Lamar Jackson is now leading the MVP race — and the Ravens almost botched drafting him

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BALTIMORE — “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” That was the thunderous chant from a good chunk of the 70,731 cheering the Ravens’ startling 41-7 rout of the Texans on Sunday, the love of a city pouring over Lamar Jackson. The chant might have been parochially biased a couple of weeks ago, but no more. It’s no lock, but Jackson might have surged ahead of Russell Wilson in the MVP race with more highlights to make Deion screech, including his first-ever Kent Tekulve submarine completion. Every week it’s something with this guy. Something fun. Something exhilarating.

Football changes so fast.

One draft can change a team for 15 years; the 2018 draft probably did for the Ravens, and it only did because their personnel leadership pushed the envelope before most front offices would have. One month can change a season; the Ravens were 4-2 without a signature win a month ago, and they’ve beaten Seattle, New England and Houston (by a combined 108-43) since. The Patriots were the AFC home-field locks a month ago, and they still could win it. But Baltimore’s the better team today, particularly after the defensive suffocation of Deshaun Watson on Sunday.

Football changes fast in other ways too. For Jackson, certainly.

Ten months ago in this stadium, there was another chant from the fans. They wanted Joe Flacco in and Jackson out. Remember? In the first 50 minutes of the wild-card playoff loss to the Chargers, Jackson completed three passes. Think of that today. Incomprehensible! His passer rating through 50 minutes? Jackson was pitching a Blutarski. Zero-point-zero. His late-season bubble was bursting. I was there 45 Sundays ago. I was stunned John Harbaugh didn’t summon Flacco, just to give a break to the kid who looked like he was melting down.

In a quiet moment Sunday, an hour after the crowd finished serenading Jackson, I found him at his locker. It seemed a little cruel, dredging up the worst day of his short professional life. But I’d heard that game had crushed him, and I’d heard the hatred of it motivated him to make sure it never happened again. How much motivation did that game provide? I wondered.

“Oh man, a lot,” Jackson said right away. “A lot of motivation. I watched … that game a lot. I critiqued myself, watching myself, and studying myself. I didn’t look like I was in it at all. That’s not fair to my teammates. I gotta build from that. Be a better player. Be a better teammate. I gotta keep it going. That one playoff game is in the past.”

But maybe not.

“It haunts me. I wanna get my team back there, and further.”

For a minute, just for fun, let’s focus on sports-talk candy. The MVP. I’d give it to Jackson today, by a whisker. Wilson, with a lesser offensive supporting cast, did hand the Niners their first loss on the road and has won six of seven while most often running for his life. Jackson’s apace to rush for 1,261 yards and to obliterate Michael Vick’s quarterback-rushing record by 222 yards. He is a weekly highlight factory. “He’s just freaky, and we’re on the ship with him,” said Seth Roberts, the itinerant wideout who caught the first of four Jackson TDs on Sunday. “Never, never, never seen anything like Freaky L.” Well, yes he is. But he’s not the MVP for being a highlight machine. In head-to-head matches with his midseason MVP competition, Wilson and Watson:

  • Jackson is 2-0.
  • His passer rating is 116.2.
  • He’s rushed for 202 yards.
  • He has zero turnovers.

Leading in the MVP race (if he is) after 11 weeks … that and six bucks will buy you a grande pumpkin spice latte. Means nothing yet, but if Jackson has a few more days like Sunday, he would be the youngest MVP winner since Jim Brown won in 1957 and 1958 just shy of his 22nd and 23rd birthdays. More recently, Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes were 23 years and several months old when they won in 1984 and 2018, respectively. Jackson turns 23 on Jan. 7; the award will be handed out 29 days later.

It’s easy to watch Baltimore now and get seduced by the quarterback and think that’s why the team is so good. Surely it’s the biggest reason. But I’ll give you two other reasons. One: They’re smart on draft day. Two: They’ve got stones on draft day.

