ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson traveled eerily similar paths to the NFL.
Both quarterbacks are from South Florida, Bridgewater from Miami Northwestern Senior High School and Jackson from Boynton Beach Community High School.
Both quarterbacks were given four-star ratings by Rivals.com, Bridgewater the sixth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2011 and Jackson the 17th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2015.
Both quarterbacks matriculated to the University of Louisville, where they each earned conference player of the year honors. Jackson, of course, also won the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
Both quarterbacks fell to the bottom of the first round, as the Vikings and Ravens traded up to select Bridgewater and Jackson, respectively.
And on Sunday, both quarterbacks will meet for the first time in their careers in Denver in a Week 4 matchup between the Broncos and Ravens.
"It means a lot," Bridgewater said Wednesday of their connection. "It's a unique bond. We're both from South Florida — 32nd pick in the draft. [We] both have strong mothers. [We] have so much in common, and I'm happy for all the success that he's had in his career. I've been following him since he got to Louisville. … It's great that he's made all the strides that he's made throughout the course of his career. I'm looking forward to just watching him compete against our defense. I'll be rooting for him, but at the same time, rooting for us to come away with the victory."
Their careers have been less similar in the NFL, as Bridgewater made a Pro Bowl early in his second season before suffering a career-threatening injury in 2016. Jackson, of course, won NFL MVP honors in his second season in the league.
For kids in South Florida, though, both players are an example of how a career can blossom.
"Lamar — he's a spectacular player, and you can't do anything but speak highly of him," Bridgewater said. "It's great that he and I will get to face off for the first time. It'll be big for South Florida. The next Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson — they'll get to tune in this Sunday and just see two guys from similar backgrounds and the same upbringing just compete. At the same time, I don't want to make this about Teddy Bridgewater or Lamar Jackson. It's a team sport, and I'm sure Lamar would say the same thing. It's a team sport. There are 10 other guys out there when we're competing, so we don't want to get carried away and all of that. We both have a job to do. That's what it is."
On the field, their games are quite different. Jackson leads the NFL in yards per carry and yards per completion, while Bridgewater has been masterful completing passes and dealing the football to his receivers.
Jackson has scored a passing or rushing touchdown in 39 consecutive games, which marks the fifth-longest streak in NFL history — and it's his ability to extend plays that can create issues.
"The first three seconds of the play necessarily won't be the problem," safety Justin Simmons said Wednesday. "It's the next three, four, five, six seconds afterwards that creates a big problem for any defense. Nine times out of 10, you'll be able to handle concepts and be able to communicate those things — especially with our defense — but it's what he creates afterward. Then it gets to that backyard football. The receivers are so good at finding ways to get open for him, and he's good with extending plays with his legs. If it's not there, he can run easily for 20-, 30-, 40-plus yards to get what they need. It's going to be a big challenge for us this week in rushing the passer and defending the pass as a secondary in general. If we're going to win on Sunday, the defense is going to have to be extraordinary."
Jackson's passing stats have been rather pedestrian through three weeks — 253.7 yards per game, a 60.9 completion percentage, three touchdowns, three interceptions, eight sacks and an 86.4 quarterback rating — but he continues to be a threat on the ground, where he's averaged 7.2 yards per carry, 83.7 yards per game and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Bridgewater, meanwhile, has averaged 275.7 passing yards and completed 76.8 percent of his passes for four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.4 quarterback rating.
If there's one specific area where Bridgewater has outdueled Jackson this season, it's against the blitz. Bridgewater has completed 19 of 22 passes for 236 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 150.9 quarterback rating when facing an extra rusher, according to Stats Inc. That passer rating is second only to Arizona's Kyler Murray.
Jackson, by comparison, ranks 30th in passer rating against the blitz, as he's completed 8-of-14 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, four sacks and a 66.7 rating.
Bridgewater's prowess against the blitz should help, as the Ravens have blitzed the eighth most times of any team this season, according to Pro Football Reference. And historically, the Ravens have been among the league leaders in sending blitzes.
"He's got a good feel for pre-snap where it might be coming from," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday of Bridgewater's success against the blitz. "If he doesn't, he has an innate ability to react to what might surprise him, and he's calm. He doesn't rush his decisions. He's calm under duress, and that pays off."
The Broncos certainly hope it pays off Sunday, as Bridgewater faces off against his fellow Cardinals alum. And while Bridgewater downplayed the one-on-one matchup, there's no doubt that their similar journeys will be of prime interest.
On Sunday, Bridgewater and the Broncos hope their paths will diverge again — and that Bridgewater's will lead to a Denver win.