Lamar Jackson has everything to gain in long-awaited defining moment

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has made a living off of overcoming the doubters, but his postseason struggles have kept him from being truly recognized as one of the game's greats. Sunday's AFC Championship could change that.

Lamar Jackson lets it fly against the Houston Texans
Lamar Jackson lets it fly against the Houston Texans / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

They say that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That moment is here for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, who take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Jackson is one of modern football's greatest success stories, and yet it feels like he's not appreciated enough for all he's accomplished. That's because for all of Jackson's accolades, he hasn't yet hoisted football's greatest prize: the Lombardi trophy.

Even without a Super Bowl win, Jackson's trophy case is nearly unrivaled. He is one of only seven players to win the Heisman Trophy and the NFL MVP (a feat he pulled off in just his second year in the league). He's been a first-team All-Pro twice. He's led the league in touchdown passes. Oh yeah, he's also the most dynamic running quarterback the league has ever seen, and he seems to be a lock to win his second MVP award this year.

Put it all together and you have a resume that anyone this side of Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady would be envious of, but you can ask Dan Marino how it feels to be missing the one notch on his belt that matters most.

Wins, of course, aren't a quarterback stat. Fairly or not, though, it's undeniable that winning is inextricably linked to a quarterback's legacy.

Lamar Jackson has been exceptional in the regular season, but his postseason struggles have kept him from reaching the Mahomes tier of all-time greats

Even after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round this past weekend, Jackson is only 2-3 in playoff games, and his stats, while not awful, aren't what you would expect from an MVP: 210.4 passing yards and 93.4 rushing yards per game, but only eight total touchdowns and five interceptions.

Comparisons between Jackson and Mahomes (not to be confused with Jackson Mahomes, who we never need to speak of) are inevitable. Along with Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, they represent the cream of the crop of the post-Brady and Aaron Rodgers generation.

Mahomes' record is unimpeachable: an Offensive Rookie of the Year award, two MVPs, two first-team All-Pro awards, two Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVPs, one other appearance, and he's never failed to make at least the AFC Championship Game in his six-year career as a starter.

It's unfair to be measured against Mahomes, who could end up as the greatest or second-greatest to ever do it when his career is all said and done. Comparisons to Allen and Burrow haven't been kind to Jackson either, though. Burrow led his team to within a few minutes of a Super Bowl title after beating Mahomes and the Chiefs at Arrowhead to get there, and though Allen hasn't yet reached the NFL's biggest game, it's been through no fault of his own, as he's been incredible in his playoff career. The only problem is that Mahomes and the Chiefs have been just a little bit better.

Jackson has the opportunity on Sunday to get the biggest win of his career, both from a team and personal legacy perspective, and there are reasons to believe that this time, he's going to get it done.

To begin with, this is the best all-around team that Jackson has played for. The Ravens' defense is elite, having allowed the fewest points and the fewest yards per pass attempt in the league. Roquan Smith and company lead the league in sacks and are tied for the league lead in turnovers forced.

The Ravens still have Justin Tucker, one of the best kickers in the game. Their head coach, John Harbaugh, has a Super Bowl win under his belt already. The biggest reason the Ravens could win it all, though, may be Jackson.

It's easy to forget that football is a difficult game, especially in the playoffs. The best teams, the best players, and the best coaches are all pitted against each other, and only one team can be left standing at the end. Instant success is incredibly rare, so when someone like Mahomes comes along and dominates the league, we look at other quarterbacks and wonder why they can't do the same thing.

Just look at the NBA to see how tough it is to get to the top of the mountain. Michael Jordan didn't win a championship until his seventh season. LeBron James didn't win it all until his ninth. These are arguably the two greatest players to ever play, and in a sport where one player can exert so much influence over the game, it still took them that long to win the ultimate prize.

Jackson is in only his sixth NFL season now, and despite his stumbles in prior postseasons, he's gotten better each time out. ESPN shows that his QBR has risen dramatically each year he's made the playoffs, going from 10.4 in his first appearance in 2019, to 30.4 in 2020, 65.7 in 2021, and now 93.9 so far in 2024.

Jackson's entire career has been about overcoming the odds. He wasn't one of the top recruits coming out of high school, then he put Louisville on the map while winning a Heisman Trophy. Despite his collegiate success, he was passed over in favor of fellow quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen in the draft, falling to No. 32 overall after many wondered whether he would be better suited to playing running back or wide receiver.

On Sunday, the stage is set for the biggest game of Jackson's life. Beat Mahomes and the Chiefs to reach the Super Bowl, something only Joe Burrow and Tom Brady have done, and any lingering doubts about his greatness will be erased. Win one more after that, and the pantheon awaits. This is Lamar Jackson's moment, and I wouldn't bet against him now.

30 greatest players to never win a Super Bowl. dark. Next. 30 greatest players to never win a Super Bowl