Peter Schrager's Cheat Sheet: Lamar Jackson proves he belongs in 'best QB' conversation
By Peter Schrager
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Welcome to the Week 6 edition of the Schrager Cheat Sheet.
Each week, I take a look at several things you need to know heading into the NFL weekend. This week, we consider Lamar Jackson's place among the league's best QBs, the Bills' place among the AFC's top teams, and more.
Let’s get to it.
1. "Hi, my name is Lamar. And I, too, would like to be in this ‘best quarterback’ conversation."
Let me ask you, dear reader, if you could pick one quarterback to start for your NFL team this weekend, who would it be?
Tom Brady leads the league in passing yards, is coming off a Super Bowl season and looks as dialed in at 44 as he did at 34 or 24. Josh Allen is coming off a dominant performance in which he leaped (both physically and figuratively) over the great hurdle of his career, the Kansas City Chiefs. Dak Prescott has been marvelous, Aaron Rodgers has rattled off four consecutive wins, and Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes are putting up gaudy numbers.
As of Sunday night, that'd be the conversation, and that'd be fine. Hell, as of Monday night, 44 minutes into the Ravens-Colts game, that would have been fine. Then Lamar Jackson came storming into the conversation from the tunnel, like a Vince McMahon GIF, saying, "Not so fast."
What Jackson did Monday night – all after 11 p.m. ET, and after the longest Sunday of NFL action I can remember – was more than just insert himself back into the "best QB" conversation.
By guiding the Ravens back from a 22-3 deficit with a minute left in the third quarter to a 31-25 overtime victory, he also dispelled a lingering doubt that has been quietly whispered for years – that he can't lead his team from behind.
That theory was seemingly dispelled last January, when down 10-0 in Tennessee in the wild-card round, Jackson threw the Ravens on his back and led them to a victory using both his legs and his much-maligned arm. That was his first playoff victory, and it came both on the road and from behind.
But Monday night, Jackson was truly Superman.
For a team that has taken so much pride in its running game and a 100-yard rushing streak, that aspect of the offense was nonexistent against Indianapolis. The Ravens' running backs combined for just 24 yards on 11 carries. So, Jackson threw. And down 19 late in the third, he started clicking. The 2019 league MVP would complete 37 of 43 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first QB in the league's 102-year history to complete more than 85% of his passes while throwing for more than 400 yards.
Jackson never wavered. And when it was all said and done, Baltimore was 4-1 and atop the AFC North standings, he ranks in the top five in passing yards, the top eight in rushing yards, and he, alone, has more total yards than 16 different offenses in the league.
Herbert's time in the driver's seat for the "best QB" conversation lasted a few hours Sunday. Allen, then, said, "Hold my beer" on Sunday night in Kansas City. And on Monday, Jackson came swooping in to do the same.
The league's in an awesome place when it comes to quarterbacks. And Jackson, who for whatever reason is often not included in that "best QB" conversation, is firmly in it. Hell, he might be the lead dog.
Herbert and Jackson square off Sunday, which suddenly becomes one of the most anticipated games of the entire 2021 season.
2. The mighty, mighty Bills
Some day, ESPN will do a "30 for 30" on the Bills' Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. How it happened, what went wrong, and how it was the ultimate wake-up call for a team that has been absolutely on fire ever since that 20-16 defeat.
After losing twice to K.C. last season, Buffalo heard all off-season about the big, bad bullies of the AFC and how they would be their biggest hurdle until they beat them outright. They did that, Allen looked far more comfortable than Mahomes, and Buffalo's defense somehow silenced a Chiefs offense that is rarely held under 35 points.
Buffalo is now 4-1 and has an absurd +108 point differential. Looking at the list of the leaders in that statistic, the second-best team (Arizona) is a nice 46 points behind at +62.
Buffalo's defense sat in quarters coverage all Sunday night, and Leslie Frazier didn't send a blitzer the entire evening. The strategy worked. On offense, the Bills did what they pleased.
The Chicago Bulls were always doubted until Michael Jordan & Co. got past the Pistons. The 49ers had to beat the Cowboys in the '90s and did what was necessary in free agency to make it happen. Buffalo knew it couldn't get to where it wanted to be before overcoming Kansas City. It was just Week 5, but it was so significant.
The Bills finally jumped over the Patriots in the AFC East last season. They jumped over the Chiefs on Sunday. Who's next?
