Everybody loves a good narrative.
Except for those who are on the wrong end of one.
That’s where Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson stands entering Sunday’s compelling AFC wild-card playoff showdown at Tennessee. Jackson’s failure to win a playoff game, despite his otherworldly talents, is a dominant theme to this matchup.
A tap of the brakes, however, is necessary here.
Yes, Jackson, in just his third NFL season, is 0-2 in the postseason. He and the Ravens lost to these very Titans a year ago in the playoffs, 28-12. In 2019, they lost to the Chargers, 23-17. But two games is too small a sample size to be considered an alarming trend.
The Ravens, after all, have a remarkable 30-7 win-loss record with Jackson under center. In those games, they’ve averaged 30.6 points, 206 rushing yards and one turnover per game.
Those numbers dip rather dramatically in the postseason, though, to 14.5 points, 137.5 rushing yards and three turnovers per game.
Is that all on Jackson?
His numbers in those games — 14-of-29 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the loss to the Chargers, and 31-of-59 for 365 yards with one TD and two picks against the Titans — were well below his regular-season standards.
Is that enough to define a quarterback who has proven himself to be one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, and who won the NFL’s 2019 MVP award?
No, it’s not. Not yet.
Jackson, to his credit, is not running away from the elephant in the room.
“Definitely trying to erase that narrative,” Jackson told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the No. 1 [goal] right there on my mind, for sure. I’ve only been to the playoffs twice in my young career. Other people have been in the league forever and haven’t been to the playoffs at all.’’
Jackson conceded that one thing he has learned in the past two postseasons is that he has put too much pressure on himself.
“Just focus on the task at hand,” Jackson said. “Don’t try to make things happen right away. Just take your time. I feel like that’s what I did a little bit sometimes throughout the games, just trying to do too much instead of taking my time.”
Last season, the Ravens entered the playoffs with a 14-2 record, on a 12-game winning streak and with the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. They had a bye week before facing the Titans, who were 10-point underdogs.
This year, the Ravens were 6-5 at the start of December and had to win their final five games to qualify for the playoffs. So, in essence, they’ve been in playoff-like elimination games for more than a month. During that stretch, the Ravens have looked like the best team in the NFL, averaging 37.2 points and 267.4 rushing yards per game.
A pebble in their collective shoes, however, is a 30-24 overtime home loss to the Titans on Nov. 22, when they blew a 21-10 lead and Tennessee players danced on the Ravens’ midfield logo, which infuriated the Baltimore players.
Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher with more than 2,000 yards this season, has been Baltimore’s nemesis — rushing for 195 yards on 30 carries in Tennessee’s playoff win and 133 yards on 28 carries, including a game-winning 29-yard TD in OT, in November.
One thing in the Ravens’ favor: The Titans’ defense has not been good this season. Tennessee ranks No. 19 in rushing defense, allowing 120.8 yards per game, and No. 29 in passing defense, giving up 277.4 yards. The Titans, too, and produced an NFL-low 19 sacks.
“We still got things that we want to finish,” Jackson said after the Ravens’ regular-season finale. “It’s just the beginning for us, to be honest with you.”
He hopes these past five weeks of elimination games will have him and his teammates sharper than they were a year ago after the bye-week layoff.
“Last year when we had that long break, I was kind of sluggish,’’ Jackson said. “Having games back-to-back, it feels pretty good. No bye week for us. We’re going straight into it, heads up high and with our eyes focused on the task at hand. We just have to finish. That’s the key for us.”
It’s the key for Jackson if he’s ever going to change that pesky narrative.