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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to write his own narrative — Andscape

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BALTIMORE – Everybody seems to have a so-called narrative about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

There was the narrative when Jackson came out of college that he was better suited as a wide receiver or running back. There are the game-by-game narratives that he still needs to improve this and improve that. And of course, the latest narrative in an MVP season is about Jackson’s lack of playoff success.

Forget the narratives. Jackson has secretly been writing a script to his own triumphant movie.

We saw a preview Saturday.

Jackson scored two touchdowns, threw for two more and ran for a team-high 100 yards as the Ravens defeated Houston 34-10 to advance to the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 28.

But the score wasn’t really the story of Saturday’s game. The real script had to do with Jackson becoming a more vocal leader, throwing his weight around when needed, lighting a fire where needed. On Saturday, the fire needed to be at halftime inside the Ravens locker room. With the score tied 10-10, the Ravens playing lethargically and Ravens fans on edge, Jackson, gave his teammates a fire-and-brimstone talking-to.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (right) scores an 8-yard touchdown against Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (left) during the fourth quarter in the AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 20 in Baltimore.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

During Saturday’s postgame news conference, Jackson said that he was angry and let his teammates know that he wasn’t about to suffer a first-round loss. Asked what he said, Jackson smiled. ”It would be inappropriate if I said it right here,” he said.

Jackson got everybody’s attention.

Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens’ veteran offensive tackle, said Jackson shook the team up and it was important that he did. “It means a lot for a guy in that position [to speak up],” Stanley said. “He doesn’t have to say anything, we know the kind of competitor he is. But when he says something, everybody listens, especially on the offense.”

Jackson led a ferocious second half assault beginning with the first drive, which Jackson ended with a 15-yard touchdown run. He followed that up with a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaiah Likely that put the Ravens up 24-10. Jackson’s final touchdown of the evening was a nifty run around left end for an 8-yard touchdown.

This was Jackson’s third consecutive convincing performance. He was brilliant against the favored San Francisco 49ers on the road and masterful against the Miami Dolphins a week later at home.

Jackson has been content in the past to lead by example, but teammates say that he has become more vocal this season and his verbal presence has made a difference. Fullback Patrick Ricard said that when somebody like Jackson speaks, his words carry weight.

“He’s more of a guy who’s a leader by showing it on the field,” Ricard said. “But I think this year he’s just been a little more vocal at points when we need him to be, like today when it’s 10-10 at the half and the offense is kind of stalling.

“He wants the Super Bowl so bad that he’s going to start talking now. I think that’s what we need, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (right) speaks with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (left) after their AFC divisional playoff game Jan. 20 in Baltimore.

Julio Cortez/AP Photo

Jackson’s more verbal presence may also reflect an awareness of his football mortality. Although still a relatively young player at age 27, Jackson understands that the window of opportunity is beginning to narrow.

During a recent interview with The Athletic, Jackson said that when he looked at the players who entered the league with him in 2018 and saw how many of his former teammates were now scattered throughout the league, he became aware of the passage of time.

“It made me sit back and realize, ‘Damn, I’m getting older,’ ” Jackson said during the interview. “I’ve got to get a championship now. That’s one of the reasons I’m stressing that I need to win it. I’m not getting any younger. It’s best to win it now.”

It doesn’t take long to become old in this league.

Every season, a new crop of potential young stars enter the league. In 2019, the year that Jackson won his first MVP, C.J. Stroud, the Houston Texans sensational rookie quarterback, was voted MVP of the Elite 11, a competition for high school quarterbacks.

Stroud is now in the running for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. After Saturday’s loss, Stroud spoke highly of Jackson.

“I’ve been a fan of his since high school, really,” Stroud said Saturday. “It’s really an honor to share the field with a player like that. He’s a generational talent, he’s a helluva quarterback. He can run he can throw, he’s an underrated thrower. I’m a fan of his.”

Jackson is also aware of the legion of young Black quarterbacks entering the league. Many, like Stroud, were influenced by Jackson. Asked about the record number of Black quarterbacks competing in the NFL playoffs (six of the 14 qualifiers started Black quarterbacks in the playoffs), Jackson said the numbers are part of an evolving narrative.

“It’s great to see. Life’s just different now,” he said. “Stuff is evolving. Guys are just being great and just showing off their true talent. C.J. Stroud is a tremendous quarterback. I told him when we played against him earlier this season in the first game of the season – I was like, ‘You’re amazing out there.’ College doesn’t even compare to what he is right now just from me watching from afar. He’s a great quarterback, and for other Black quarterbacks to be playing in the playoffs, that’s tremendous. Hopefully, more guys will be included as the years go on.” 

Sociology aside, Jackson is locked in on the task at hand: leading these Ravens to the Super Bowl. He knows that until he does, everyone will continue to have a narrative about him, and they won’t stop because of Saturday’s victory. They won’t stop when the Ravens host the conference championship game on Jan. 28, regardless of whether the opposing quarterback is Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs or Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

The only way for Jackson to change the narrative is to keep winning, keep the magic going. He must write his own script.

Saturday’s performance was just a first draft.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.



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