When the dust settles and the visiting locker room goes dark inside of Nissan Stadium in Nashville, there will be no player more gleefully relieved than Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
There aren’t many things Jackson can’t do and hasn’t done. Win a Heisman? Check, and was the youngest player ever to do so. Win an NFL MVP award as a quarterback when some openly discussed moving Jackson to wide receiver or running back? Check, and was the youngest quarterback to do so. Lead his team to the playoffs? Check, and was the youngest quarterback to ever do so.
Three days after celebrating his 24th birthday, Jackson’s list of accomplishments couldn’t be contained on a single page, but there was a glaring omission. The young man achieved almost everything he could ever dream of… except winning a playoff game. On Jan. 10, 2021, after a 20-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Jackson can finally check that box.
It wasn’t pretty early. Baltimore found itself in a 10-0 first-quarter hole, aided by a Jackson interception on an inexplicably poor throw. Before Jackson and his Ravens teammates even got settled into the flow of the game, they had to confront their, and their quarterback’s, demons.
“The Ravens aren’t built to come back from a double-digit deficit.” That sentiment echoed throughout social media and even on the ESPN broadcast. It was a fair observation, too. The Ravens were 0-6 in the Jackson era when they’ve fallen behind by 10 points or more. Baltimore’s last win after losing by 10 or more points was way back in September of 2016. Simply put, the Ravens, with their run-heavy style, were built to get and play with a lead, not to scratch and claw back into a game. But there’s a difference between a strong preference and an inability, and Baltimore proved that, at least for one Sunday, they were able to hang and persevere even when the chips were stacked against them.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And when Lamar Jackson gets going, success almost always follows.
There is no doubt what the turning point was in this wild-card game. With 2:45 left in the first half, down 10-3, Jackson made the play of the game and arguably the most meaningful play of his NFL career.
The Titans, in human or dot form, never stood a chance.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jackson’s 48-yard touchdown run was the second-longest quarterback rushing score in NFL playoff history. It allowed the Ravens to enter halftime all even and ready to get the ball back despite the awful start. It’s cliche, but Baltimore brought all the momentum into the halftime locker room and it carried over into its first second-half drive. Jackson led the Ravens on a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a four-yard J.K. Dobbins run for a touchdown to take a 17-10 lead. The Titans were never able to catch up.
The Ravens were a trendy pick to win all week and were favored by more than a field goal despite being on the road. No one considered them an underdog in any form or fashion. However, Jackson and the Ravens weren’t just playing against Tennessee, they were playing against their past. They were playing against the embarrassment of last season—only 364 days in the rearview mirror—which ended far too prematurely at the hands of these same Titans after a 14-win campaign. Jackson was playing against the weight of another crushing playoff loss falling squarely on his shoulders—something that seemed inevitable not just six weeks ago when the Ravens were 6-5 and clinging to the playoff picture, but after 15 minutes of play on Sunday.
As the game drew to a close, Jackson couldn’t contain his excitement. He ran and chest-bumped wide receiver Marquise Brown, who had a great game in his own right with a team-leading seven catches for 109 yards. Jackson then trotted off the field as a postseason winner for the first time ever with relief and vindication pulsing through his veins after going 0-2 in his first two attempts. That narrative was finally put to rest.
There are no moral victories at this level of athletic competition. Jackson’s (and the team’s) mission isn’t yet accomplished. However, the first-step stumbling block is now cleared and so too may be the mind of one of the NFL’s most dangerous players who just received a Patrick Ricard-sized injection of confidence.
What’s next for Jackson and the Ravens? Sunday Night Football and the final game of wild-card weekend will determine the next step. The Buffalo Bills and the NFL’s hottest quarterback, Josh Allen, await if the Cleveland Browns upset the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Pittsburgh prevails, a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs will be the most talked about game of the Divisional Round.
The latter represents another demon for Jackson and the Ravens to vanquish. Jackson is 0-3 against the Chiefs in his career and an embarrassing 34-20 loss to Kansas City (in Baltimore) is a scar only three-and-a-half months old. But just as Peyton Manning had to conquer his own skeletons, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, en route to his first-ever Super Bowl title 14 years ago, Jackson has to conquer Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs if he hopes to bring home his first Lombardi Trophy.
There aren’t many things Jackson can’t do and hasn’t done. That list got a little smaller on Sunday. How many more lines get crossed off before the 2020 season is officially in the books?