With Ravens’ loss in AFC title game, is Lamar Jackson’s season a failure

With Ravens’ loss in AFC title game, is Lamar Jackson’s season a failure

  • By michael@trendteeshirts.com
  • |

Lamar Jackson entered this season with a different kind of focus. With an elevated mentality. It’s something Ravens coaches and players discussed all year. And we saw it, too.

Whether it was the debate about his standing as a true franchise quarterback during his contract stalemate with Baltimore and the ensuing trade request that generated little significant interest from other teams before he ultimately signed a record-setting extension, or his track record in the postseason prior to this year, or the perception that he’s not “quarterbacky” enough, Jackson played with an edge throughout 2023.

But he wasn’t able to do enough Sunday. He wasn’t able to be enough.

Does that mean 2023 was a failure for Jackson?

Jackson and the Ravens won’t reach the Super Bowl after falling to the Chiefs 17-10 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

He put together a regular season that is expected to result in his second NFL MVP award. He delivered a four-touchdown performance in the AFC divisional round to guide the Ravens to their first conference championship appearance at home in franchise history. But in the AFC title game, he never found a true rhythm — a 54.1% completion rate (20-of-37 passing) for 272 yards and a touchdown with an interception and a 75.5 passer rating. He also had eight carries for 54 yards and no scores.

Jackson had his moments of magic. Like in the first quarter, escaping what looked like a sure sack and resetting his feet to fire a 30-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Zay Flowers, which tied the game at 7. Like in the second period, when he had the wherewithal to catch his own pass that was deflected into the air and picked up 13 yards. Like near the end of the third quarter, when he completed a 54-yarder to Flowers that put Baltimore in scoring position.

But those moments of brilliance were too few and far between.

Jackson had a new playcaller this season in Todd Monken, the former offensive coordinator at the University of Georgia, who brought out the best in him as a pocket passer without taking away from his greatness as an athlete and runner. He had the best surrounding cast that he’s ever had on offense: Flowers, star tight end Mark Andrews (albeit for just 11 games, including the playoffs, due to an ankle injury), second-year tight end Isaiah Likely, veteran receiver Odell Beckham Jr. And the Ravens had an elite defense to boot, one that became the first in league history to lead the NFL in points allowed, sacks and takeaways. None of that was enough.

Sunday’s loss wasn’t all on Jackson.

The Ravens’ terrific defense lacked discipline throughout the game, despite holding the Chiefs to 17 points. The offense never found comfort or rhythm against Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, which played a near-perfect game.

Apart from Flowers, who had five receptions for 115 yards, Baltimore didn’t get nearly enough from its skill players. And Flowers had his lapses. He picked up a taunting penalty after the 54-yard completion that pushed back the Ravens in scoring position. Then four plays later, he fumbled at the goal line (Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed made a terrific play to force the fumble), resulting in a touchback and a blown opportunity to cut the deficit to one score. Jackson can’t be blamed for things like that.

But on the next possession, with the Ravens back in plus territory with 6:54 left, he forced a ball to a triple-covered Lively in the end zone, which was picked off by Deon Bush.

On Sunday, Jackson couldn’t put the Ravens on his back in the situations they needed him to do so most in the biggest game of his life.

Should that be held against him? Not necessarily. We’ve seen him carry the Ravens in the past. But on this stage, his failure to do it again accentuated more than anything his gap with Patrick Mahomes, who remains a tier above him.

The two-time MVP delivered a great performance to lead the Chiefs to their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years: a 76.9% completion rate (30-of-39 passing) for 241 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Tight end Travis Kelce delivered, too (11 catches, 116 yards).

The Chiefs showed their Super Bowl-level grit.

“To be a champion,” Jackson said this week, “you have got to go through a champion.”

That’s just not what Jackson is right now, despite all the strides he made this year.

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