BALTIMORE — So many times this season, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson left his fans speechless and his opponents helpless, juking and throwing his way into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.
But on Saturday night, the fans who filled M&T Bank Stadium were speechless for a different reason, the type of stunned silence that has been rare in Baltimore this season.
This time, the 23-year-old wunderkind looked mortal.
“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “We had — I had — a lot of mistakes.”
Jackson committed three pivotal turnovers in a 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday, a shocking defeat after the most dominant regular season in Ravens history. He either carried the ball or dropped back on 83 of Baltimore’s 92 offensive plays but could only lead Baltimore to a pair of field goals and a touchdown — the lowest scoring total of his young career as an NFL starter.
“It’s a team game. It’s not on him,” running back Mark Ingram said. “We had guys out there who didn’t make plays, and it’s not on him, it’s on all of us.”
Several other Ravens players echoed that sentiment, trying to deflect blame from their star quarterback and assume it themselves.
But critics will point to the fact that Jackson has now lost both of his playoff starts and struggled uncharacteristically each time. In losses to Tennessee this year and the Los Angeles Chargers last year, he’s thrown three interceptions and lost two fumbles. He’s accounted for nine picks and six lost fumbles in his other 22 starts combined.
When asked about the narrative that he can’t win a playoff game, Jackson shrugged.
“I don’t really care about what they say,” he 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 (what) the people say.”
Jackson accomplished things this season that no other quarterback has ever achieved, fundamentally transforming the way the position is viewed in the process. He is the only quarterback in league history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season. He finished sixth in the NFL in regular-season rushing yards with 1,206, setting the all-time mark for a quarterback.
Even in defeat Saturday night, the Louisville product still managed to break a few more records. He became the first player in NFL history to eclipse 350 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game, and his 530 yards of total offense set a new franchise record.
“We are not going to depict a guy based on one game. We are going to take the entire body of work for the 2019 season,” Pro Bowl offensive lineman Marshal Yanda said. “And the kid played his ass off. That is where I stand on that.”
Jackson said he thought the Ravens were “too excited” early in Saturday’s game, trying to “score points, like right away, as soon as they scored.” As the deficit grew, turnovers followed. Jackson’s first interception grazed off Mark Andrews’ fingertips. His second hit Kenny Vaccaro in the chest. He also fumbled on a sack and was stopped twice on fourth downs.
More generally, Tennessee was able to limit Jackson’s explosiveness by forcing him to the perimeter. In several instances, he scrambled toward the edge only to find a defender approaching him from an angle, pushing him further toward the sidelines and out of bounds.
“Our plan was to string him out to the sideline, and not let him get downhill where he’s spinning and going for 60-plus,” Vaccaro said.
At one point in the game, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. sat down next to Jackson and reminded him “this doesn’t necessarily define who he is as a player, and define his year.” Coach John Harbaugh lauded him for playing “with heart and guts and courage.”
“We’re young, man. He’s young,” Brown said. “There’s a ton of room to grow. We’re chasing perfection.”
Jackson has previously talked about the way losses stick with him and motivate him.
“I hate losing,” he said sharply Saturday night.
He’s not sure how long the sickening feeling from this one will linger, but it’s there now. And it doesn’t figure to go away any time soon.
“We’re going to get better. We only can get better,” Jackson said. “It’s only (up) from here.”
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.