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The Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson rivalry is BACK

The two QBs faced off in college in 2016, and met again in Week 11.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson runs the ball, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson readies to throw, superimposed on an aqua background with squiggly line
Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson first faced off when Clemson and Louisville played in 2016.

The hype surrounding the Week 11 game between the Texans and Ravens was real, and it was all because of Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, two of the NFL’s most electrifying quarterbacks.

The two young stars are having the best seasons of their careers so far in 2019. Both are in the top 10 in league passer rating, and they’re the first quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 15 passing touchdowns, five or more rushing touchdowns, and a 100+ passer rating over the first nine games of a season.

Watson and Jackson have helped turn the idea of what traditional NFL quarterbacks are supposed to look like completely on its head. On Sunday, we got to see them go head-to-head for the first time in the NFL.

It was Jackson’s day from the start — the second-year QB threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter alone, and the Ravens were up 34-0 in the fourth quarter before winning 41-7. Jackson finished going 17-of-24 passing with four touchdowns. Watson had one of the worst games of his NFL career, throwing for just 169 yards and one interception.

After the game, the two swapped jerseys to show respect, which was a cool moment to see.

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Watson told reporters he wrote MVP on Jackson’s jersey:

While it this matchup didn’t live up to the hype, the last time Watson and Jackson met on the field was an instant classic.

On Oct. 1, 2016, Jackson led No. 3 Louisville into Tiger Stadium to face Watson and fifth-ranked Clemson.

Both teams entered undefeated, and both quarterbacks were making their mark in college football. Jackson was having a breakout season as a sophomore, and was an early Heisman frontrunner. Watson was a household name at this point. He was a was a Heisman finalist that prior season and led his team to the national championship game in 2015.

The game lived up to the hype, to say the least.

Watson was phenomenal in the first half, throwing for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter alone, including a 37-yard bomb to Deon Cain:

It was all Tigers in the first half. Watson’s team went into the locker room with a 28-10 lead.

But Jackson, who was anointed as college football’s new Superman that season, wouldn’t let his team go down without a fight. He led his offense to five unanswered scoring drives, and he had this magical run that set up a touchdown run to give his team a 36-28 lead halfway through the fourth quarter.

Watson bounced back from a career-high three interceptions and a fumble and took over in the final seven minutes of the game. He threw two touchdown passes within four minutes of each other to give the Tigers a 42-36 lead. Jackson came close to scoring a game-winning touchdown, but on fourth down his receiver James Quick was literally a yard short, apparently mistaking where the first-down marker was:

Since this game, both quarterbacks have built their own legacies.

Watson was the Heisman runner-up at the end of the season and led his team to a second consecutive national title game. This time, Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 for the Tigers’ first national championship in 35 years. Watson was electric in that game, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns to win Offensive MVP honors.

After declaring for the NFL Draft, he was selected 12th overall by the Houston Texans. While his rookie season was cut short due to an ACL tear, he led the Texans to the playoffs in his second season. He currently has the Texans in first place in the AFC South, and he’s putting up MVP-worthy numbers so far.

He’s been a human highlight reel throughout his NFL career, and that continues to be the case this season. One of his most impressive highlights from 2019 was when he threw a touchdown pass after he literally got kicked in the face:

Meanwhile, Jackson became the youngest player to win the Heisman in 2016, after effectively setting the college football world on fire. He put up even better numbers in 2017 and was a Heisman finalist, but was beat out by fellow first-round draft pick Baker Mayfield. Jackson was the fifth quarterback drafted, taken by the Ravens at No. 32 overall in 2018.

During his rookie year, he took over for Joe Flacco as the starter midseason, and led the Ravens to a playoff appearance. Like Watson, he’s an obvious MVP candidate this season. Jackson is on pace to break Michael Vick’s single-season quarterback record of 1,039 yards rushing, too.

Jackson does something incredible every week, pretty much. During the Ravens’ Week 10 game against the Bengals, he had a spin move that looked like it was only possible in a video game:

BRB — rewatching that play another three times.

Although they haven’t played each other since 2016, both QBs have a mutual respect for one another’s games.

It’s been a few years since these two faced off, but neither quarterback has forgotten about that game.

“He was just dicing us down the field. He was just doing Deshaun Watson things — scoring touchdowns, making incredible throws, and they came out with the victory,” Jackson said leading up to their first NFL matchup. “I can’t wait to see him again.”

Jackson has successfully silenced the doubters who thought he couldn’t be a true NFL quarterback. Watson added that he’s been supportive of Jackson in that respect.

“I’m a proud quarterback, proud friend,” Watson said when asked about Jackson. “All the criticism he was getting when he was coming out, he’s definitely a guy that I’ve always encouraged and talked to in the offseason. I’ve always been — since college days, when we played against each other, I’ve always been friends with him. He’s a guy that’s been doing everything that all the naysayers have said he couldn’t do, and even more. His career is very, very bright and he’s going to continue to do great things.”

Even though both are dual-threats, the two don’t have the exact same playing styles. In fact, Jackson rebuffed when he was asked if he sees himself in the older Watson.

“No, I play Lamar Jackson ball,” Jackson said. “I don’t play nobody else ball.”

QBs aside, this matchup had pretty big AFC and playoff implications.

Not only are these two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but they play for two of the AFC’s top teams. The Ravens are first in their respective division, the Texans are now tied at 6-4 with the Indianapolis Colts.

While both the Ravens and Texans won division titles last year, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. This year, each team is looking to take the next step with its MVP candidate quarterback leading the way.

Jackson and Watson have done everything to meet the high expectations they faced coming into the league. Hopefully, this is their first NFL matchup of many more to come.