Lamar Jackson's performance Monday night against the Browns was something not even a movie script could capture. After leaving with cramps, only to reenter and lead his team to a last-second victory, Jackson's return was a major moment for Baltimore's 2020 season.
To many, it was also a big night in Jackson's career. Despite being the 2019 MVP of the league, the quarterback has been no stranger to criticism. Winning a divisional game in primetime gave him a chance to prove to everyone how elite he can be.
Well, almost everyone.
According to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Jackson's performance against the Browns didn't change his viewpoint on the quarterback.
“Absolutely nothing, he didn’t prove anything to me," Smith said on ESPN's First Take. "What were we surprised by?”
Smith isn't saying that Jackson doesn't deserve credit for his resilience and playmaking ability down the stretch, it's just that Jackson's performance on Monday didn't teach Smith anything new about him.
Aside from his touchdown on fourth down late in the contest and his passing on the ensuing drive, Jackson didn't do a ton in damage in the air. Where he hurt Cleveland was with his legs, rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Smith sees that as impressive, but he was already aware of what he could do in that area.
“But let’s face reality, Lamar Jackson was sensational because we saw him do things that no one else can do from the quarterback position when it comes to running the football, and he definitely deserves props for that," Smith said.
“The guy was sensational last night please don’t get me wrong," Smith said. "But what I saw from Lamar Jackson is a guy that is electrifying running the football.”
Smith wanted Jackson to "wow" him in the passing game, and he says didn't get that. He's aware that Jackson made a big play on the 44-yard score to Marquise Brown, and his passing to lead the Ravens to the game-winning field goal shouldn't be overlooked either.
Yet, Smith is still waiting for the play from Jackson to be there for an entire game under the bright lights. Even if Jackson brought that skillset 60-70% of the time, Smith feels he would be a constant member of the MVP conversation. As stated above, Jackson is the reigning league MVP.
Even if others saw enough from Jackson in the passing game to be pleased, Smith is not part of that crowd. Jackson's playmaking ability on the ground is great, and Smith will never deny that. Still, that was nothing out of the ordinary for Smith, and unless the passing game improves in his eyes, Jackson will be the same player he already was in his mind.
“So in the end when I look at it. I say Lamar Jackson is that dude, he’s electrifying, he’s spectacular, we all know he’s a game-changer, etcetera, etcetera," Smith said. "But, are you going to let him run for 124 yards in the postseason? You might not be able to prevent that but in the event that you force him to throw the football, is he going to be able to do that effectively for you? That still left a question mark for me.”
As often happens, Smith's counterpart on First Take -- Max Kellerman -- brings the opposite viewpoint.
“What matters today, Stephen A., of course Lamar Jackson proved something last night," Kellerman said.
To him, it all starts with what Jackson did in the fourth quarter. After being absent for the majority of it, the quarterback re-entered the game in potentially the most difficult scenario possible. Fourth down with the game on the line.
What did he do? Deliver. That proves everything one needs to know about Jackson, according to Kellerman.
“When Lamar comes back into the game, misses the fourth quarter, gets the ball on fourth down. The first time he touches the ball, it’s fourth down. And completes a 44-yard pass," Kellerman said. “That’s a Willis Reed moment. I know, Stephen A., that this is not the playoffs, but it’s a big game. It’s a Monday Night Football game against the Cleveland Browns who are ascending in the division.”
The knocks on Jackson, even with all the success he's had, have been his subpar passing at times and struggles in postseason performances. This game wasn't at the same level as one in January, but it was close. Baltimore needed a win for its playoff chances.
Jackson shined when he needed to, and did it with his passing. Though it wasn't there all game, it was when it mattered. Being that he did exactly what critics have asked of him, Kellerman couldn't understand why anyone would walk away not believing the quarterback proved something.
“So you mean to tell me, Lamar Jackson, who can’t pass when it matters right, who can’t beat the big team under the spotlight. I’ve said that," Kellerman said. "Who uses his legs but can he get it done with his arm? Comes in on fourth down, fourth-and-five, throws a 44-yard strike for a touchdown to give you the lead and then instead of being demoralized the team obviously is energized by him. Four completions, you’re in field goal range and you win the game.”
“And today, Stephen A. Smith wants to come out and quibble about the fact that they ran the ball a lot," Kellerman said. "What happened to you?”
Smith stood firm on his statement, claiming that Jackson was impressive, but just like last year, his regular season performance differed from what he showed in the playoffs. Until he changes that perception, Smith will see him in the same light.