Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has been excited the past couple of days about his return to South Florida because it's home and he feels pride performing in front of his family and friends on Thursday night.
"We have guys here on this team from South Florida – not just myself," Jackson said this week. "It means a lot because we know what we’ve faced down there. We know what we’ve seen, we know how it is down there.
"We like to put on for where we come from and let other guys and little kids see us and have them wanting to do the same things we’re doing in a positive way.”
This is a homecoming game for Jackson and not just because the Miami Dolphins (2-7) have the record of a team one typically schedules for homecoming games.
But what if I told you it could have been so different, with Jackson starting for the Dolphins instead of the Ravens on Thursday night?
The story is not new, but it's worth repeating. It speaks to why the Dolphins still wander the proverbial desert searching for their franchise quarterback, despite players such as Jackson being within their grasp.
Go back to 2018 and let's agree the Dolphins should have been at least considering drafting a quarterback. Ryan Tannehill had blown out the ACL in his right knee in both December of 2016 and August of 2017.
Despite this, the Dolphins went into the 2018 draft not really focused on quarterbacks. Coach Adam Gase loved Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen and liked Sam Darnold pretty well, too. He wasn't at all keen on Josh Rosen.
General manager Chris Grier, meanwhile, seemed more locked into a position player and as the draft unfolded, it became clear he wanted Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick with the No. 11 overall selection.
But before the Dolphins turned in the draft card, club owner Stephen Ross seriously questioned the pick. He wanted Grier to trade down with New Orleans and get multiple lower selections including the Saints 27th overall selection and a first-round pick in 2019.
Grier insisted on picking Fitzpatrick and told Ross in so many words he was making the pick as planned. Ross, by the way, never advocated drafting Jackson. He merely wanted a trade down.
The Ravens eventually selected Jackson, from Pompano Beach, FL., with the No. 32 overall selection.
How'd that all turn out?
Fitzpatrick is a fine player, but the Dolphins, under new coach Brian Flores, traded him to Pittsburgh one year later. The team used the first-round pick it got for Fitzpatrick to select offensive lineman Austin Jackson.
You want to know why bad teams like the Dolphins are bad?
Fitzpatrick was a good pick, but Grier, who stood up to Ross in the draft room, didn't stand up to Flores one year later although Grier is technically Flores's boss.
Fitzpatrick has become a two-time All Pro in Pittsburgh.
Lamar Jackson, who might've been in play for the Dolphins had they traded down to No. 27, has been an All Pro, the MVP in 2019, and is one of the league's most dynamic playmakers.
Austin Jackson, whom the Dolphins drafted in the first round of 2020 to play left tackle, struggled there and has since been moved to left guard where he's played better, although not well.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, picked quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft, despite durability concerns. And Tagovailoa, nursing a middle finger injury in his (left) throwing hand, is expected to miss his second consecutive start against the Ravens and fifth start of the season.
Kyler Murray makes 'crazy strides'
The Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in every tangible way imaginable last season, and quarterback Kyler Murray has not forgotten because he could see it coming almost as soon as his team arrived at the stadium.
"We just got our ass beat. That was that," Murray recalled Wednesday as he spoke with reporters. "Got off the bus with no juice, no energy, and that showed on the field.
"It wasn’t anything special that they did last year. They wanted it more, played harder than us, played more physical than us, and that was the story of that game.”
The rematch of sorts comes Sunday when Carolina travels to Glendale, Ariz. and Murray, who missed last week's game with an ankle injury, is setting his sights on getting back in the lineup.
"That’s what I’m hoping for, obviously day-to-day right now," Murray said. "I think I’ve made crazy strides in a positive direction since it happened. I’m looking forward to it, just day-to-day, got to keep working it out.”
Murray missed last week's victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and while he enjoyed his team's victory, he was otherwise miserable not playing.
"My operation before a game, I didn’t really know what I was doing," Murray said. "It was different. I kind of pride myself on not missing games. I can count on one hand in my whole career – in my whole life – how many games I’ve missed.
"It’s definitely different. It wasn’t fun, but the guys had my back and handled our business. It was fun to watch and see them succeed.”
The Cardinals have won games this year despite not having their head coach Kliff Kingsbury, despite not having other assistants, despite missing receivers and even without J.J. Watt, who is out for the season.
But Murray sees grand possibilities when the people who can still return finally start doing that.
“I think the sky is the limit," he said. "I know we believe that, and I know people watching us are starting to kind of believe that, but that really doesn’t matter.
"If we can continue to recover and get fully healthy – or at least close to it – I think we’ve got a great chance to do what we all want to do."
Mac Jones has thoughts about OBJ
Mac Jones is a rookie quarterback on a team coached by Bill Belichick, so he gets about thismuch say as to which players the Patriots try to sign.
But because he's the quarterback, he's going to get asked when a big-name receiver the Patriots are interested in is on the market. And that's what happened Wednesday, as Odell Beckham Jr. is still deciding which team he'll pick as an free agent.
"I think he's a great player, and, you know, he has a choice to make, and that's up to him, and yeah," Jones said. "That's pretty much it."
Cool, so would Jones like Beckham Jr. on the team?
"I think we, like I said, have really good receivers here," Jones said. "Anybody that wants to help us win is obviously a benefit to the team. We'll leave that up to Coach Belichick, and you can ask him about it, but like I said, I know for a fact he always wants people that will come here and help us win."
It makes sense for the Patriots to want Beckham. Their leading receiver is Jakobi Meyers, who has 46 catches for 434 yards (9.4 yards per catch) without a touchdown.
Trevor Lawrence looking to sharpen accuracy
The Jacksonville Jaguars made the entire Earth -- maybe even the folks on the volcanic island of Tristan Da Cunha in the South Atlantic -- take notice when they beat the Buffalo Bills, 9-6.
What if I told you it could have been worse for the Bills? It's true.
Because the Jaguars had at least two opportunities to connect on big pass plays against the Bills' defense, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence missed both throws.
"Down the stretch, we had two plays specifically where I easily could’ve hit those," Lawrence said. "One probably would’ve been a touchdown, the other one probably would’ve been a 30-yard gain to on the sideline. Both of those, those were two opportunities."
Lawrence might get a chance at redemption before the season is out because the Jaguars are averaging 4.8 yards per rush, which is No. 6 in the NFL, and defenses are setting their priorities on stopping that rushing attack.
"I think when you’re more efficient on first and second down and you run the ball like we did last week," Lawrence said, "if you can combine all those things, then that sets up some opportunities for some shots because teams have to respect the run the way we’ve run the ball this year."
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