Jackson, Ravens finally have chance to write new chapter in recent playoff story

- Advertisement -

Though Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was speaking on rookie Zay Flowers, he might as well have been talking about Lamar Jackson. 

Moments after stating the superstar quarterback “looks even more focused and locked in than ever,” Beckham spoke truth about the ramifications of Saturday’s meeting with Houston in the divisional round that applies to anyone. 

“This is where you start your legacy,” said Beckham, who won a Super Bowl playing for the Los Angeles Rams two years ago. “That was all fun and cool [in the regular season]. We’ll put it behind us. But this is where you cement yourself in stone, and this is where your legacy truly begins.” 

Whether you’ve been Jackson’s biggest supporter since his Louisville days or required more convincing along the way, we’re all sick of talking about the playoff record. But that exhaustion doesn’t make it any less true until he and the Ravens change it. 

Beckham is right. The regular-season wins and accolades — including a likely second MVP award for Jackson — were fun, cool, and impressive, but all of that is in the rearview mirror now. 

The 2006 and 2019 Ravens hold the two best regular-season records in franchise history, but those teams are remembered much more for their January failures than how much fun they were to watch in the regular season. Meanwhile, the 2012 team went 10-6 and spent more time in disarray than looking like anything special during the regular season before Joe Flacco turned in one of the best performances in NFL playoff history and the Ravens made that magical Super Bowl run.

You never really know.


Tom Brady isn’t widely viewed as the greatest quarterback of all time because of his three regular-season MVP awards, 15 Pro Bowl selections, or the then-record-setting 50 touchdown passes in his historic 2007 season. It’s the seven Super Bowl championships and remarkable 35-13 record in the playoffs. 

If it were only about the regular season, the 27-year-old Jackson’s profile would already be prompting discussion about an inevitable place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the list of multi-time winners of the AP NFL MVP award and what year they were inducted or will become eligible for Canton. Jackson also has one of the most spectacular highlight reels in NFL history, which shouldn’t be overlooked in a business that’s ultimately about entertainment. 

But there’s no denying the contrast between Jackson’s outstanding regular-season track record and the struggles over his first four career playoff games. To be fair, few Hall of Fame quarterbacks come close to Brady as even the great Peyton Manning got off to a rough start with three straight playoff losses to open his career and experienced plenty of postseason failure with Indianapolis and later Denver. But Manning eventually broke through to win a Super Bowl, which is what Jackson ultimately needs to silence his critics once and for all. 

It’s a similar story for any quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes remaining in this playoff field, but no one is facing more pressure than Jackson at this point. 

Of course, it’s been three years since he even suited up for a postseason game after injuries cut each of his last two seasons short. To give you an idea of how long that is in NFL terms, Dez Bryant, Yannick Ngakoue, and D.J. Fluker played in that loss to Buffalo in the divisional round. Much has changed since then with Jackson finally securing a long-term contract last spring and now thriving with first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken in 2023.   

(Baltimore’s active roster for Lamar Jackson’s last playoff game against Buffalo in the 2020 divisional round)

We’re all eagerly awaiting this new chapter, but you can’t help but shudder thinking how long the offseason will feel if Saturday’s tilt with the Texans doesn’t go to plan for Jackson and the home team after a second NFL-best regular season in five years. 

But this Baltimore offense is better equipped to handle in-game adversity with a more potent and talented passing attack than deployed in previous years under Greg Roman. The Ravens don’t want to test the theory, but the early 14-0 deficit in that 2019 playoff loss to Tennessee wouldn’t feel as insurmountable for this year’s team. This is also the best defense Baltimore has had since the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.


If not now, then when?

Jackson is the first to admit he wasn’t nearly good enough in those three playoff losses — we also gloss over a much better showing in his lone postseason win over the Titans — but his teammates would quickly say the same about their performance, especially in that defeat in the 2019 divisional round that anchors the narrative that won’t go away until Jackson and the Ravens do something about it. 

“We have to let that go. Different guys, a different team all around,” Jackson said earlier this month. “It’s just a different atmosphere. I feel like we’re just on a whole other level from then because all we talk about is just the next game [and] not what the future may hold in a few weeks.”

This playoff run lasting that long would be a good start. 

- Advertisement -