For Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, there are no more excuses — Andscape
BALTIMORE – One quarter into the AFC Championship Game, it seemed like Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens were finally going to get over the hump.
After a trademark surgical touchdown drive by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the team’s first possession, the Ravens faced fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard-line, down 7-0, and Jackson took the shotgun snap. He froze the defense for just a moment before sprinting through the line for a 21-yard gain. Two plays later, Jackson ducked to evade a pass rusher, ran backwards to the left, switched directions back to the right, set his feet, and launched a 30-yard bomb into the waiting hands of rookie receiver Zay Flowers in the end zone.
This was the kind of urgency required to not only unseat the defending Super Bowl champions but also make one a favorite in their own championship game.
But that would be Jackson’s lone touchdown drive of the game, as the Ravens fell to the Chiefs 17-10, another disappointing postseason defeat in a long line of them for the sixth-year quarterback, and one example of Jackson playing his worst ball when his team needed him the most.
Normally, there are many defenses for Jackson. The 32nd overall pick from the 2018 NFL draft has overcome many of the deficiencies — real and imagined — that he had coming into the league. His passing accuracy has always been a concern, so this season he bumped it up to 67.2%, the sixth-best completion percentage of all quarterbacks (minimum 400 attempts). After a brutal debut playoff appearance against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019 — 1 interception, 3 fumbles, 7 sacks — he bounced back a season later by simply winning the MVP trophy while accounting for 4,333 yards (3,127 passing, 1,206 rushing), 43 touchdowns, and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. This season, Jackson dusted the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, the two teams that played in the NFC Championship Game, to the tune of 690 total yards and six total touchdowns.
But on Sunday night, there was nothing defensible about what Jackson did.
Aside from his gymnastics on the first scoring drive and a tipped pass that he caught himself, Jackson missed on throws he should have made, ending the game completing 20 of 37 passes (54.1%) for 272 yards. He had just 67 passing yards halfway through the third quarter. He held onto the ball for what felt like five seconds too long, leading to four sacks, including a strip-sack.
And in his worst moment of the game, with over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens down 17-7, Jackson threw the ball into triple coverage to tight end Isaiah Likely in the end zone, leading to a backbreaking interception that all but sealed the loss.
“I seen both of them [defenders] trailing him and I didn’t want to throw it out the end zone, I just tried to let him turn around and make a play,” Jackson said of the interception. “I thought it was going to be [pass interference], but it is what it is.”
Jackson could be excused for this in 2018 or even 2019, but he’s spent the last few weeks — and years — saying how locked-in he finally was. After those two playoff defeats, Jackson said some version of “just gotta move on.” When this season’s playoffs started, Jackson and the team reiterated how this season felt different for the quarterback, how locked-in he appeared to be. Jackson didn’t overly celebrate when the Ravens secured the No. 1 seed in late December 2023 after a 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins, and in the middle of that blowout was recorded by the team’s video department telling his teammates to “calm the fuck down.”
“Lamar’s always had a single-minded focus, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite like this,” coach John Harbaugh told reporters a few weeks ago.
But in laying an egg during the most important game of the season, when a Mahomes-led offense was limited to just 17 points, there’s no more running from the fact that Jackson and the Ravens seem to wilt when the pressure is dialed up to 100.
In six career playoff games, Jackson has completed 57.4% of his passes for six touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also been sacked a whopping 24 times. The Ravens have won just two of those games.
At the postgame news conference Jackson was asked if he believed he tried to do too much on the field, which may have led to some of the mistakes. He lightly pushed back on that assessment.
“No, we’re trying to win,” he said. “I don’t think you’re doing too much when you’re trying to win out there. You thought so?”
This wasn’t the kind of performance Jackson could afford to have (again), not after demanding a trade in the offseason before signing what was at the time the richest contract in NFL history — five years, $260 million. Not after the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Washington Commanders and Miami Dolphins all made it known that they had no intentions of acquiring Jackson after he made the trade request, with Falcons owner Arthur Blank saying Jackson’s “style of game” can’t hold up in the NFL.
And not while being a Black quarterback.
The adage that Black people “have to be twice as good to get half as far” is alive and well in the NFL even as the number of Black starting quarterbacks reached an all-time high of 14 this season. Being labeled not “quarterbacky” enough by a media pundit or having a fellow player say the “formula” to beating you, a quarterback, is to make you throw the ball are nonsense (and coded), but the noise gets increasingly louder when you lead just one touchdown drive and account for two turnovers in a game your team only loses by seven points.
Unfortunately, Jackson has to win or be perfect to gain the respect of those who watch him play, and on Sunday night he did neither.
When asked what more he can do in the future beyond how focused and prepared he was coming into this game, Jackson kept it simple.
“We just gotta put points on the board. That’s the thing right now. It’s not nothing we could have did better to prepare for the game,” he said. “We put points on the board and we’re talking about something else right now.
“I’m not frustrated at all. I’m angry about losing. We’re a game away from the Super Bowl. We’ve been waiting all this time, all these moments for an opportunity like this and fell short. But I feel like our team, we gon’ build, this offseason we’re going to get right, get better, grind, and try and be in this position again, but on the other side, a victory.”
Before the playoffs started, Jackson went on former quarterback Tom Brady’s podcast and said that he still had a chip on his shoulder about not having won a Super Bowl yet, but believed that the 2023 season was the “team to do it.”
But much like 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Ravens fell short, and there’s no more running from the fact that until Jackson plays better in critical games, that won’t change anytime soon.