The Kansas City Chiefs visit the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football this week. It is the most hyped prime-time NFL game since the Chiefs played the Rams on MNF in 2018, but with the added bonus of pitting Patrick Mahomes against Lamar Jackson. Each QB has won an MVP award and starred on the cover of Madden before turning 25, and Mahomes has earned a Super Bowl MVP trophy, too. Together, Mahomes and Lamar look like the present and future of NFL stardom, the kind of players who are not only winning, but are redefining what it means to be an NFL quarterback.
The best of the best make the hardest achievements look effortless. Tom Brady is cool because he wins. Mahomes and Jackson are cool because of how they win. No two players have produced more highlights in the past couple seasons than these QBs. So ahead of Monday’s epic matchup, let’s count down their top 15 highlights: seven from Lamar and eight from Mahomes (Mahomes gets the tiebreaker since he won the Super Bowl). Appropriately, we will start by going back to when these teams played almost exactly a year ago.
15. Lamar’s Fourth-and-5 Heave
Week 3, 2019: Chiefs 33, Ravens 28
Lamar definitely got lucky here, but luck favors the prepared. Baltimore was down 17 early in the fourth quarter, and the Ravens decided to go for it on fourth-and-5. Kansas City sent an unblocked blitzer directly through the Baltimore offensive line, and the blitzer wrapped himself around Lamar’s back leg. Jackson launched a prayer to Seth Roberts, and that prayer was answered.
14. Mahomes’s Jump Pass
Week 10, 2019: Titans 35, Chiefs 32
Mahomes jumped in the air to buy himself an extra tenth of a second, and it turned into a 63-yard touchdown. Ridiculous. It’s also worth noting that Mecole Hardman is not even the fastest player on the Chiefs.
13. Lamar’s “Not bad for a running back” Miami Game
Week 1, 2019: Ravens 59, Dolphins 10
This one is cheating because it is three highlights, but together they changed the narrative around Lamar last year. Jackson was clearly a strong runner entering the 2019 season, but there were questions about whether he could pass at the NFL level. He answered those questions in Week 1 by atomizing the Miami Dolphins. Jackson’s final stat line for the game was 17 completions on 20 passes for 324 yards, five touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Jackson specifically shined in a stretch of six throws when he tossed three touchdown passes.
First came an 83-yard strike to Marquise Brown, when Jackson’s throw traveled an effortless 45 yards through the air. Seven plays later, Jackson dropped a pass perfectly into receiver Willie Snead’s arms for another score. One throw after that, Jackson found himself back at the Miami goal line. After the snap, he backpedaled 15 yards, and then floated a perfect throw to receiver Miles Boykin. Six passes, three touchdowns, and zero remaining questions about whether he could throw. As Lamar said after the game, “Not bad for a running back.”
12. The New England Coming-Out Party
Week 9, 2019: Ravens 37, Patriots 20
The Dolphins game answered the questions about Jackson’s passing, but the Patriots game showed he could do it against the best of the best. Lamar and the Ravens ran ragged over New England’s (at the time) historically good defense on Sunday Night Football. It was an official announcement that the NFL’s balance of power had shifted. There are a number of plays from that night worth putting here, including one when Lamar spun linebacker Kyle Van Noy out of his cleats. But this play was perhaps his best of the night and a sign of how good Baltimore’s offense had become.
At the snap, the Patriots are in man-to-man coverage and send an all-out blitz—leaving zero safety help in the secondary. The hope is they’ll sack Lamar before he’s able to process what is happening. But Lamar gets the ball out, and the throw more than picks up the third-and-5.
The Ravens are already so difficult for defensive coordinators to plan against, but when Jackson recognized and defeated Bill Belichick’s heaviest blitzes at just 22 years old, he showed he can beat teams with his intelligence as well as his arm or legs.
11. Mahomes’s Second Quarter Against Oakland
Week 2, 2019: Chiefs 28, Raiders 10
It’s cheating to use an entire quarter, but Mahomes was basically using a cheat code in this game. In Week 2 against the Raiders last year, Mahomes threw for 278 yards and four touchdown passes in the second quarter. If that wasn’t wild enough, the shortest of Mahomes’s touchdown passes was 27 yards. But 27 yards isn’t that long when you can throw the ball 55 yards in the air this effortlessly.
10. Lamar Jackson Breaks Records and Ankles
Week 14, 2019: Ravens 24, Bills 20
This is how Lamar Jackson went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season.
9. Super Bowl 2-3 Jet Wasp
Super Bowl LIV: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20
This was the pendulum play of Super Bowl LIV. With Kansas City down 10 points and just seven minutes remaining, Mahomes asked his coaches to run “2-3 Jet Wasp”—the play that shifted the Super Bowl tides.
This pass travels in the air from one 23-yard line to the other, and the Chiefs scored a touchdown three plays later to get within a field goal of tying the 49ers. This play barely cracks the list of Mahomes’s best, especially since he had thrown two interceptions earlier in the half, but the Chiefs probably don’t win the Super Bowl without it.
