Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Jackson has taken his lumps.

His 1-3 record against the AFC’s perennial powerhouse, led by one of his top rival quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes, has left a mark. When asked Wednesday afternoon what he likes about competing with Mahomes, a two-time MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion, Jackson initially rejected the premise.

“I don’t like competing against him at all,” Jackson said with a chuckle.

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Yet the last win in the series was a coup for the Ravens and especially for Jackson. In Week 2 of the 2021 season, Jackson led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, running both himself into the end zone. After Odafe Oweh forced a fumble from Mahomes, Jackson iced it with a fourth-down dive just to put a point on it.

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At the time, it felt monumental for the Ravens to break through against the Chiefs after three straight losses. In his postgame locker room speech, even as John Harbaugh touted the “team win,” he added that it was “big for our quarterback.”

Jackson and Mahomes haven’t changed much as players since then — Mahomes won MVP in the 2022 season, and Jackson is poised to win the award for 2023. They’re still two of the best (perhaps the two best) quarterbacks doing it.

But much around them has shifted. Baltimore has added spacing in its offensive scheme and spent more draft capital and money on targets for Jackson. Meanwhile, Mahomes’ receiving room has never been thinner on playmakers. Rookie Rashee Rice is the team’s leading wideout (983 yards, 79 receptions) but no other wide receiver has cracked 500 yards. Travis Kelce is still one of the best receiving tight ends, but he just ended his streak of seven 1,000-yard seasons.

The script has flipped for Jackson, who always had talent within him but less around him to thrive as a passer. Now, off his best passing season ever, Jackson’s first playoff matchup against Mahomes is a referendum on not only him but everything Baltimore has done to empower him. The playing field is more even than their last meeting, if not tilted in Jackson’s favor.

“Just two greats — up-and-coming greats — just going toe to toe, like a heavyweight fight [and] heavyweight matchup,” Jackson said. “That’s just what I see.”

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When it comes to throwing the ball this season, there’s no doubt who does more of it. Mahomes has 140 more attempts than Jackson and 505 more passing yards. But Jackson has the same completion percentage as Mahomes (67.2%), a better quarterback rating (102.7 to 92.6) and half as many interceptions (7 to 14). Jackson just set a career high in yards per attempt (8.0), while Mahomes set a career low (7.0). The quarterbacks threw nearly the same intended air yards (Jackson’s 3,831 to Mahomes’ 3,876).

Jackson has even set highs in his passing without Mark Andrews for the back half of the season. Mahomes’ leading receiver was Kelce, but without Tyreek Hill taking the tops off opposing defenses, his deep-ball threat has been sapped. Notably, Mahomes has suffered from 39 drops this season (6.9% rate); Jackson has seen only 22 (5%).

The passing numbers generally show Jackson has benefited from a new offense under Todd Monken, while Mahomes has been forced to adjust after losing some of his more reliable weapons (longtime OC Eric Bieniemy also left during the offseason).

The Chiefs wound up as only the 15th-ranked scoring offense in the league, relying on their elite defense (second in points allowed) to pull them through a number of close games — the Ravens’ calling card for most of the team’s history.

Jackson’s dynamic running ability only enhances his improving passing game and keeps opponents guessing. While acknowledging that Mahomes is an “elite” quarterback, Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith said he was glad he never has to face Jackson on the other side of the line.

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“I just know his mindset, how excited he is [to] show the world exactly who he is play in and play out, and just the way he’s leading the offense and the things he’s able to do with the football,” he said. “Like I’ve always said since I’ve been here, I’m just grateful that I’m playing with him and not against him, because it’s definitely a handful, and he can beat you in so many different ways.”

Mahomes is not to be counted out, of course. This postseason, he’s thrown three touchdowns against zero interceptions. In his duel with Buffalo’s Josh Allen, he was 17-for-23 for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Kelce.

But the Ravens believe what they saw in 2021 was just a preview of what Jackson can do.

“I feel like that’s been the whole thing with Lamar’s career. People try to write Lamar off with little comments here and there,” receiver Tylan Wallace said. “But I feel like this year, more than any year, he’s proven who he is, the type of player he is and the type of talent he has. So hopefully, going in there, people can stop doubting him.”

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum. 

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