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Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Are Crushing Their Playoff Demons

The Baltimore quarterback earned his first postseason win on Sunday, and simultaneously erased some of the doubts that followed him into this season

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

Coming into the postseason, no team needed to shake more negative narratives than the Baltimore Ravens. A year after rocketing into the NFL’s elite class only to have everything fall apart in the playoffs, the Ravens had their shot at redemption on Sunday. They went up against the Titans, the team that had unceremoniously knocked them out in last year’s divisional round, and earned their revenge, winning 20-13. In doing so, Baltimore stomped out many of the concerns that surrounded this team and proved that this group is peaking at the right time.

Baltimore entered the playoffs as one of the league’s most scrutinized teams, and Lamar Jackson—who was coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season—was developing a reputation as someone who didn’t show up in the postseason. Prevalent as that talk may have been, it was based on a pretty limited sample size: Sunday marked Jackson’s third career playoff contest, and he’d gone 0-2 in previous matchups, including last year’s divisional-round loss to Tennessee, when Baltimore became the first no. 1 seed to lose to a no. 6 seed since 2010. Since the offseason, Jackson has been aware of the questions surrounding his playoff performance, and he faced them head on this the week.

“It’s win or go home right now,” Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “I want to win regardless. I don’t really care about what people have got to say. I’ve only been in the playoffs twice in my young career. Other people who’ve been in the league forever haven’t been in the playoffs at all. It is what it is, but I’m definitely trying to erase that narrative right there. That’s the no. 1 [thing] right now in my mind, for sure.”

The Ravens entered Sunday with momentum, and their rushing attack looked reminiscent of their dominant 2019 unit. But the Titans had reason to be confident—they not only overcame Jackson and Co. in last year’s playoffs, but they also beat Baltimore in an epic overtime contest in Week 11 this season. Early on in Sunday’s matchup, it appeared there wouldn’t be much improvement from how either of the past two contests had gone.

The Ravens went three-and-out on their opening possession, and Jackson tossed an interception on the next. Meanwhile, Tennessee established a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter, after Ryan Tannehill found receiver A.J. Brown for a score and Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 45-yard field goal. Baltimore had boasted the league’s highest-scoring first-quarter offense this season, and the franchise had a lengthy track record of failing to overcome early deficits. But, as coach John Harbaugh said after the game, “nobody even blinked. Nobody got down.”

The Ravens offense rallied in the second quarter and found success moving the ball on the ground, with Jackson as the focal point. Right before halftime, Jackson broke out for a 48-yard, game-tying touchdown.

Baltimore’s offense carried its momentum into the third quarter, going 77 yards on 10 plays before rookie tailback J.K. Dobbins scored on a 4-yard run. The Ravens maintained control the rest of the game, as their defense held the Titans scoreless until another Gostkowski field goal pulled Tennessee within four early in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that Baltimore’s Justin Tucker missed a 52-yard field goal attempt (only the second miss of his postseason career) on the ensuing drive. The Ravens defense continued to keep Derrick Henry (18 carries, 40 yards—a season low) in check and forced Tennessee to punt. Then Tucker knocked in a 51-yard kick with four minutes left, and Marcus Peters picked off Tannehill on the Titans’ ensuing drive. Peters celebrated with his teammates by running to midfield and stomping on the Titans logo. To seal the deal, Jackson ripped off a 33-yard run to help exhaust the rest of the clock.

“I knew we had the capability of doing that,” Jackson said after the game. “There’s always gonna be naysayers, no matter what. So we just [take it] one game at a time.”

Sure, there will still be critics. But Jackson took an important step in outlasting them on Sunday. In past years, the Ravens might have folded after going down early. But after Jackson threw his first-quarter pick, he settled down in the pocket. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards, and added 16 carries for 136 yards (8.5 yards per carry). After going catchless in the two teams’ November meeting, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown recorded seven receptions for 109 yards, marking the first time he crossed 100 yards in a game since Week 1. The Ravens offense averaged 6.3 yards per play and converted seven of 13 third downs. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was a welcome sight to see the passing game look functional and the rushing attack continue to have success. Not to mention the performance of defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s unit, which stifled the Titans run game and kept a lid on Tannehill (18-for-26, 165 yards, one touchdown, one interception).

Harbaugh didn’t understate the importance of Sunday’s win—Baltimore’s first postseason victory since the 2014 season—and said his team will soak in the result while maintaining a forward-looking outlook. At one point this season, the Ravens were 6-5, and looked nothing like the dominant, entertaining force they’d been last year. Now, they’re on track to redefine their narrative.

“To win it is very meaningful, it matters,” Harbaugh said. “Really, all of that stuff is just history. [The past results are] just behind you. We talked about that in terms of the game—a play’s here, then it’s gone. You play the play that is in front of you. [Sunday’s game] was the play that was in front of us. That’s the focus. That’s what you try to make the main thing. ... All those other story lines, there are no subplots. There was just the game. And our guys did a great job playing the game.”