BALTIMORE — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was determined to silence the critics who said that he could not win a big playoff game.
He did manage to quiet those naysayers when he led the Ravens to a 34-10 victory over the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round, displaying his skills in a 24-point second half that led to a showdown with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
However, one week later, Jackson’s old struggles with ball security (two turnovers), errant passes (2-for-7 with pass attempts over 20 yards), and holding on to the ball too long resurfaced in a deflating 17-10 loss to the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium. His frustration was evident when he slammed his helmet to the ground after being intercepted in the end zone when he threw into triple coverage in the fourth quarter.
Jackson was never in sync and completed 20 of 37 passes for 272 yards with a touchdown and the crushing interception. He ran for 54 yards and fumbled when he was hit from behind after holding on to the ball to make a play.
It was a performance reminiscent of past failures when Jackson seemed to try to force the action. He had talked all season about being “locked in,” and played that way but Sunday he was pressing while playing against a quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who now has a 14-3 playoff record and is going to his fourth Super Bowl in five years. Jackson is now 2-4 in the playoffs.
“We were a game away from the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “We’ve been waiting all this time, all these moments for an opportunity like this, and we fell short, but I feel like our team is going to build. This offseason, we’re going to get right, get better, grind and try to be in this position again but on the other side of victory.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken did not do Jackson any favors with his play-calling, The Ravens had the NFL’s top rushing attack in the regular season — averaging 163.8 yards per game — but they ran the ball a season-low 16 times — eight by Jackson — for 81 yards against a Chiefs team that allowed 182 yards rushing to the Bills the previous week.
Jackson is still the leading candidate for NFL MVP, but he has faltered in the biggest moments of the postseason. In addition to his 2-4 record, he has completed 112 of 195 pass attempts for 1,324 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions for a 75.7 passer rating. Jackson also has 521 yards rushing with a pair of scores.
He has been sacked 26 times and has two fumbles in those six games.
Jackson is among some good company with his struggles in the postseason.
- Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning lost the first three playoff games of his career and finished with a 14-13 record in the postseason.
- Bills quarterback Jim Kelly went 0-4 in the Super Bowl, losing four straight title games from 1990 to 1993.
- Oilers, Vikings Seahawks, and Chiefs quarterback Warren Moon went 3-7 in the playoffs in his 16-year career.
- Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino threw for 61,361 yards with 420 touchdowns over his 17-year career but is also remembered for never winning a Super Bowl.
- John Elway, who was known for his clutch play, lost his first three Super Bowls before winning two at the end of his career.
Jackson is only 27 and he will likely have more opportunities to lead the Ravens to the championship. The Ravens have confidence in Jackson and awarded him with a five-year, $260 million contract in April.
Jackson had another superb regular season, throwing for a career-high 3,678 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Jackson also led the team in rushing with 821 yards and another five scores, leading the Ravens to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs
Jackson’s teammates are confident he will overcome this latest setback in the postseason.
“Lamar’s the man,” right guard Kevin Zeitler said. “He’s the leader of this team. He’s fiery. He cares more than anyone. It’s very obvious when you watch it. He cares more than anyone. No matter what people say, I know he’s going to be back, ready to work when it’s time, take us all the way.”
But Jackson will have his doubters until he wins a Super Bowl … whether that’s fair or unfair.