3. Kadarius Toney is a must-watch every Sunday
Giants rookie Kadarius Toney has quickly become "Must-See TV" whenever he's on the field. The 20th overall pick from last April's NFL Draft caught 10 balls for 189 yards in Sunday's loss in Dallas, becoming the first rookie since Anquan Boldin in 2003 to have double-digit catches and more than 185 yards in a game.
Toney had the most receiving yards in a game by any Giants rookie since 1950, even more than Odell Beckham did in his breakout campaign a few years ago. He did it in the slot, he did it on deep routes, and he danced along the sideline with "Toe Draft Swag." It was an amazing individual performance in what was otherwise a forgettable Giants game.
If that was all there was to the Toney Experience, great. But there has been plenty more, including signs of big emotion (good!) and a quick temper (bad!). Toney was in the midst of his monster game when he lost his cool and was ejected for punching a Cowboys player in the helmet. He also was super-emotional after he appeared to turn his ankle, and when on the sideline working it out, he accidentally head-butted teammate Jabrill Peppers in frustration.
In regards to the wayward punches, in which he took time to square up and tighten his gloves before going all Tyson Fury, he came out Monday and said, "At the end of the day, I know right from wrong. I know that in this sport, it's not boxing or hockey or anything else where you can just fight. I've got to take responsibility for what I did."
His ankle is concerning, as the Giants were down eight offensive starters at one point Sunday. But as long as Toney is on the field, Giants fans have at least one reason to watch this team over the next few months. In a rookie class loaded at wide receiver, New York got a stud who I think is just now scratching the surface. The potential is through the roof. No more wayward punches, though. Wayward punches are not good.
4. Khalil who?
Speaking of rookies, how about the emergence of Khalil Herbert, the Bears' fourth-string running back who stepped up and played a huge role when called up Sunday with David Montgomery out of the lineup. Herbert's story is a cool one.
As a student at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida, Herbert never cracked 1,000 yards in a season. Whereas all the other star players from his state dotted the country with offers, he only got one – from the University of Kansas. So, off to Lawrence he went, and in three seasons had a fine, but by no means spectacular career in the Big 12. Often backing up fellow running back Pooka Williams, Herbert would have the occasional moment or big game but didn't do much to garner any national media attention.
To be blunt, there was very little NFL buzz. Four games into his senior season with the Jayhawks, Herbert stepped away from the team and decided to enter the transfer portal. It was a massive risk, especially for a player who didn't have a list of college programs lining up to bring him on for just one season. To Virginia Tech he went, where there was no guarantee he'd get any more playing time than he did at Kansas.
One season. Make or break. New school. New system. New offense. And Herbert balled out.
The starter from Day 1, he compiled 1,792 all-purpose yards and scored nine touchdowns. He had a 162-yard performance on national TV against rival Virginia in the season finale. Scouts took notice, and when the Bears were on the clock with the 217th pick in April's Draft, he joined a running backs room that already featured Montgomery, former Super Bowl hero Damien Williams, and veteran do-it-all back Tarik Cohen.
Herbert got to camp, worked, and when his number was called Sunday in Las Vegas, he responded with 75 yards on 18 carries. After the game, Herbert noted his journey and insisted this was just the beginning.
5. Davante … again.
Davante Adams had a rough Week 1 against the Saints, catching just five balls for 56 yards. Contract year, not-so-quiet whispers about the future of his quarterback, and questions about the overall mental state of the team loomed large.
A month later, let's check in on the NFL's top wide receiver.
Well, there he is. Adams leads the league in catches (42), targets (61), receiving yards (579), and 20+ yard catches (10).
The lesson as always? Relax.
6. Hilarious "Hacks"
I haven't gotten into "The Squid Game" yet, and I'm not sure I ever will. There's something about a show that everyone tells me I "must watch" that makes me want to do just about anything but.
One show I didn't hear as much buzz about is HBO Max's fantastic 10-episode series "Hacks." I absolutely loved it. It's the story of a young, hot Hollywood comedy writer whose career hits a sudden speed bump, and her agent can only land her one gig: An assignment in Las Vegas to help kick-start the career of an entrenched comedic icon trying to hold on to her Vegas residency.
The show is hilarious and heartfelt, and features what seems to be three or four breakout stars. Jean Smart is tremendous as she always is in the lead role (think Joan Rivers meets Rosanne Barr), but it's the work of new faces (to me, at least) Hannah Einbinder, Paul W. Downs, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Poppy Liu, and Meg Stalter that blew me away.
This show felt like watching the Fab Five at Michigan. All these fresh new faces, nailing it in every scene. More of that, please!
Peter Schrager is an NFL writer for FOX Sports and a host of "Good Morning Football" on NFL Network.