BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens‘ historic season abruptly ended with a catastrophic defeat Saturday night, opening questions about whether the NFL’s top team struggled because of rust and postseason pressure.
In a 28-12 divisional-round loss to the No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans, Jackson threw two interceptions and fumbled once in an uncharacteristic performance for the front-runner for NFL Most Valuable Player.
As a result, the Ravens (14-3) suffered their first loss in 104 days (Sept. 29) and became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the divisional round since the Dallas Cowboys did so in 2016.
Was it rust? Jackson scoffed during the week that he would be affected by a 20-day layoff, but he produced just the second three-turnover game of his career. The Ravens also didn’t score a first-half touchdown for the first time this season.
“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers, that shouldn’t happen but (Tennessee) came out to play.”
Was it the playoffs? Jackson didn’t want to talk about last year’s postseason problems and is now 0-2 in the postseason (compared to 19-3 in the regular season). He now has five total turnovers in the playoffs after last year’s wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and Saturday’s divisional defeat to the Titans. Jackson had only eight turnovers in the entire 2019 season.
In his first full season as an NFL starter, Jackson put up numbers previously unseen before in the NFL. He became the first player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000. Jackson led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing mark for a quarterback.
But, in the end, Jackson could become the first NFL MVP to lose his first playoff game of that season since running back Adrian Peterson did so in 2012. It has also been 20 years since a player won the MVP award and the Super Bowl in the same season.
Jackson wasn’t sharp against a Titans defense that rarely blitzed him, throwing high and behind receivers. He finished 21-of-59 passing for 365 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His 63.2 passer rating was his second-worst this season.
Coach John Harbaugh says he’s not worried about the loss hurting Jackson’s confidence going forward.
“I won’t have to say much to him, we will talk for sure (Sunday), and we will see where that conversation goes, just from a standpoint of two people talking, but I know how he’s going to respond,” Harbaugh said. “He is going to respond by being extremely motivated, and determined to improve as a football player, and I think the strategy made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to get better. That’s what he should do, it’s simple, him and everybody else. That’s what we all should strive to do, and I just know his character and who he is as a person, that’s what he will be thinking about.”
And not all the blame falls on the first-team All-Pro quarterback. Running back Mark Ingram was a nonfactor with a strained calf, finishing with a season-worst 22 yards on six carries. The Ravens wide receivers and tight ends dropped five passes.
In winning a franchise-best 14 games and earning the team’s first No. 1 seed, the Ravens watched the Titans use their run-dominated game plan against them, physically pushing them around. Baltimore, which broke the NFL’s 41-year-old, single-season rushing record, allowed 218 yards rushing to Tennessee, including 195 to running back Derrick Henry.
Jackson and the Ravens picked a bad time for the worst upset loss in franchise history. The Ravens had been 36-0 in games in which they were favored by 10 or more points and were the only current team not to lose a game in which they were favored by double digits.
The Ravens, though, will bring back the core of a team that ended the regular season on a 12-game winning streak. Baltimore returns 19 of 22 starters including everyone from its offense.
“We a young team, especially on offense,” Jackson said. “We can only get better, we can only get better. It’s only up from here.”