As the euphoria dimmed and the questions arrived late Sunday afternoon, Ravens teammates tried to make sense of what they’d seen from their leader, their quarterback, the NFL’s presumptive Most Valuable Player. Lamar Jackson had always been capable of head-shaking greatness, of defying even the most outsize expectations. But this?

“Like watching a video game,” cornerback Arthur Maulet said.

“I was like a little kid at the movie theaters, except I didn’t have popcorn,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said.

“The things he does, no other player in the NFL can do,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said.

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Perhaps at some point in the not-too-distant future, the sheer scale of Jackson’s greatness in the Ravens’ 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins will be reckoned with and accounted for. On Sunday, it was lost amid the jubilation of a division title, the AFC’s No. 1 seed, home-field advantage, a sixth straight win, another blowout of a would-be Super Bowl contender inside M&T Bank Stadium.

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With the passage of time will come greater perspective, and with greater perspective will come clarity on just where Jackson’s epic afternoon stacks up among his many epic days in the NFL. Could it have been his best ever?


First, the traditional stats: In three-plus quarters, Jackson went 18-for-21 for 321 yards and five touchdowns. He finished with a perfect passer rating (158.3) for the third time in his NFL career, tying Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner for the most in NFL history in games with at least 15 pass attempts. He added six carries for 35 yards.

Second, the nerdy stats: Jackson averaged 1.23 expected points added per drop-back, according to TruMedia, the second highest of his career. He averaged 9.4 yards per play, the third highest of his career. His success rate on pass plays was 68.2%, the fourth highest of his career. He averaged 4.45 points per drive, the fifth highest of his career.

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Third, some context on Jackson’s supporting cast: He was playing without his favorite target, tight end Mark Andrews; the offense’s two most explosive running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Keaton Mitchell; and stalwart right guard Kevin Zeitler, all sidelined by injuries. Top wide receiver Zay Flowers was running at less than full strength, as Stanley and right tackle Morgan Moses have been for months now. The whole team was playing on a short week’s rest after a smashmouth win Monday night over the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers (4) runs down the field during the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023.
At less than full strength, Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers had three catches for 106 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Fourth, some context on the defense: The AFC East-leading Dolphins (11-5) entered Sunday as an elite defense with room still to grow. Since Week 8, Miami had ranked first in EPA per play, second in success rate and fifth in DVOA, according to FTN — and it had done so for the past month without star safety Jevon Holland, who returned from injury Sunday. (Crucially, the Dolphins’ defense did lose starting cornerback Xavien Howard to a foot injury on their first series of the game Sunday.)

And yet there was almost nothing Jackson could not do. His 32-yard pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. down the right sideline in the second quarter was, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the most improbable connection of his career. Jackson’s completion percentage (85.7%) was 18.7% higher than expected. Even his three incompletions were, in retrospect, unlucky; two of the passes bounced off the hands of their target, and the third was into coverage that perhaps warranted a penalty for pass interference.

“He played a great football game,” coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens (13-3) clinched their first division title since 2019 and fifth in his tenure. “He played a perfect football game in terms of the passing game. He was just on point.”

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When Jackson went supernova for stretches four years ago, he toasted defenses still figuring him out, this unprecedented mix of supreme running talent and immense but still-raw passing ability. He earned unanimous MVP honors as the NFL’s single-season record-holder for rushing yards by a quarterback and the Ravens’ single-season record-holder for passing touchdowns.

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Over the seasons that followed, opponents got smarter. Game plans got better. Every once in a while, Jackson could be blitzed into submission. Or he could be deceived. He could be made to feel uncomfortable. Even this season, his fifth as a full-time starter in Baltimore, there have been ups and downs.

But on Sunday, Jackson played as if he’d stepped into the Matrix. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, one of the NFL’s most influential and respected play callers, threw almost everything he had at the Ravens’ offense. Jackson seemed to see everything. Jackson seemed to hit everything — the fastballs and the changeups, the curveballs, even the high-leverage stuff.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson waves his towel as he takes the field for Sunday's game against the Dolphins. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Against the blitz, according to NGS, Jackson was 8-for-10 for 207 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. (The one time he saw a “Cover 0″ all-out blitz, Jackson found tight end Isaiah Likely for a 7-yard touchdown.) When he wasn’t blitzed, he went 10-for-11 for 114 yards, two touchdowns and a 149.4 passer rating.

Against man coverage, Jackson went 8-for-9 for 151 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. Against zone coverage, he went 10-for-12 for 170 yards, a touchdown and a 146.5 passer rating.

On deep passes, Jackson went 3-for-4 for 133 yards, a touchdown and a 156.3 passer rating. On short passes, he went 7-for-7 for 81 yards, two touchdowns and 154.5 passer rating.

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On first down, Jackson went 12-for-13 for 194 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. On fourth down, he went 1-for-1 for 35 yards, one touchdown and a perfect passer rating.

Such was Jackson’s focus that, afterward, he said he hadn’t paid much attention to the countless chants of “M-V-P” ringing out around the stadium during the game. He was intent on finishing the job.

“Last year, the score was looking like that at halftime and … [the] third quarter,” Jackson said, referring to the Ravens’ fourth-quarter collapse against Miami in Week 2. “Then those guys started making plays, and we didn’t do anything. But the only thing on my mind was to finish the game, and today we did.”

About 20 minutes later, in one corner of the Ravens’ emptying locker room, Jackson was asked whether he’d seen the latest attempt to discredit his bona fides: how, in one shock jock’s mind, he was not “quarterbacky” enough to be recognized as the NFL’s MVP after the win over San Francisco.

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Yes, Jackson said, he had seen the now-viral tweet. He just … didn’t know what that word meant.

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“He’s clearly a quarterback,” fullback Patrick Ricard said. “He makes the plays and the throws. OK, because he can run the ball pretty well, so he’s not as ‘quarterbacky’? I don’t get it. He’s a great player.”

Jackson was a special level of great Sunday. Great enough to savor in the moment, sure, but also great enough to appreciate five, 10, however many years from now, when the wide sweep of history will show just how rare an afternoon it was.