BALTIMORE—Lamar Jackson had a plan for this season. During an offseason workout back home in Florida several months ago with his personal QB coach, Joshua Harris, the Ravens QB declared: “My first game is gonna be in Miami, and my last game is gonna be in Miami.”
The Ravens’ season instead ended in Baltimore, with a 28-12 loss to the Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs that stunned both the home crowd and a team that had allowed itself to talk openly about playing in Super Bowl LIV in South Florida. But against No. 6 seed Tennessee, the top-seeded Ravens “got our a—whipped,” said running back Mark Ingram. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey said it felt like the game was “one big dream, and it was not really happening.”
It did really happen, but so did the rest of the 2019 season. It all went according to Jackson’s plans—except for the ending. Seasons are judged by how they end, and rightfully so, but don’t let the ending of this season make you believe that none of the rest happened: That the Ravens went all-in on an offense that defied norms. That they valued a QB’s running ability with equal weight as his passing, resulting in the first 3,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season in NFL history. That they drafted a 21-year-old who wasn’t a finished product and at age 22 he blossomed into the (presumptive) most valuable player in the NFL.
Just a reminder for the next eight months: All of that happened, and it still matters.
No, Jackson did not always look like an MVP on Saturday night. He completed just 31 of his 59 passes, with his second-lowest passer rating of the season (63.2). He turned the ball over three times, two interceptions (one on a high throw and one on a floating out route that was undercut by the defensive back) and one lost fumble deep in Ravens territory that quickly led to a Titans score. This, after he’d only given away the ball eight times during the entire ’19 regular season. “I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf,” Jackson admitted in the first answer of his post-game press conference.
But so did the entire team. They committed costly penalties that surrendered field position. Titans running back Derrick Henry ran over the Patriots defense last week and picked up where he left off this week, averaging 6.5 yards per carry on his way to 195 rushing yards. Ravens receivers dropped passes, including the one that bounced off Hayden Hurst’s chest at the goal line.
“We have been spoiled this year because Lamar has made every play,” said rookie receiver Miles Boykin. “So that’s really more on us. We’ve gotta make more plays for him. The guy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. If we can take that burden off a little bit, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
It had been 20 days since some starters, including Jackson, had played in a game. Was rust a factor? “It’s unanswerable,” coach John Harbaugh said. What is for certain, though, is that things that had worked all season weren’t working in this game. Like Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on two fourth-and-1s in Titans territory. This was the kind of game situation the Ravens excelled in this season, converting fourth downs at a 70% clip with a perfect 8-for-8 mark on fourth-and-1. Both QB keepers failed, and both times the Titans scored a touchdown when they got the ball back. The Ravens also abandoned the run game after falling into a 14-0 deficit, leading to Jackson’s 59 pass attempts on 92 offensive plays, by far the most he’d thrown the ball this season.
“We just got out of our element a little too fast,” Jackson said. Added veteran guard Marshal Yanda: “I won’t get that far into it, but I just don’t feel like we ran the ball effectively, long enough.”
Despite the Ravens’ struggles, Jackson kept fighting, and there were times when it seemed like he might be able to spark his team yet again. There was the brilliant 38-yard throw-and-catch to bestie Marquise Brown, who was surrounded by three Titans defenders, at the 4-yard line. But they ran out of time in the first half and settled for a field goal two plays later. In the first drive after halftime, Jackson found open grass ahead of him on a second-and-17 play, somersaulting forward onto the NFL 100 logo in Titans territory. Soon after, though, was the fourth-and-1 stall. He kept alive the Ravens’ first and only TD drive in the fourth quarter by juking at least four times on a third-and-2 for a 27-yard gain. But on their following possession, after a fourth-and-5 pass at the goal line fell incomplete, three plays after that pass that bounced off Hurst’s chest, Jackson snapped off his chin straps in frustration.
Standing at his post-game press conference, still wearing his uniform pants and with sweat dripping down his face, he was asked about his 0-2 playoff record—and if it would be painful to hear “people” talking about that.
“I don’t really care about what they say,” said Jackson. “This is my second year in the league. Many people [aren’t] able to bring it to the playoffs. I've got a great team with me. I don't really worry about what the people say. We’re just going to keep going, like I said, [and] get ready for next year.”
Jackson doesn’t really care about the nebulous “they” in the question. But, he does care about letting down his teammates. Not that he had. Said Ingram: “It’s a team game. We had guys out there that didn’t make plays sometimes. It ain’t on him. It’s on all of us.” And Yanda, the 13-year veteran: “It’s one game. … You take his entire body of work for the 2019 season, and the kid played his ass off. That’s where I stand on that.” And after the Ravens’ final drive, following which the Titans were able to kneel out the clock, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., sought out his QB. Over a lunch at a seafood restaurant less than two years ago, a group of four Ravens rookies—Jackson, Brown, Hurst and Mark Andrews—plotted out how they would help build a dynasty in Baltimore. In a way, Brown was telling Jackson in this moment that nothing had changed—this was just one tough night.
“I just let him know this doesn’t necessarily define who he is as a player and define his year,” Brown said. “He is somebody that I came in with, that I’ve grown with. I’ve gotten to know him and his family, and vice versa. He is a great man, and I just wanted him to know that I don’t feel let down for anything that went wrong today. Nothing is on his shoulders. It’s a family here.”
Jackson’s accountability—to his teammates, his franchise, this city—is why it smarted to be standing there again after another early playoff exit. Last year, it was a wild-card round loss to the Chargers, when Jackson’s first-half struggles led to calls for Harbaugh to go back to Joe Flacco. Harbaugh stuck with the new face of his franchise, but Jackson hated letting his team down. So a month later, when he returned to McNair Park in Pompano Beach, Fla., he started working with a very different outcome in mind. Harris borrowed drills that QB guru Tom House uses with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and used them with Jackson. Meanwhile, the Ravens coaching staff worked in Baltimore to revamp their offense playbook.
No, that did not beget a Super Bowl. But, it did beget the 2019 MVP. So while we know this 28-12 game ended a season, let’s stop ourselves from these wild projections that this has ended an era, cancelled a change agent, closed all the doors that Jackson flung wide open this year. “Oh, he’s going to respond [to this],” says receiver Willie Snead. “You already know what type of answer you’re going to get. He’s gonna be ready. He’s going to talk about the Super Bowl next year. He just wants to win. He’s a winner, and we’ve gotta match that.”
- Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.