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Jackson, Ravens showed how dazzling they can be, now they'll try to make that the norm

Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson - The Canadian Press

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens showed the rest of the NFL how high their ceiling could be.

Now it's on to the next challenge for the star quarterback, who has a chance for a special season if last weekend's performance becomes the norm.

“You've got to say it: He's playing at an MVP level,” Ravens linebacker Kyle Van Noy said Wednesday. “It starts at practice for him, and the way he holds himself to a high standard, and then everybody else wants to be at that standard as well.”

Talk of Jackson winning a second MVP award isn't just football's usual knee-jerk reaction to whatever happened the previous week. The Baltimore quarterback is now fourth in the MVP race according to the odds at FanDuel, behind only Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Jackson is third in the NFL in passer rating, third in yards per attempt and second in completion percentage.

He's also 17th in yards rushing. He might not reach 1,000 yards on the ground like he did when winning MVP in 2019, but his running is still a major factor in turning negative plays into positive ones — and his scrambling creates opportunities for his receivers.

“It makes defensive backs have to cover you two times basically,” rookie wideout Zay Flowers said. “You've got two chances to get separation and get the ball.”

Baltimore's 38-6 thrashing of NFC North-leading Detroit on Sunday vaulted the Ravens from sixth to first in DVOA, a popular advanced metric published by the FTN Network.

Now Baltimore will try to build on that stellar performance. It was just three games ago the Ravens played a frustrating, mistake-filled loss at Pittsburgh in which they managed just 10 points, so they have a ways to go before proving that the game against the Lions is their new normal.

“We knew we had a couple games where we were good, and then the next week it’s like, ‘Oh, what’s going on with the offense?’” Jackson said. "Right now, we’re just trying to chase the consistency. That’s all.”

Jackson has shown flashes of his MVP form in the 3 1/2 seasons since he won the award, but they haven't lasted long enough. For example, two years ago he threw for 442 yards in a memorable overtime win over Indianapolis, but as the season wore on, the Ravens looked less impressive offensively, and eventually Jackson got hurt. He also missed the end of last season because of an injury.

Like any franchise quarterback, Jackson's health is crucial, but beyond that, he needs to show he can keep the offense rolling at a high level.

Even within games, that's been an issue, with the Ravens scoring 104 points in the first half so far and 67 in the second.

“I think we’ve done a good job scripting plays. We’ve done a good job with starting games, obviously, because we’ve executed well coming out," coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s been a big plus for us."

Last weekend, the Ravens scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, and they also reached the end zone on their first drive of the second half.

With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and an impressive new receiver in Flowers, it's certainly possible that this season Baltimore's offense will improve as the season progresses.

That's a scary thought for future opponents. The Ravens play at Arizona this weekend, then have three straight home games.

“We had a good game last week, and we have to have the best game we can have this week against a completely different defense, completely different situation (because) we’re on the road,” Harbaugh said. “All those things change, so that’ll be our goal, our mission (to) just keep trying to have a good game from week to week.”

NOTES: The Ravens had one big unexpected absence from practice Wednesday: LB Roquan Smith was out with a shoulder injury. Harbaugh wouldn't comment on his situation. ... S Marcus Williams (hamstring) and RB Keaton Mitchell (hamstring) were also out.