‘We all have his back:’ Ravens defend Lamar Jackson after another playoff disappointment


OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Toward the end of the Baltimore Ravens’ 17-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, a visibly upset Lamar Jackson sat on the bench, looked up to the sky and placed both of his hands on his head.

For one of the few times the season, the quarterback didn’t hear chants of “MVP” at the end of the game. What awaited him was the criticism that comes with being the NFL’s most debated player again.

Jackson’s latest struggles in a postseason game stirred up the biggest question surrounding his legacy: Will Jackson ever lead Baltimore to a Super Bowl?

As the Ravens cleaned out their lockers this week, Jackson’s teammates stood in defense of the embattled NFL MVP favorite.

“I don’t think Lamar cares, nor do I care, what other people have to say, outside of this building,” Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton said. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown. So, there are a lot of people out there hoping for people like Lamar to fail, but we all know that he’s the best player in this league.”

Jackson took his game to another level this season by showing more accuracy as a passer while continuing to produce big plays as a runner. He was named first-team All-Pro for a second time.

But, of the 15 quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to receive multiple first-team All-Pro selections, there are only two who have never started a Super Bowl: Jackson and Dan Fouts.

This is the most perplexing part of Jackson’s six-year career: He can look electric in the regular season and error prone in the postseason. With Jackson, Baltimore has scored more than 20 points in 60 of his 77 starts in the regular season. In the playoffs, Jackson has led the Ravens to more than 20 points in one of six games.

“He’s the leader of this team,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. “He’s fiery. He cares more than anyone. I think it’s very obvious when you watch it. No matter what people want to say, I know he’s going to be back, ready to work when it’s time and take us all the way.”

Jackson’s numbers against the Chiefs were solid: 20-of-37 for 272 yards passing and 54 yards rushing. His performance was not.

Jackson still delivered spectacular plays, such as catching his own deflected pass for a 13-yard gain, but he didn’t do enough from the pocket to get the Ravens to their first Super Bowl since 2012.

He overthrew deep targets and threw low to intermediate ones. He held the ball for too long and didn’t feel the pressure from behind on a strip-sack in the second quarter. Then, when Baltimore trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, he threw an interception in the end zone when there were three Kansas City defenders around tight end Isaiah Likely.

After the game, Jackson acknowledged being “mad” about another squandered playoff opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and got a little defensive when asked if he was trying to do too much on the field.

“No. We’re trying to win,” Jackson replied. “I don’t think you’re doing too much when you’re trying to win out there. You thought so?”

Jackson isn’t the only one to shoulder the blame.

The Ravens showed a lack of composure in Sunday’s defeat. Baltimore’s 95 penalty yards were its most in 22 postseason games under coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens, who featured the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack this season, abandoned the ground game. Baltimore handed the ball off to running backs six times and called 21 straight pass plays in the second half.

And there was the fumble by wide receiver Zay Flowers near the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

“It’s not a one-man show, by any means,” Ravens middle linebacker Roquan Smith said. “It’s a team thing. It’s a team that gets the job done.”

The surprising part was that it looked like Jackson had turned the corner after losing three of his first four playoff games. In the 34-19 divisional round win over the Houston Texans, Jackson took control of the second half and became the fifth player in NFL history to record two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns in the same playoff game.

But he reverted back to his frustrating playoff form in the AFC Championship Game. Over the past decade, Jackson’s 53.1 Total QBR in the playoffs ranks 30th — and fourth worst among quarterbacks with at least three playoff starts. He has totaled nine touchdowns (six passing, three rushing) and nine turnovers (six interceptions, three fumbles).

“I love him regardless of how that game shook out,” Ravens outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said. “He’s like my brother forever. I’m glad I got to play with him; I enjoyed it. I enjoy him, and I enjoy everybody else in this locker room, but, ‘[I’d tell him to] keep your head up.’ I dealt with that scrutiny throughout my career, and I just kept my head up, keeping the people around that love me and kept them close and build from there and continue to move forward.'”

A year ago, the Ravens were leaving their locker room following a playoff loss wondering whether Jackson would even be their quarterback. He was still in the midst of prolonged contract negotiations.

Now, a season into Jackson’s five-year, $260 million deal, the question has shifted back to whether he can fulfill his draft day promise of getting Baltimore to a Super Bowl.

“We wouldn’t be here without him,” Flowers said. “He knows the love for him in here and everything. We all have his back, and we’re going to be right back at it next year, because he [isn’t] going anywhere, [and I’m] not going anywhere. So let’s get it.”

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