Lamar Jackson’s Dream Season Ends With a Startling Loss

Lamar Jackson’s Dream Season Ends With a Startling Loss


BALTIMORE — The best player in the N.F.L. this season also has an 0-2 career playoff record. But nobody needed to explain that to Lamar Jackson in the wake of the startling upset loss by the Baltimore Ravens to the Tennessee Titans, 28-12, on Saturday night.

Jackson knew he would face questions about that as he met reporters near the dispirited, unsettled Ravens locker room. Jackson had spent the previous week insisting that his clumsy, error-filled playoff debut last season was irrelevant to Saturday’s matchup with the Titans. It was an apt and worthy appraisal. A year ago, Jackson had been a rookie with only seven career starts when he imploded with three turnovers in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

But on Saturday, Jackson, 23, all but replicated that performance, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once. The most unstoppable force in pro football during the regular season, the prohibitive favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, made misplay after misplay. At the most pivotal moments — like on two fourth down plays where a yard or less was needed for a first down — Jackson kept the ball himself and could not gain the necessary yardage.

Jackson also ran for 143 yards and threw for 365 yards, becoming the first player in N.F.L. history to throw for more than 300 yards and rush for over 100 yards in a single game. The bulk of those totals came as Jackson tried to thwart the Tennessee rout as the game waned, and as Baltimore, the top rushing offense during the regular season, played without their dazzling starting running back Mark Ingram.

But Jackson knew he played poorly, to his standards, and accepted it.

“I had a lot of mistakes,” Jackson said. “We just beat ourselves.”

Jackson was asked how hard it would be to wait another 12 months to win his first playoff game, and without agitation, he shook his head.

“I don’t really care,” he said. “This is my second year in the league.”

When the same question was more or less repeated to him a few minutes later, Jackson smiled.

“I mean, everybody hates losing,” he said. “It’s going to be the same answer every time. I’ve got to work on everything; I’ve got to improve everything.”

Still, Jackson’s stumbles were surprising to anyone who had watched him play during the regular season. Almost from the game’s start, he seemed out of sync. On the Ravens’ first possession, for example, Jackson quickly led the Ravens into Titans territory with his elusive scrambling and deft passing. But then, Jackson’s second pass of the game sailed high and ricocheted off the hands of tight end Mark Andrews. A few yards behind Andrews, Tennessee defensive back Kevin Byard grabbed the deflection and returned the interception 31 yards. At the end of the play, Jackson was penalized for unnecessary roughness during a sideline tackle of Byard. Soon, Tennessee had a 7-0 lead it never relinquished.

In the third quarter, Jackson was sacked and he fumbled, a turnover that led to another Titans touchdown and a 28-6 lead. Near the end of the third quarter, Jackson underthrew his receiver Miles Boykin on a long pass across the field and was intercepted by Titans cornerback Kenny Vaccaro. Baltimore was unraveling.

Afterward, Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh did not seem worried about his second-year quarterback.

“I won’t have to say much to him,” Harbaugh said. “He made such strides this year and we expect him to get better and better.”

But Harbaugh also understood the flip side of a second stunning defeat in two years.

“This one will stick with us for a long time,” he said. “This game will be the one we remember.”

Although Jackson had a different take than his coach. Asked how this Ravens season should be remembered, he recited Baltimore’s regular season record: “14-2, great team.”

The perspective of Jackson’s teammates inside the locker room was a raw mix of emotions, with some, like cornerback Marlon Humphrey, taking a dark view of where the defeat left the Ravens.

“The sad reality is we have been here two years in a row and we have lost,” Humphrey said. “I think this team’s identity right now is to get in the playoffs and choke. That is just the hard truth.”

If Humphrey was being harsh on his team, he made a point not to single out Jackson. No one in Baltimore locker room did, aware that the team’s overall No. 1 seed in the playoffs relied heavily on Jackson’s brilliant regular season.

“We know who he is, a playoff loss doesn’t change that,” said wide receiver Miles Boykin. “If anything, we were trying to make a big play out there to take some of the burden off his shoulders. He does so much, there’s never been anybody like him. And one game doesn’t change that.”

Added safety Chuck Clark: “Everything didn’t go his way but he’s got a lot of time still. A lot of time.”

At the end of his news conference Saturday, Jackson was asked if the Ravens’ elimination from the playoffs meant he might now decide to attend the Pro Bowl.

Jackson raised his eyebrows.

“We just lost,” he said. “Forget the Pro Bowl; I wanted to be in the Super Bowl. I don’t care about the Pro Bowl.”



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