Sunday's game between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens featured no shortage of subplots. One of the biggest was a duel between two young quarterbacks among the leading NFL MVP candidates in Houston's Deshaun Watson and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.
It wound up being an elimination bout. The Ravens laid waste to the Texans in a 41-7 demolition. With Jackson going off while Watson was shut down, the latter's candidacy for the league's biggest individual honor took a massive hit.
There are two horses in the MVP race now. One just made the Texans look foolish. The other spent Week 11 watching football on TV.
It's Jackson vs. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Everyone else has become all but irrelevant.
It will come as little solace to the Texans, but they are hardly the first team that Jackson has made look silly in 2019. Playing in an offense built around what the second-year pro does well, Jackson has been the hardest player in the NFL to defend this season. He he has thrown for 2,258 yards and 19 touchdowns with a rating of 106.3. His 788 rushing yards put Jackson on pace to shatter the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
It's not the only record Jackson has flirted with this year. In a Week 10 blowout of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson joined Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to post a perfect passer rating of 158.3 multiple times in a season. After watching his team get shredded by Jackson, Bengals coach Zac Taylor could only tip his proverbial cap.
"He's one of the most exciting players I've ever seen," Taylor said, via ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "[He's] dynamic. I'm interested to see what teams do down the road here to stop him, because he certainly is hitting on all cylinders right now."
Jackson didn't slow down a bit against a Houston defense that had no idea how to contain him. On the ground, Jackson gashed the Texans for 86 yards on nine carries. Through the air, Jackson completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He became the first Ravens quarterback to throw for four scores multiple times in a season.
His passer rating wasn't perfect, though—just 139.2.
After the game, Ravens tailback Mark Ingram took it upon himself to serve as Jackson's campaign manager.
"The MVP front-runner," Ingram said. "If anybody's got something different to say about that, they can come see me. I'm right here in B-more, outside the Bank [M&T Bank Stadium]. If you've got an issue with that, come see me. I'm about that. Big trust. Whoop whoop. Lamar Jackson, in the flesh, yes sir."
Ingram is hardly alone in that assertion. ESPN's Dan Graziano was talking up Jackson's candidacy even before Baltimore waylaid the Texans.
"When you look at the way Jackson is playing, what he means to his team, the success his team is having with him as its centerpiece ... you just can't have the conversation without him right now," he said. "And it's absolutely possible he'll be the guy with the trophy when the season is over."
However, lest it be forgotten because he was on a bye in Week 11, Russell Wilson is having himself a season in 2019, too.
After leading the Seahawks to an overtime win over the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, Wilson has thrown for 2,737 yards and 23 touchdowns against just two interceptions with a passer rating just a hair under 115. Wilson hasn't been the threat on the ground that Jackson has, but he has chipped in 256 yards and three more scores on the ground.
Entering Week 11, Wilson ranked inside the top five in the NFL in passing yards and led the league in touchdown passes, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks.
Other than that, he's just been OK.
Given those numbers, there are no shortage of folks beating the drum for Wilson as the NFL's MVP at this point in the season.
"Seattle is 8-2 despite a defense that ranks 24th in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed, just one proven veteran receiver (Tyler Lockett) and one emerging rookie (DK Metcalf)," Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wrote. "He lost (tight end) Will Dissly early in the season, and has a running game that is not as productive as last year and remains more heavily dependent on Wilson to make it go than those who don’t watch the Seahawks every week may realize. His five game-winning drives and four fourth-quarter comebacks are each the most in the NFL and in each case two more than any other QB in the league other than Buffalo’s Josh Allen."
One thing is for sure—for the first time in his career, Wilson will get votes as the league's MVP in 2019.
Winning the award is much less assured. There are strong cases to be made for both quarterbacks. Neither the Ravens nor the Seahawks would be among the best teams in their respective conferences without their quarterbacks playing out of their minds.
Had you asked me a couple of weeks ago who would get my vote for the Pro Football Writers of America's version of the award, I'd have given the nod to Wilson. But while Wilson has done nothing "wrong" since, Jackson has been so ridiculously unstoppable the past couple of games that the gap has narrowed. There's also the matter of Baltimore's decisive win over the Seahawks in Seattle back in Week 7—a game in which Jackson outplayed Wilson by a sizable margin.
It's become an incredibly close race. One without an obvious front-runner.
What is certain is that barring an injury or unforeseen collapse, one of these two players is going to be the MVP. Watson didn't play well in his duel with Jackson on Sunday, dropping Houston to 6-4 and out of first place in the AFC South. Carolina Panthers tailback Christian McCaffrey had another big day stats-wise against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11, but the Panthers were drilled and have lost three of four since the bye.
No, it's Jackson, Wilson and then everyone else in 2019. Both quarterbacks are having fantastic seasons. Both are at the helm of 8-2 teams.
And both are on a collision course to be in Miami when the NFL Honors ceremony takes place on February 1. But they might not be at the ceremony itself—because they could have a game the next day for which to prepare.