Lamar Jackson continues to amaze as Ravens rout Rams

LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Jackson threw for five touchdown passes and ran for 95 yards in just over three quarters Monday night on the worn turf in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but that did not speak to the true brilliance of his performance in the Ravens' 45-6 victory over the Rams.

Normally when a team scores touchdowns on its first six possessions while yielding only two field goals, when it sucks all of the oxygen out of the stadium with advantages of 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-6 at the half, the game advances from boring to unwatchable. But Jackson's ability to turn the mundane into the spectacular caused fans across America to leave the remote on the table until they were sure his work was done for the evening.

I know this to be true because friends were texting me late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. One went so far as to call the game "fun" to watch. Why? Because Jackson has special gifts that allow him to do things no other quarterback in the game can do at this moment, at least not with the speed and flair that he possesses. He makes you hold your breath because you suddenly believe the impossible is possible.

The Rams (6-5) desperately needed a victory to keep their playoff hopes on life support. They acknowledged beforehand that this was a "must" game for them. And yet they looked hapless against Jackson. They had no answer for him as a passer or a runner.

He consistently made them pay for playing outside leverage in man coverage near the goal line, pinpointing passes to receivers who had taken inside releases, two of them for touchdowns to Marquise Brown in the first quarter. He was no less effective on called runs, at times leaving the Rams grasping at air because of his speed and cutting ability.

But what truly makes Jackson must-see TV is his ability to turn nothing into something. Like late in the first half, when he fumbled the snap while attempting a fake handoff from the shotgun formation. Instead of giving up on the play, he picked up the ball while keeping his eyes downfield, took off toward the line, split the defense and sprinted 29 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram.

"He's amazing," said Rams safety Eric Weddle. "He's one of a kind."

Jackson has been amazing during the Ravens' seven consecutive wins, which matches their longest streak since 2000. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns over the last three games, his five on Monday tying for his career-high. He also has rushed for 568 yards over the last six games and is on pace to break the single-season rushing record for a quarterback that Michael Vick set in 2006 with 1,039 yards.

Vick was on hand for part of the game Monday, and a week earlier he acknowledged watching every snap in that weekend's game win which Jackson threw for four touchdowns and rushed for 79 yards. And while their names often are mentioned in the same sentence, the truth is that they are not the same player. Vick was never the passer from the pocket that Jackson is.

Ironically, that was supposed to be the knock on Jackson coming out of Louisville -- that he could not win from the pocket. Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian even suggested before the draft that Jackson move to wide receiver, a lazy analysis that was an insult to the player and everything he had accomplished.

Polian has since apologized, perhaps because Jackson's success as both a runner and a passer are undeniable. But, for me, the apology means nothing if Polian scouts the next young, black, dual-threat quarterback in the same way he did Jackson. Changed behavior equals sincerity. His words matter because he is respected. It's not a reach to say they could have impacted some personnel people, who passed on Jackson until retiring Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome traded back into the first round to select him with the last pick of the round.

Granted, Jackson did not fit the mold of the "traditional" NFL pocket passer. But more and more coaches and scouts are pointing out that the position is going through a transition. With so many colleges now relying on mobile, read-option quarterbacks, it was a matter of time before it infiltrated the NFL. Jackson and players like Arizona rookie No. 1 pick Kyler Murray could accelerate the process.

That said, it's foolish to think you're going to find a Lamar Jackson around every corner. Multiple members of the organization use the word "generational" when discussing him. In addition to possessing sublime talent, he has that "it" factor that makes others gravitate to him and rally around him.

"Everybody has been trying to define leadership for years, but you know it when you see it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said outside the postgame interview tent. "Lamar has genuine, unabridged humility. We have a saying: humility with a hard edge. He has all that. He's one of the most humble and yet at the same time most confident people I've ever met in my life. He's been raised the right way. Give his mom and his family a lot of credit."

I will never forget the photo of Jackson and his mom essentially sitting alone in the green room at the draft, waiting to hear his name called as it started to look as if he would fall out of the first round in part because they were adamant that Jackson was a quarterback and was not willing to be a receiver, a returner or a gimmick. Their circle was small and tight. You didn't have to believe in him because he believed in himself.

Credit also goes to Harbaugh for not dipping his toe in the waters with Jackson. He chose to build his offense around his quarterback's skillset rather than make Jackson adjust to the system the Ravens had run under predecessor Joe Flacco, a pure pocket passer. Harbaugh changed offensive coordinators, promoting Greg Roman, who had experience working with a player with Jackson's skills from his time as San Francisco's coordinator when Colin Kaepernick was there.

When I spoke to Roman earlier this year about Jackson, he marveled at the youngster. "Lamar is a special talent," he said. "I'm hoping he can become a great one."

If he fails it won't be from a lack of effort or focus. He finished 15 of 20 for 169 yards and five scores -- he was 9 of 9 for 87 yards and three scores at the half -- but refused to be satisfied. He mentioned the fumble late in the first half and said one of his passes to Brown did not have the proper placement.

None of this surprises the Ravens, or me. I met with Jackson the day after the draft and threw a hypothetical at him: If you could only have one or the other, a Super Bowl ring or a Hall of Fame jacket, which would it be?

Jackson didn't hesitate. A Super Bowl ring, he said.

"If you're winning Super Bowls," he continued, "things like gold jackets can follow."

A year and a half later, his mindset has not changed. As he stood along the sideline in the fourth quarter, Ravens fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" behind the bench. As he made his way off the field and up the tunnel, they repeated the chant. There was love and affection. The only person not moved by it was Jackson.

"It's OK," he said of the recognition, "but I'm trying to win the Super Bowl and take it one game at a time. I'm not worried about MVP, you know? If it comes, it comes. I'm trying to win the Super Bowl. That's a team award and that's what I want."

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.

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