Here’s a little test to determine whether a football player is spectacular enough to be considered appointment viewing: Close your eyes and picture him up 18 points against a winless opponent on a sunny fall afternoon. Should you watch him play in a blowout, even though you could be using this time to participate in seasonal activities like apple picking and vest-wearing?
Lamar Jackson passes this test with flying colors, and if you abandoned the Baltimore Ravens’ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday then that means you missed the best highlight of the NFL season. Not even a bushelful of ripe Cortlands will convince you otherwise.
The Ravens won, 49–13. While the result was a foregone conclusion given the gulf in talent between the two teams, no one can accuse Jackson of being predictable. The networks will be airing replays of his 47-yard touchdown run for decades. We know this because a similar play has held a monopoly on the market for electric quarterback runs for the last 17 years: Michael Vick’s 46-yard walk-off overtime jaunt for the Atlanta Falcons against the Minnesota Vikings in 2002.
The runs are not identical, though you do have to squint at times to tell them apart. Jackson and Vick both roll left after faking handoffs, outrun the first level of the defense, and then make their opponents crash into each other like the Three Stooges during a tragic ice fishing expedition.
So, which one’s better?
The stakes. Vick’s highlight was an actual game-winner, whereas Jackson’s merely added to a sizable third-quarter lead. That Falcons victory came during Week 13 and helped them sneak into the playoffs, as they’d lose three of their four remaining games to finish the season 9–6–1. Baltimore, on the other hand, will never lose another game because Lamar Jackson is an invincible demigod made of pure electricity.
The opponents. The Miami Dolphins may have gone into the season with the goal of losing as many games as possible, but it’s the Cincinnati Bengals who are actually executing this plan to perfection. They are 0–9 after Sunday’s loss, and if they manage to get the first overall pick in the draft, then Jackson’s run might as well be the highlight of their season, too.
The 2002 Vikings weren’t exactly world-beaters, either, and that overtime loss sank them to a 3–10 record. They did have Randy Moss, though, and that’s something that certainly can’t be said of the 2019 Bengals.
The call. Kenny Albert is a solid announcer, but he was oddly restrained during Vick’s mazy run: “Inside the 20, Vick, into the end zone … Falcons win in overtime!” I’d never tell another professional how to do his job, but Albert should have at least considered sprucing up his call by screaming, “Boom!” or “That’s gotta hurt!” when the two Vikings defenders crashed into each other. At the very least he could have made an explosion sound with his mouth.
We were blessed to have Kevin Harlan in the booth for the Ravens-Bengals game, and the deliriously fun play-by-play man did not disappoint. Less than a week after his A+ radio call for the MetLife cat’s desperate on-field scramble, Harlan brought the goods yet again for Jackson’s run: “Look at him dart back and forth … OOOHH! HE BROKE HIS ANKLES! NOW HE’S GOT AN ENTOURAGE, AND HE’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN!”
Let Kevin Harlan announce everything. Even my own death—just make sure you revive me for just long enough so I can hear him on the replay.
The moves. Both Vick and Jackson used blistering speed to outrun their opponents, but only one quarterback uncorked a spin move in the open field. Like someone taking up the entire overhead compartment with his oversize carry-ons, Jackson’s juke was both ambitious and rude.
The sunglasses. I mean, look at this guy. The Lombardi Trophy is going to rename itself after him.
Chalk it up to recency bias or the jury’s childish obsession with spin moves, but Jackson is the winner here. His 47-yard touchdown run will never be topped (until he tops himself next week against the Texans).