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NY Post
New York Post
16 Dec 2023


NextImg:Lamar Jackson is paving an MVP campaign ahead of showdown with Jaguars

You’ve heard the names for weeks, the NFL’s top candidates for Most Valuable Player:

Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill from the Dolphins. Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey from the 49ers. Jalen Hurts from the Eagles. Dak Prescott from the Cowboys. Patrick Mahomes from the Chiefs.

A name we haven’t heard a lot of is Lamar Jackson from the Ravens.

All the Baltimore quarterback has done is throw 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions and rushed for 644 yards with five more TDs en route to leading the Ravens to a 10-3 record entering Sunday night’s pivotal game at 8-5 Jacksonville.

The Ravens enter the week as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, which means if the regular season ended this week, they’d have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, ending the Chiefs’ reign of domination in the conference.

Jackson has been at the center of the Ravens’ run, which is at seven wins in the past eight games, and that’s ramped up the MVP talk. He won the honor in 2019.

“It’s an honor just being acknowledged — to be conversation with great guys,” Jackson said of the MVP talk. “But I’m just trying to stay locked in trying to win, because I want another [Super Bowl] trophy.”

Lamar Jackson (8) runs with the ball past Los Angeles Rams linebacker Troy Reeder. AP

Jackson isn’t likely to match all of the numbers he put up four years ago when he was MVP, including 36 passing touchdowns to go with 1,206 rushing yards and seven TDs. He is, however, on pace for career highs in passing yards (he has 2,934 through 13 games) and completion rate (66.8 percent). He’s done this without his top tight end, Mark Andrews, who was injured in November.

Jackson is 14-3 in his career in December, the NFL’s second-best record among quarterbacks since 2018 behind only Aaron Rodgers, who’s 17-3.

“He’s one of a kind,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There’s nobody like Lamar Jackson.”

Jackson and the Ravens are focused on making sure the AFC has to come through Baltimore in the postseason.

“We want it bad,” linebacker Patrick Queen said of getting a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

“Just because they put a bracket on the TV screen, it doesn’t mean anything,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what you do, so our guys understand that we have to go earn everything we get, and if we earn it, then we’ll get it. If we don’t earn it, we won’t.’’

If the Ravens do cross the regular-season finish line with the top seed, they will have earned it based on their remaining schedule, which represents a gauntlet. After the Jaguars game, they play at the NFC-leading 49ers (10-3) on Christmas night, then host AFC East-leading Dolphins (9-4) and face the Steelers (7-6) to close out the season.

For the Jaguars, it’s all about quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who played last week against the Browns a week after he suffered a high-ankle sprain against Cincinnati. But he struggled, completing just 28 of 50 passes with three interceptions.

Lawrence is without one of his top targets, receiver Christian Kirk, who just went on injured reserve, but he still has receiver Calvin Ridley (55 catches for 742 yards and five TDs) and tight end Evan Engram (84 catches for 701 yards and three TDs).

The Ravens lead the league with 49 sacks, led by the remarkable season of defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who enters with at least a half-sack in 10 consecutive games and is just one away from tying Kansas City’s Chris Jones for the longest all-time sack streak among interior defensive linemen. Jones had 11 consecutive games with at least half a sack in 2018.

Trevor Lawrence

Trevor Lawrence is playing through an ankle injury. USA TODAY Sports

“It’s on my mind, but I don’t worry about it,’’ Madubuike told reporters this week.

Offensively, Ravens receiver Zay Flowers has scored three times in the past two games.

The Jaguars will be challenged because they haven’t has success against the NFL’s top defenses this season. They’re 0-3 against Cleveland (ranked first), San Francisco (seventh) and Kansas City (sixth), and they’ve failed to eclipse 300 yards against any of those teams.

The Ravens are ranked second in the league in yards allowed, second in points and lead the league with 49 sacks.

“If you want to get to the end of the season where we’re all trying to get, you’re going to play teams with great defenses,” Lawrence told reporters this week. “That’s what gets you there. That’s a big part of why teams are good. … Baltimore is a top team in the AFC right now. Defensively, they’re playing lights out.”

The Jaguars are just 2-4 at home this season, leading pass rusher Josh Allen to say, “We need to play with our hair on fire. We need to come out fighting and swinging. Our back’s against the wall right now, and we’ve got to respond like it.”

The Jaguars are playing on “Sunday Night Football” for the first time in 14 years. They’ve played in prime time 11 times. Jacksonville’s last Sunday night game came against Pittsburgh in 2008, a 26-21 loss.