OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Quarterback Lamar Jackson carried the Baltimore Ravens to the best record in the NFL this season with jaw-dropping elusiveness, faking out defenders game after game with spin and juke moves.
But what Jackson won’t be able to shake for the next year is a question.
Jackson fell to 0-2 in the postseason after Saturday’s shocking, 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. It took only 32 seconds into his postgame news conference Saturday to hear the words that will follow him until the next time he reaches the postseason.
Will it be painful to hear all the talk about him not winning a playoff game?
“I don’t really care about what they say,” Jackson said. “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 the people say. We’re just going to keep going, like I said, [and] get ready for next year.”
Jackson is the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to lose his first two career playoff starts, both at home, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The others were Carson Palmer and Bobby Hebert, both of whom never entered the postseason after making history like Jackson.
In his first full season as a starter, Jackson looked invincible at times, topping the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and finishing sixth in the league with 1,206 yards rushing. For the second straight postseason, he looked mortal.
In 15 regular-season games this year, Jackson turned the ball over eight times. In two playoff games, he committed five turnovers.
The Ravens believe this postseason failure will ultimately lead to future success.
“He’s the most competitive person I’ve been around,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “I know he’s going to take this and use it as fuel to make himself a better football player.”
Jackson might not care what critics say. He certainly does listen, however.
In last year’s 23-17 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Jackson completed three passes through the first three quarters. That spurred questions whether he could become a legitimate passer in the NFL and talk that he was a running back playing quarterback.
After throwing five touchdowns and recording a perfect passer rating in the season opener, Jackson famously commented, “Not bad for a running back.”
Now, Jackson is facing similar skepticism after Baltimore scored 12 points Saturday against the Titans, the fewest in his 24 career starts.
“He’s going to respond by being extremely motivated and determined to improve as a football player,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And the strides he made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to continue to get better. I just know his character and who he is as a person. That’s what he’ll be thinking about.”
Coaches and teammates aren’t the only ones who have rallied to support Jackson.
Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and NFL MVP who is now an NFL Network analyst, tweeted:
“Amazing to me that a guy can tear up the league consistently for 16 games … doing things that have never been done before, then after a losing playoff performance (people) want to take shots at him! Pathetic… a lot of GREAT QBs have had MANY losing playoff performances!”
Chris Long, a two-time Super Bowl champion defensive end, highlighted on Twitter how some of the great quarterbacks have struggled to win playoff games early in their careers:
First playoff wins for a few QBs. Lamar will be just fine, especially if Greg stays put awhile. pic.twitter.com/ZnOEvLn13f
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) January 12, 2020
Jackson will acknowledge his struggles throwing the ball and protecting it played major roles in both of his postseason losses. The quarterback’s mistakes also weren’t the only reason for the defeats.
Last season against the Chargers, Baltimore’s offensive line got dominated, and Jackson rarely had time to throw. On Saturday, receivers dropped passes, running back Mark Ingram Jr. was hindered by a calf injury and the defense failed to slow down Titans running back Derrick Henry (195 yards rushing).
“It’s a team game. It’s not on him,” Ingram said. “We had guys out there who didn’t make plays, and it’s not on him, it’s on all of us.”
Before Jackson, Joe Flacco took heat as the Ravens’ quarterback because of his pedestrian regular-season stats (even though he played his best in the postseason). With Jackson, he is taking hits for his playoff troubles (even though he delivered one of the most remarkable regular seasons for a quarterback).
Jackson became the only player in NFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards and run for over 1,000 yards in a single season.
“It is one game. We are not going to depict a guy based on one game,” Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said after the playoff loss to Tennessee. “We are going to take the entire body of work for the 2019 season. And the kid played his ass off. That is where I stand on that.”
While the focus of Jackson’s postgame news conference was on his response to the playoff question, the theme of his responses was all about getting better.
Jackson, who turned 23 earlier this month, was the youngest quarterback start an NFL playoff game last year. He was the youngest starting quarterback in this year’s divisional round.
“He’s a guy that’s finding his way, it’s Year 2 for him,” defensive back Brandon Carr said. “So he’s not going to be perfect, but at the same time, he’s incredible, just who he is right now. The sky’s the limit for that guy, and I’m excited just to see him continue to grow.”