Lamar Jackson has an NFL MVP Trophy, two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a 30-7 regular-season record as the Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback.
What he doesn’t have is a playoff victory, a bothersome shortcoming Jackson intends to rectify Sunday on the road against the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson’s postseason ledger began with a 23-17 loss to the underdog Los Angeles Chargers in the 2018 playoffs. He rebounded to guide the Ravens to a 14-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but his second foray into the postseason ended abruptly last January with a 28-12 beatdown by the Titans.
While it’s a bit harsh to say definitively that Jackson can’t win a big game, he hasn’t yet proven that he can.
“I don’t really care about what people have to say,” Jackson insisted Wednesday. “I’ve only been to the playoffs twice in my young career. Other people have been in the league forever and haven’t been in the playoffs at all. But I’m definitely trying to erase that narrative right there. That’s No. 1 right now on my mind, sure.”
In both playoff defeats, the Ravens fell behind early and never made up the deficit. As the youngest quarterback ever to start an NFL postseason game, the 21-year-old Jackson fumbled three times, threw an interception and was sacked seven times by the Chargers.
Jackson finished with 54 yards rushing, but he was booed by many in the crowd of 70,432 after the host Ravens fell behind by 20 points.
″I wasn’t playing my game today. I’m ticked off about that, definitely,″ Jackson said afterward.
The loss to the Titans had a familiar feeling. Jackson threw two early interceptions as Tennessee took a 14-0 lead, and he later lost a fumble. The three turnovers overshadowed his decent numbers: 143 yards rushing and 365 yards through the air on a whopping 59 pass attempts.
Baltimore’s offense centers around a running game led by Jackson, whose two 1,000-yard rushing seasons are an unprecedented accomplishment by a quarterback. The Ravens aren’t built to play from behind, and in retrospect Jackson believes he played out of character in those two playoff games while trying to bring Baltimore back.
“You just take your time. When things don’t happen as they should, don’t try to make things happen right away,” he said. “I feel that’s what I did a little bit, instead of just trying to drive the ball down the field.”
This time, Jackson brings the Ravens (11-5) into the playoffs with a five-game winning streak. After missing a game with COVID-19, Jackson returned to throw for 11 scores and run for four touchdowns during a stretch in which Baltimore successfully negotiated five successive must-win games.
His confidence is high, and Jackson’s focus appears to be on point as the Ravens embark on another quest to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season.
“I’m seeing him elevate more as a captain, elevate more as a player,” Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s definitely continued to keep a composed and cool level head. He’s still a young quarterback, but he’s playing like a vet and leading like one, too.”
Williams is certain that Jackson won’t let his 0-2 record in the postseason influence his preparation for Sunday’s matchup.
“He’s going to approach it as the next game,” Williams said. “He doesn’t let a lot of outside noise deter him from who he is and what he’s here to do and the mission we have as a team.”
That sentiment was echoed by Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson’s favorite target and a close friend of the quarterback. Andrews believes Jackson’s bid to go deep in the playoffs won’t be affected by his failure to do so previously.
“He’s a different kind of guy. His mindset, the way he thinks, that’s not something that’s going to weigh him down or effect how he’s going to play this game,” Andrews said. “He’s got big goals. We all do, and he’s got a lot of teammates to help him out. Those two games in years’ past don’t matter to us right now. This is a different team with a different mindset, and we’re ready to go.”
That 28-12 game, and Tennessee’s 30-24 overtime win in late November, won’t change the Titans’ way of thinking. If they can’t stop Jackson and his deft handling of the read-pass option, then it’s going to be extremely difficult for the AFC South champs to win.
“The quarterback’s going to have the football in his hands and he’s going to be dynamic, whether they’re reading somebody or he’s taking off in the passing game,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said.
Jackson’s waited 12 months for another chance to win a playoff game, and now here’s his shot to get it done.
“Playoff games are big. They’re opportunities,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It takes a lot to get to the playoffs. It takes a whole year’s worth of work to get back to this same spot. It’s no different for Lamar.”
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