Why the Ravens' Lamar Jackson chases Bucs QB Tom Brady

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson spots the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Tom Brady across the field on Thursday night, he'll be looking at more than just the opposing quarterback.

He'll be looking at the person he has been chasing since his early days in the NFL.

It's not Brady's records, MVP awards or GOAT status that Jackson covets. And despite the buzz around Jackson's contract situation -- he's in his fifth and final year of his rookie deal -- it's not Brady's contract that fuels Jackson's pursuit.

"I always remind people, if you've ever heard Lamar speak, it's always about Super Bowls," said Joshua Harris, Jackson's longtime former personal throwing coach. "That's his mindset. Tom Brady wins Super Bowls, so that's what he wants. He's the gold standard."

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Ask Jackson about his favorite memory growing up, and he'll tell you about winning the Super Bowl of the South Florida Youth Football League at age 11. Nine years later, Jackson was selected in the first round by the Ravens and declared on the draft stage: "They're going to get a Super Bowl out of me. Believe that."

When Brady temporarily retired in February, he captioned a picture of him and Jackson shaking hands and he wrote Jackson was "next." Some thought it was Brady's way of passing the torch of being the game's top QB. Jackson had a different interpretation.

"I would say, hopefully, I'm next to win the Super Bowl," Jackson said Monday. "He's got seven of them, so hopefully, that's what I'm next to [do]."

Being consistent, rather than being a Super Bowl contender, is the current goal for both clubs as they meet at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video).

Brady is dealing with being below .500 seven games into the season for the first time since 2002. The Bucs (3-4) have lost four of five, including two in a row, with the low point being a 21-3 loss at Carolina on Sunday.

Jackson, meanwhile, started the season at a blistering pace but has had problems in fourth quarters. The Ravens (4-3) are just the third team in the past 10 years to have led by double-digits in each of their first seven games, yet they have lost three. Despite Jackson's occasional miscues, he's still No. 5 in QBR (63.1).

Downplaying the personal matchup, Jackson said he's not playing against Brady, but rather the opposing defense. Yet there's a unique bond between the two that has played out on social media dating to before Jackson was drafted. The mutual admiration is obvious, and -- at least from Jackson's perspective -- is based on a simple premise.

"I'm trying to chase Brady," Jackson said before his first playoff appearance in January 2019. "I'm not worried about any other quarterback, because he's got [multiple] Super Bowls.

"I've got to get my first one, and then it's on."

Two weeks before the 2018 draft, an NFL Network analyst suggested on social media that Patriots coach Bill Belichick might want a dual-threat quarterback like Jackson as perhaps Brady's heir apparent. Brady responded with, "He's a beast!!!!" and added a thumbs-up emoji.

Jackson replied that the GOAT had spoken.

But the Patriots went in a different direction with their two first-round picks, and Jackson and Brady would be competitors, rather than teammates.

Jackson proved to be every bit as dominant as Brady imagined. In 2019, he became only the second player in NFL history to be a unanimous MVP. Brady was the first.

Jackson's MVP run included a 37-20 victory over the Patriots in the only time he has faced Brady. Jackson scored three touchdowns, running for two, as he outdueled Brady, who threw a TD pass and an interception.

"Good luck to you, bro, you're doing some great stuff," Brady told Jackson as they met on the field after the game. "Big fan."

Three years later, as their rematch nears, the admiration remains.

"I just think very highly of him," Brady said on Tuesday, explaining the motivation behind the "next" post. "I think he's got a great future."

Some say Brady sees part of his story in Jackson. They were overlooked and underappreciated throughout the draft process. Both were thrown into starting roles early in their careers after veteran quarterbacks got injured, and they quickly climbed to the top of the league.

Brady was a skinny and slow prospect who fell to the sixth round in 2000. By his second season, Brady led the winning, fourth-quarter drive in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Nearly two decades later, Jackson was considered a project in the 2018 draft because he wasn't the classic pocket passer, and he fell to the final pick of the first round. By his second season, Jackson became the youngest quarterback to win MVP (22 years, 356 days old).

"I think Tom sees his story in Lamar and wants him to be great because he knows it's in him," said Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, who grew up a Patriots fan in Massachusetts. "He knows he has that desire."

As Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis escorted a 22-year-old Jackson around team facilities in January 2019 during a television interview, he asked whether there's a ceiling to what he can accomplish.

There's no ceiling, said Jackson, who then stated his goal of wanting to be like Brady and bring multiple titles to Baltimore.

The interesting part of Jackson wanting to be like Brady is how different their games are. Brady is bearing down on becoming the first player in NFL history to top 100,000 passing yards, including the playoffs. He's 489 yards away.

Jackson is one of the most prolific running quarterbacks in NFL history. He has rushed for at least 50 yards in six straight games, which is three shy of the longest such streak in his career.

But there are similarities.

"They both just carry that confidence, like they're going to go out there and dominate every time they step on the field," said Bucs receiver Breshad Perriman, who was with the Ravens when Jackson was drafted. "You just know [Lamar is] going out there trying to kill, and Tom is the same way.

"They have high expectations for themselves, and they just carry themselves in that manner."

And there's the age difference. Jackson, 25, was 3 years old when Brady threw his first NFL pass in 2000.

"He's an amazing player," Brady, 45, said this week. "He challenges defenses.

"He has a really unique skill set. His ability to improvise, make plays with his legs, extended plays, and they do a good job with that offense. He's obviously very dangerous with the ball in his hands."

Tedy Bruschi, an ESPN analyst who won three Super Bowls with Brady in New England, says he believes Brady sees the future of the quarterback position in dual-threat players like Jackson.

"Tom's a very forward thinker," Bruschi said. "He's looking around the league at where the quarterback position is going. The athletes on the defensive side of the ball are just too good now. With the pressure that they're able to generate through all of the blitzes that come at them, there has to be an extra element to the quarterback.

"I think, possibly, that's what he meant about [saying Jackson is next], just knowing that the next one, that's going to be someone special that's similar to Lamar, Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes."

Depending on what Brady decides about coming back for a 24th season, Thursday night might be the last time Brady and Jackson face each other on the football field, unless they meet in the Super Bowl. There's a lot at stake for each team, and according to Jackson's former throwing coach, there might even be an unspoken motivation for one of the quarterbacks.

"[Jackson] will never say it, but I think he wants to win [over Brady] again," Harris said. "He's a competitor. He wants to earn the respect of the GOAT. He wants the GOAT to be like, 'Hey, that guy can play. He's a winner.'"

ESPN Bucs reporter Jenna Laine contributed to this story