On day one of the 2018 draft, the Ravens had one pick—16th overall. They had gone three straight playoff-less seasons. They had a 33-year-old quarterback they’d started to fall out of love with, though Flacco was five years removed from winning a Super Bowl. Their offensive core needed replenishment. It was GM Ozzie Newsome’s last draft before retirement. This was a big quarterback draft, with Baker MayfieldSam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Jackson all projected to go in the first round. There were scouts in the building who loved Jackson. Secretly, both Newsome and assistant GM DeCosta (Newsome’s heir) loved Jackson. And owner Steve Bisciotti was jazzed about the electric Jackson too, because he wanted to inject some life into a competitive but uninteresting franchise. The disinterest in vanilla football was showing at the gate too.

“We wanted quantity that day,” said DeCosta, the rookie GM, after Sunday’s game. “With the way the draft fell that year, we saw a way to really improve our offense. We were hoping the phone was gonna ring, starting at 16.”

Baltimore used the 16th pick to deal to Buffalo for 22 and 65. “We get to 22, and all of the players we liked are still there,” DeCosta said. “So we traded again.” Baltimore used 22 and moved it to Tennessee for 25 and 125. Newsome and DeCosta hadn’t shared with the scouts or coaches that they loved Jackson, so it wasn’t a stunner when, at 25, they decided to pick a player. It wasn’t Jackson.

Hayden Hurst, tight end, South Carolina. The failed baseball pitcher. Got the yips pitching in the Pirates’ minor-league system and moved to football. “We loved him,” DeCosta said.

But, I wondered, you loved a quarterback. Every pick goes by, and there’s a chance you lose him. Cincinnati’s at 21 and might pick him. Maybe Denver or Miami, early in the second round, moves up to pick him. Mobile guy. Great arm. Winner.

There was some cynicism about Jackson, too, which helped the Ravens. He’d been asked to work out as a receiver at the combine and refused. “I’m a quarterback,” he said. Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian said he might project as a receiver. There were rumors that the Bengals didn’t like him. As in most drafts, the Ravens used a best-guessing strategy, and a network of people in and around the game and in the media to sniff out information.

“You kinda have to use a strategy,” DeCosta said. “We felt like there was a pretty good chance that Lamar might be there later in the first round, early part of the second round. We were willing, if we could, to trade back, trade back, accumulate capital and then possibly either try to trade back again or in a second round, make a play and get Lamar at that point. But, you know, it was a risk.”

“Were you nervous about losing him?” I asked.

“We were. We were. But I think you’ve got to stay as clinical in the moment as you can, and really just go with all your best information and the plan. So yeah, you’re always nervous. You accept that you’ll lose some players working this way. But I think we try to stay as measured as possible and not get caught up in the moment.”

Two picks before Philly at 32, the Ravens called Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman. He wanted out of 32. He’d move down to 52, but it would cost Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2019. So two twos for Jackson? Newsome and Jackson were good with that. “We didn’t share what we were going to try and do with anybody,” said DeCosta. “Drafts are strange like that. It’s just Ozzie and me at the end of the table, the only ones who really know. When you’re trying to make a decision as important as that, you try and keep it as quiet as you can. Because it’s not that you don’t want to share it with people, but the downside—which would be losing the player—is much greater than the upside of sharing the information with somebody that you care about.

“We didn’t even interview Lamar at the combine because we didn’t want to be associated with him. We didn’t want rumors about us and him to start. They didn’t. We were proud of that. So we pick him, and to hear him talk, and to hear his emotion and to see Lamar on TV with Deion Sanders, so happy, and to see his conviction, and to see his competitiveness. That’s a powerful thing. So, after the pick was announced, we hadn’t even had the chance to tell the scouts and coaches.

“And I think it’s probably the first time in my 24 years that you could hear cheering outside the draft room. You could hear the coaches and you could hear the scouts. That was a powerful moment for us.”

Postscript: Remember that 65th pick, acquired from Buffalo? Baltimore dealt 65 to Oakland for 75, 152 and 212. Baltimore dealt 75 to Kansas City for 86 and 122. Baltimore traded 152 to Tennessee for 162 and 215.

The 65th pick, yielded five players. Two (Jordan Lasley and Greg Senat) are gone. Third-round tight end Mark Andrews is the fifth-leading tight end in receptions in the NFL. Sixth-round guard Bradley Bozeman is starting. Fourth-round linebacker Kenny Young was traded to the Rams this year (with a fifth-round pick) for Marcus Peters, who has two pick-six TDs in his first four games with the Ravens.

