Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was the closest thing to a one-man team in 2019.
Apparently the rest of the league thought so, too, as the 23-year-old Florida native was named the NFL Most Valuable Player on Saturday.
There were other dominant performers, like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. And then there is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the best and most feared player in the NFL. But Mahomes has receivers Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs are still formidable without him.
Without Jackson, the Ravens wouldn’t have had a franchise-record 12-game winning streak. They wouldn’t have won a franchise-record 14 games during the regular season or earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They wouldn’t have produced an NFL-record 3,296 rushing yards in a season, nor had the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, averaging 33.2 points per game.
Without Jackson, the Ravens would just be another average team in a league that prides itself on parity.
The NFL knows what it has in Jackson, who led all the players in Pro Bowl voting. Despite the early success, there is still a sense of humility about him. Forget this nonsense about an offensive revolution. The pistol offense the Ravens use was created in 1999 and is a hybrid of the traditional shotgun and single-back offense.
But no one runs like Jackson because no one can run like him. To be able to run at full speed, make cuts and even do a 360-degree spin without slowing down or breaking stride is incredible. The last player to be able to do that was Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears in the 1960s.
And he was a running back.
Jackson is still years away from being a top-notch passer, but during the regular season, he completed 265 of 401 passes for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was a bigger threat as a runner, rushing for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns on 176 carries.
Jackson was a defensive coordinator’s nightmare, and he compiled the big numbers without a legitimate No. 1 receiver. His presence on the perimeter was the key to the success of the inside running game, as well as making the play-action passing game effective.
Jackson also was able to control the pace of the game, which afforded a sometimes questionable defense time to rest. He did it all.
If the Ravens needed a last-minute return to win the game, the Ravens probably could have had him out there returning punts. The only job he didn’t do on game day was play as Poe, the mascot.
That was Poe, not Lamar, right?
Jackson breathed life into a franchise that hasn’t had much energy since Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired after the 2012 season.
“The Squirrel” dance was dead, and so was the swagger of being the NFL defensive bullies when other teams came into M&T Bank Stadium.
But Jackson made Sunday afternoons entertaining in Baltimore again. He had razzle and dazzle and that shake in the open field. It’s what this franchise needed after the national anthem kneeling in London in 2017.
Jackson also became good for the league, and not just because he’s one of the faces of a movement of young black quarterbacks. He can be a little eccentric and goofy at times, but he is always lifting up his teammates and the team. It doesn’t appear fake, either, and the league wants this type of image.
In years past, the TV networks and the NFL had to come up with new ways to promote Terrell Suggs or Joe Flacco. But now there is a new, true star player in Jackson, who can appear opposite Mahomes or Wilson. Jackson is ranked No. 12 on the NFL Players Association list of the top-selling players based on sales of all officially licensed NFL merchandise from March 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2019.
His season ended on a disappointing note when the Ravens lost in a divisional-round game to Tennessee as Jackson had three turnovers. But that game was clear evidence that if he didn’t bring his "A" game every week, the Ravens probably weren’t going to win.
Yet afterwards, you knew things were going to get better. No one expected Jackson to improve so much in one offseason. That’s a testimony to his work ethic. And the loss to the Titans will only drive him even more.
Now, there is more fuel for Jackson. He just won the MVP.
Latest Mike Preston
He will want another, and the Lombardi Trophy as well.