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The Ravens Just Had an All-Time Playoff Collapse Against the Titans

It wasn’t only that the 1-seed lost to the 6-seed, it was how it happened

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson just wanted to win a Super Bowl. Whether he was leading the Ravens to victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, shattering rushing records for quarterbacks, or securing his place as the youngest league MVP in six decades, Jackson always juked questions about his individual accomplishments as easily as he juked defenders. On the field he has a bunch of moves, but in interviews he always had the same answer about his greater goal.

“I’m trying to win a Super Bowl,” Jackson said in November. He often said this while wearing a shirt that had the words “Nobody cares. Work harder.

The Ravens will not win a Super Bowl this season. They lost to the Tennessee Titans 28-12 on Saturday in one of the most shocking playoff defeats in years. Baltimore’s offense never got going even though it had led the league in points per drive, yards per drive, plays per drive, and time of possession per drive during the regular season. The Ravens did not score a touchdown until there was 11 minutes left in the game. It was the first time Baltimore had been held without a touchdown in the first half all season. Jackson had three turnovers, the most he has had in a game since he was at Louisville.

Baltimore looked dominant on its first drive until Jackson sought tight end Mark Andrews, who let a pass bounce off his hands and into the arms of Titans safety Kevin Byard. Byard returned the ball 31 yards, and Jackson was issued a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle.

Eight plays later, on third-and-goal at the 12-yard line, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed a ball to the left corner for tight end Jonnu Smith, who reeled in the ball one-handed—and one-cheeked. While two feet are required for a catch in the NFL, one butt cheek counts. Smith got control of the ball and his tush down in time for the catch.

On their next drive, the Titans stuffed Baltimore on a fourth-and-1 attempt. It was the first time all season the Ravens had failed to convert on fourth-and-1; they went 8-for-8 in those scenarios in the regular season. On the next play, Tannehill hit Titans receiver Khalif Raymond for a 45-yard touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.

It was just the second time the Ravens had trailed after the first quarter all season. It would also be the first of two times they had a turnover on downs lead to a touchdown in this game. Five minutes into the second half, Baltimore had a 13-play, 58-yard drive stop at the Titans’ 18-yard line when the Ravens were stuffed on fourth-and-1 again. Three plays later, with the Titans facing a third-and-1 of their own, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry rumbled 66 yards downfield.

Henry had one of the best games amid one of the best stretches for any running back ever. He finished with 30 carries for 195 yards, and he now has the most rushing yards in a running back’s first four playoff games ever. The 2019 rushing leader also became the first running back in NFL history to run for 180 yards three games in a row. At one point Henry stiff-armed Ravens safety Earl Thomas, who had said earlier in the week that Henry’s breakout 182-yard game against the New England Patriots happened in part because the Patriots defenders were not trying their hardest to tackle him.

Henry’s most memorable play came a few downs after his 66-yard run. With the Titans up 14-6 and facing a third-and-goal on the Ravens’ 3-yard line, Marcus Mariota motioned to the right. Henry raised his right leg, took the snap, took five steps, and then jumped into the air and tossed a touchdown pass to receiver Corey Davis.

The score made the game 21-6 Tennessee, and it was the moment that fans, reporters, and seemingly the Ravens themselves realized Baltimore was going to lose. Jackson was stripsacked on the first play of the Ravens’ next drive, and the Titans punched in a touchdown six plays later to push the score to 28-6.

The Titans scored a touchdown on a staggering 75 percent of their red zone trips this season, by far a league high (the Ravens were second, with 67 percent). Part of it was out of necessity. They have had so much turnover and bad luck at kicker that Tennessee has just one field goal since Week 9. On Saturday, the Titans went 3-for-3 with three touchdowns on their red zone trips.

Baltimore was not at 100 percent strength in this game. Running back Mark Ingram was dealing with a calf strain, and tight end Mark Andrews was dealing with an ankle injury. Tight end Nick Boyle, a key run blocker, twisted his ankle early in the second half. Receiver Marquise Brown suffered an injury on the next play. Receiver Seth Roberts was injured earlier in the first half.

Still, the injuries do not explain one of the most stunning upsets in years. Baltimore was the seventh-most-efficient team in the past 35 years, according to Football Outsiders. The Ravens had 3,296 rushing yards, the highest mark in the Super Bowl era. But the Titans out-Ravens’d the Ravens on Saturday. While Baltimore’s 5.5-yards-per-carry mark was also the highest in the Super Bowl era, the Titans have had a higher average since Ryan Tannehill took over in Week 7 (5.6). On Saturday, Henry ran 30 times for 195 yards, or 6.5 yards per carry. Tannehill had just 88 passing yards in this game, barely an improvement over last week, when he had 72 passing yards, a career low in a game in which he had at least six pass attempts. Of all the shocking parts of this result, the most surprising may be that the Titans applied the same game plan to Baltimore’s dominant offense that they used on New England’s anemic one, and they got an even more convincing win against the Ravens.

Just as most of the credit for Baltimore’s 14-2 season goes to Jackson, so will much of the blame for this loss. He completed 31 of 59 passes (the most he has thrown in college or the pros) for 365 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions, though most of his yardage came long after the game was out of hand. He also rushed 20 times for 143 yards, including a number of stunning moves and did you see that moments.

But Jackson’s individual accomplishments ring hollow after such a stunning loss. His playoff record will now be questioned after last year’s debacle against the Chargers, when he had a 9.5 QBR. This year Jackson led all quarterbacks in QBR (81.1), but once again his offense unraveled in the playoffs. Jackson had just eight turnovers in the 2019 season, but he has five in his two playoff games.

After the game, Jackson once again approached a postgame press conference, but this time the mood was somber for the first time since September.

“I got a great team with me,” Jackson said. “We ain’t really worried about what people say. We’re just gonna keep going, like I said, get ready for next year.”

In just a few weeks from now, Jackson will likely become the youngest MVP since Jim Brown in 1958. But to get the trophy he really wants, he and the Ravens will have to work even harder.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ryan Tannehill went into motion on Derrick Henry’s touchdown pass; it was Marcus Mariota.