Not a bad draft. Baltimore turned the 16th pick in the draft and two twos, basically, into its long-term quarterback and tight end, a starting guard and a major one-year upgrade at corner.

The Ravens got gutty. Six trades, and the ability to take a deep breath and be willing to lose a player you’re sure will be a franchise quarterback. What if they lost Jackson? What if someone jumped them to take Jackson? Wouldn’t look like such a smart strategy now.

They didn’t lose Jackson. No one jumped them. You take your best shot. You use your best information. What happened here is exactly why the Ravens have been a competitive franchise, and better, since they moved to Baltimore in 1996.


In April, the Ravens asked Jackson to make an appearance at a draft party on day three of draft weekend. Sure, he said. He was going to be in New York to see a concert with some teammates Friday night, and he’d get up Saturday and drive back to Maryland for the event. He went to the concert, and got up Saturday for the drive home. One problem: He couldn’t locate one of his teammates. He called and texted, but to no avail. So he got in his car and drove back for the draft event.

Then he drove back to New York, three-plus hours, to pick up the teammate. And turned right around with him and drove to Baltimore.

He really didn’t have to do that. The teammate could have gotten on the train to come home. No, Jackson said; we came together, and I’ll get him home.

With Jackson, the football’s great. But you need to have the other stuff too—the leadership, your teammates having your back, a good locker room. Jackson brings that too.

Plus, they’ve got a guy convinced he’ll never have a 0.0 rating again. Ever. A loss like last January’s playoff loss won’t happen again, if Jackson has anything to do with it.

“I watched that game plenty enough times,” said Jackson. “I watched it with my brother. We talked about it. I hate that game. I really hated it on film because that’s not me. I’m not playing up to my ability at all. That’s not fair, like I said, to my teammates, my coaching staff. So each and every week I’m trying to get better. And it starts in practice.” When he arrived as a rookie, “I was like, ‘I want to be a better practice player because everywhere I went I sucked in practice but in a game I could show up. So I want to be a better practice player and a game player.”

It’s working.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.

2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

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The 2022 NFL Football season is finally back in session. This Sunday night features a match-up between Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers vs Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos. NBC and Peacock have got you covered with access to this week’s game as well as every Sunday Night Football game this season. See below for the complete 2022 Sunday Night Football schedule and find out how to live stream every game on Peacock.

RELATED: FMIA Week 2 – Mike McDaniel’s ‘F— It’ Play Powers Dolphins’ Comeback and How 49ers Adjust Without Trey Lance

This year’s Sunday Night Football coverage will feature Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth in the booth and Melissa Stark on the sidelines. Live coverage begins every Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America with the talented group of Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Jason Garrett, Chris Simms, Jac Collinsworth, Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. Berry, a fantasy football industry pioneer, will also appear on Peacock’s exclusive NFL post-game show, Sunday Night Football Final.

RELATED: How to watch Matthew Berry on NBC Sports

Football Night in America will also feature a weekly segment hosted by Simms and sports betting and Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.

2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule:

*Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Thursday, Sept. 8 (Week 1) – Josh Allen’s four touchdowns power Bills to 31-10 victory over Rams

Sunday, Sept. 11 (Week 1) – Bucs take care of business against Cowboys, who lose Dak Prescott late

Sunday, Sept. 18 (Week 2) Packers roll over Bears 27-10 as Aaron Jones, Preston Smith star

