep going and stay healthy.”
It was the ultimate show of respect to a player who might be a foe on the field, but one Watson, an MVP candidate himself, appreciates. As he should. As we all should.
Jackson’s thorough dismantling of the Texans solidified the Ravens as the favorite in the AFC North, where they have a commanding three-game lead, and anchored them as a likely No. 1 or 2 playoff seed, making them a Super Bowl contender with an outside shot of home-field advantage.
In the playoffs, against the league’s very best teams, a team has to win games strength-on-strength, as late Raiders owner Al Davis said. In Sunday’s matchup between the league’s top-ranked run offense and third-ranked run defense, Baltimore tallied an obscene 263 yards, powered by Jackson’s 86 on nine carries.
That includes his latest highlight-reel run, a 39-yarder that later had his head coach shaking his head in disbelief.
“It was remarkable, it was incredible,” John Harbaugh said with a chuckle, setting up the punch line. “I’ve never seen one quite like it — except for last week.”
Indeed. That run last week — the prime Michael Vick-ish 47-yard touchdown run, accentuated by a Barry Sanders-like spin move — made this one look tame by comparison.
But make no mistake about it — it was still insane.
“He keeps just one-upping himself each week,” running back Mark Ingram II said.
And now, through 10 games, Jackson’s 788 yards rushing rank eighth in the league, and he’s on pace to top Vick’s all-time record for single-season quarterback rushing yards (1,039).
Jackson’s speed and elusiveness should make reaching that mark a slam dunk, provided he stays healthy. He puts constant stress on defenses because it constantly puts them in no-win situations.
For example, defenses can either put smaller, speedier guys on the field to match up with Jackson, only to find themselves pummeled by the Ravens’ bruising downhill game, featuring two and sometimes three tight ends.
Conversely, they can put bigger players on the field to match up with the tight ends — Jackson’s favorite weapons in the passing game — only to watch the evolutionary Vick dance around them and make them look foolish.
It’s an impossible choice.
“Obviously, with Lamar, we create mismatches,” said All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda, whose run-game versatility is another big reason for Baltimore’s success. “It puts a lot of stress on their defense. I felt like as the game went on, we kind of wore them down a little bit.
“That was the No. 3 run defense, so it’s pretty crazy.”
Any NFL offense can be stopped if it’s one-dimensional. So in many ways, it’s what Jackson is doing through the air that has lifted the ceiling of this team to a Super Bowl level. Through 10 games, Jackson is on pace to complete 65.9 percent of his passes for 3,620 yards, 27 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 101.7.
And on Sunday, Jackson completed 13 consecutive passes at one point and became the first Ravens quarterback in history to post multiple four-touchdown games in one season.
“That’s a good stat, I like that stat — I’d rather throw them than run them,” Jackson said. “Like I said before, since I’m a running back … we’re just going to keep doing [it] each and every week.”
And as long as he does that — and Jackson keeps that “you-said-I-was-a-running-back” energy, the Ravens will keep being called a legit Super Bowl contender and Jackson will keep being called “MVP” by respected opponents like Watson.
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