A Rivalry Still Waiting To Happen
By Martin Rogers
Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, as a collective duo, had everyone talking.
They were on the lips of anyone with Monday circled on their calendar. Every analyst and commentator who cares about football. That guy sitting in the corner of the coffee shop, reading the sports page. Your Uber driver (well, my latest Uber driver, anyways) wanted to chat about them.
Every mention, every story, every discussion, every thought of the Monday Night Football clash between Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs and Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens rarely strayed further than a look at the ultimate duel between arguably the two most exciting, under-30 QBs in the league.
Heck, forget about the “arguably.” Who’s disputing that?
Mahomes vs. Jackson was many things, including being the most anticipated tussle of the season so far and a meeting that was delicious in both its present reality and in the prospect of what this combination of talents might later become.
What it is not – at least not yet – is a rivalry.
Rivalries need to be a two-way street, and this one hasn’t been to this point. And it certainly wasn't on Monday night, as Mahomes had another night for the ages, while Jackson had perhaps the worst night of his career.
For all the excellence and uplift Jackson has provided to Baltimore, he hasn’t gotten the better of the Chiefs star, losing all three times they have met. It’s often been close, but rivalries aren’t built on it being close.
“I understand he's going to be driven," Mahomes told reporters ahead of Monday night. “Whenever you play another team that is of his caliber and our team coming off a Super Bowl win, it's going to be a great game. You want to go out there and find a way to win. That goes (for) every single week, but especially this one because you know you're probably going to play this team in the playoffs.”
In 2018, the first meeting at Arrowhead resulted in a 27-24 overtime win for the Chiefs. In Week 3 last year, Kansas City prevailed by five, with Mahomes tossing three touchdowns while Jackson ran for one. And while the Ravens frustratingly got stuck at the playoff traffic lights last season, the Chiefs powered onwards to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Then, of course, there was Monday – a game Mahomes' Chiefs owned from start to finish, with little meaningful input from Jackson.
When we think about recent rivalries, the best one, obviously, was Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. By the time they were done, it was 11-6 in Brady’s favor. When Manning retired he had two Super Bowl wins, and Brady had four at that juncture. However, both of Manning’s Super Bowl triumphs came after beating Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
It wasn’t total parity, but ultimately the level of lopsidedness wasn’t enough to give Brady overwhelming bragging rights.
There is no serious knock against Jackson here. His exploits since coming into the league have been superb, game-changing and electrifying in execution.
He is 21-1 against every other team in the league during the regular season, but 0-3 against Mahomes and the Chiefs. That’s an extraordinary statistic, but again, not yet a rivalry.
What Monday night was – already – was a matchup bigger than the matchup itself, mostly because while each franchise has an apparently glowing future with these guys calling the shots, it is hard to imagine something as rosy for either club without them.
If things do even out eventually, it is primed and prepped to become a generational battle between two superstars expected to duke it out for everything from MVP awards to contract sizes – Mahomes’ 10 year, $503 million contract will be hard to top – from the identity as the face of the league to the obvious – Super Bowl championships.
For FOX Sports’ Shannon Sharpe, this matchup won't become a true rivalry until postseason factors become a major part of their football history.
“What made Peyton and Brady a rivalry is that they met five times in the playoffs, they met four times in AFC Championship games,” Sharpe said on Undisputed. “Somebody was going to cause somebody some heartache. You want a rivalry? I got to see you in the playoffs. I got to cause you pain. I want when you go to bed, you go to workout, you see my face.”
A Chiefs win on Monday instead made Mahomes start to look like Jackson’s nemesis, the only one he has. Remember though, that Brady got the better of Manning the first six times they met, before Manning bounced back towards the latter part of his career.
Of course, the protagonists aren’t going to fan the flames of this discussion, because they know that everyone is going to talk up this career-long clash plenty enough anyways.
“I don't really care for rivalries or thinking about another quarterback,” Jackson said recently. “I play offense, he plays offense. We've got to worry about each other's defenses.”
Guess who used to say the exact same thing, with only a few words adjusted. That’s right, Peyton Manning. And sometimes, Tom Brady.
Now that was a rivalry. This one? It is a rivalry waiting to happen.