Sunday, Sept. 25 (Week 3) – 49ers at Broncos

Sunday, Oct. 2 (Week 4) – Chiefs at Buccaneers

Sunday, Oct. 9 (Week 5) – Bengals at Ravens

Sunday, Oct. 16 (Week 6) – Cowboys at Eagles

Sunday, Oct. 23 (Week 7) – Steelers at Dolphins

Sunday, Oct. 30 (Week 8) – Packers at Bills

Sunday, Nov. 6 (Week 9) – Titans at Chiefs

Sunday, Nov. 13 (Week 10) – Chargers at 49ers

Sunday, Nov. 20 (Week 11) – Bengals at Steelers

Thursday, Nov. 24 (Week 12) – Patriots at Vikings

Sunday, Nov. 27 (Week 12) – Packers at Eagles

Sunday, Dec. 4 (Week 13) – Colts at Cowboys

Sunday, Dec. 11 (Week 14) – Chiefs at Broncos

Sunday, Dec. 18 (Week 15) – Patriots at Raiders

Sunday, Dec. 25 (Week 16) – Buccaneers at Cardinals

Sunday, Jan. 1 (Week 17) – Rams at Chargers

Sunday, Jan. 8 (Week 18) – Matchup TBD

 RELATED: How to watch 49ers vs Broncos – Live stream, TV Channel, Game Preview


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

RELATED: PFT’s Week 3 2022 NFL power rankings

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: PFT’s Week 2 2022 NFL picks


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

How to watch San Francisco 49ers vs Denver Broncos: TV, live stream info, preview for Sunday Night Football game

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It’s the San Francisco 49ers vs the Denver Broncos this Sunday, September 25 at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock with Football Night in America. See below for additional information on how to watch the game.

Starting this week, Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.

RELATED: FMIA Week 2 – Mike McDaniel’s ‘F— It’ Play Powers Dolphins’ Comeback and How 49ers Adjust Without Trey Lance

Be sure to start your NFL Sunday with Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Football Pregame show beginning at 11 AM ET on Peacock and the NFL on NBC YouTube channel.

RELATED: Jimmy Garoppolo made an extra $350,000 on Sunday, and it could happen more often

San Francisco 49ers

After falling 19-10 in their season opener against the Chicago Bears, The San Francisco 49ers (1-1) bounced back in week 2 with a dominant 27-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday afternoon. However, the team lost starting QB Trey Lance in the process. Lance, who went 3rd overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, was carted off the field in the 1st quarter with a broken ankle that will require season-ending surgery. Jimmy Garoppolo is now back in the starting spot after the 49ers spent the majority of this offseason trying to trade him. San Francisco gave Garoppolo permission to seek a trade in July but ended up restructuring his contract with the intent of keeping him as the backup behind Lance.

RELATED: Trey Lance – I will be back better than ever

Garoppolo finished 13-of-21 for 154 passing yards with 1 passing touchdown and also rushed for a touchdown in Sunday’s win. While he was proud of his performance, Garappolo said the win was bittersweet.

“It felt good to be back out there. I feel terrible for Trey. I’ve been on that side of it. This league is tough.” Garoppolo told reporters at 49ersWebzone.com. “Everyone has their share of injuries but that sucks for him. I feel bad for him but he’s our brother and we’ll pick him up. . . . I’m comfortable here. The players, the scheme, all that stuff, the locker room, I’m comfortable. I’m familiar with it. I’m not saying I knew this was going to happen but I was ready for this in case it did happen and just want to take advantage of the opportunity.”

RELATED: Jimmy Garoppolo – Return to 49ers offense just like riding a bike

Denver Broncos

Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos (1-1) picked up their first victory of the season last Sunday with an ugly 16-9 win over the Houston Texans. The Broncos’ offense struggled for most of the game and first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett once again received criticism and even boos from the crowd for some questionable plays. Hackett, the former offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers (2019-2021) under Matt LaFleur, told reporters after the game that he will work to make his playcalling more efficient.

“I think I just need to be sure I clean up exactly what I’m hearing, where I’m going with, and make sure I’m on the same page for Russ. I think that will make us more efficient. ”

RELATED: Nathaniel Hackett – I need to do better making faster and quicker decisions

Wilson finished 14-of-31 passes for 219 yards, with one touchdown, one interception, and three sacks in Sunday’s win. The 9-time Pro-Bowler and 2014 Super Bowl Champion signed a 5-year, $245 million extension with the Broncos earlier this month making him the second highest paid player in the league in terms of average annual salary ($49M). The franchise is hoping the veteran QB can help lead the Broncos to their first playoff appearance since 2015.

RELATED: Russell Wilson – There will be tough times, all that matters is the win


How to watch the San Francisco 49ers vs Denver Broncos:

  • Where: Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado
  • When: Sunday, September 25
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the San Francisco 49ers vs Denver Broncos game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your NFL jersey and gear needs ahead of the 2022 season, click here!


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!