8. Mahomes’s Machado Throw
AFC championship game, 2018 season: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31
Patrick Mahomes, like his dad, came up as a pitcher, and it’s easy to recognize that history when he rips passes at weird angles. But his most impressive throws are not when he throws like a pitcher; they’re when he throws like a third baseman. Coming out of halftime in the AFC championship against the Patriots two years ago, Mahomes threw a ball that was more similar to a Manny Machado–launched baseball than to an NFL pass. Mahomes found Sammy Watkins on the move and hit him perfectly in stride.
7. Mahomes Throws Left-Handed
Week 4, 2018: Chiefs 27, Broncos 23
Just as we were all wondering what Mahomes would do next, he switched hands. Third-and-5, fourth quarter, down three points with Von Miller chasing him? No problem. He’ll just throw it with his nondominant hand. This is as “in the zone” as an athlete can get. Kansas City went on to score the game-winning touchdown a couple minutes later.
6. All of Lamar’s Rushing Skills in Seven Seconds
Week 3, 2019: Ravens 28, Chiefs 33
This is everything that makes Lamar Jackson a special runner, condensed into one play.
- Acceleration. Jackson outruns Kansas City’s Emmanuel Ogbah (no. 90), who is in the 100th percentile among defensive ends in the 40-yard dash, and he ends this play diving for Jackson’s ankles.
- Body Control: Jackson goes from outsprinting Ogbah to a stop-start stutter step that puts safety Tyrann Mathieu on skates.
- Spin: The only thing better than this spin is how the defender goes flying off of him.
5. Lamar’s Houston Run
Week 11, 2019: Ravens 41, Texans 7
Lamar needed to get only 1 yard here. Instead, he got 39.
Houston defenders nearly caught Lamar in the backfield, but he:
- Turns around the first defender with the fake handoff.
- Squirms away from the second defender, who has a hold of his jersey.
- Accelerates past the first defender (again).
- Jukes a third defender.
- Outruns a fourth defender so bad that the defender dives, misses, and takes out a fifth defender.
- Trucks the sixth defender.
- Is then brought down by the seventh guy on the eighth attempted tackle.
That doesn’t sound like a football game, it sounds like a John Wick scene.
4. Mahomes’s Nuts Fourth-and-9 vs. Baltimore
Week 14, 2018: Chiefs 27, Ravens 24
Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Fitting, because this play is everything a quarterback is not supposed to do: a righty sprinting to their right side, throwing across their body into the middle of the field to someone in double coverage.
But it worked. The Chiefs converted this desperate fourth-quarter fourth-and-9, scored on the drive, and went on to win in overtime in Mahomes’s first meeting with Jackson’s Ravens back in December 2018. We have become so accustomed to Mahomes’s magic in the past two years that it is easy to forget these plays did not happen in the NFL before he arrived.
3. The Comeback Against the Texans
Divisional round, 2019 season: Chiefs 51, Texans 31
One day after the Ravens were jumped by the Titans in last season’s divisional round, the Texans took a 24-0 lead against the Kansas City Chiefs, setting up a potential AFC championship game between the Titans and Texans. So much for that. Kansas City stormed back to score 28 points before halftime, a run that was capped by Mahomes scrambling toward the left sideline (and nearly past the line of scrimmage) before finding Travis Kelce in the end zone.
That surge marked the second time in postseason history that a quarterback threw four touchdowns in the same quarter. For Mahomes, it was the second time he threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter that season. The Chiefs went on to win 51-31, but that 15-minute stretch solidified a legendary playoff game.
2. Lamar’s Bengals Run
Week 10, 2019: Bengals 13, Ravens 49
Behold, the quintessential play of Lamar’s NFL career thus far.
Put this spin move in the Louvre.
The best parts of this run, ranked:
- The spin move.
- Announcer Kevin Harlan screaming “OHHHHHH HE BROKE HIS ANKLES” after the spin move.
- The way the defenders crash into each other like that famous Michael Vick play against the Vikings.
- The juke Lamar puts on safety Jessie Bates III (no. 30), which looks so easy from the other angle.
- Lamar raising his hands at the goal line—even he was amazed.
- The spin move, again.
Imagine having this many people surrounding a player and not making the tackle.
Jackson’s physical gifts are the most obvious thing that makes him a special QB, but he also has an incredible imagination. Most players wouldn’t think to attempt a spin move right there, nevermind actually be able to pull it off.
1. Mahomes’s Touchdown Run in the AFC Championship Game
AFC championship game, 2019 season: Chiefs 35, Titans 24
David Foster Wallace once wrote that watching Roger Federer play tennis was “kinetic beauty.” This play is kinetic ugliness. It is not nearly as graceful as any of Lamar’s runs, but it came on a far bigger stage. Kansas City had once again fallen behind in the second quarter, this time by three points to the Titans. With just 23 seconds left before halftime, it felt like the Chiefs would probably make most of their remaining plays through the air. Instead, Mahomes took off, outrunning one defender and completely fooling another by merely looking in the other direction.
There is something clunky, almost bumbling about his spin into the end zone, like a bumper car speeding through a red light in a busy intersection. For an athlete we’ve always seen make things look easy, it is rewarding to watch him do something that looked so hard.