Eisenberg: Lamar Jackson Will Be Fine


If you think the world is ending because Lamar Jackson is 0-2 as a starting quarterback in the playoffs, you should check out how other young quarterbacks of his caliber have performed at his age.

It won't fully ease the disappointment you're feeling because the Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans last weekend. But it'll help put Jackson's record in perspective – a needed perspective, I think.

I'm not saying it's wrong to be upset that Jackson, who just turned 23, didn't lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl in his first full season as a starter. He'd set countless records during the regular season andsurely will win the league MVP award. Baltimore entered January on a 12-game winning streak, as the AFC's top seed. The situation looked promising, to say the least.

But winning in the playoffs is no easy feat early in a quarterback's career, as a long list of outstanding signal-callers can attest.

Peyton Manning went 0-3 as a playoff starter until he finally won in the postseason for the first time … in his sixth NFL season. Eli Manning and John Elway both went 0-2 as playoff starters before finally winning in their fourth seasons.

The Manning brothers and Elway eventually won six Super Bowls between them, proving that early struggles don't preclude you from great success.

A pair of active Super Bowl champions, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, didn't win in the playoffs until their sixth season. Dan Fouts, a Hall of Famer, didn't do it until his eighth.

Randall Cunningham, a dual-threat quarterback from another era who was with the Ravens in 2001, went 0-3 as a playoff starter before finally winning in his eighth season.

Get the picture?

I'm not suggesting this means Jackson deserves a pass for not playing that well against the Titans. Although he posted big stats, a lot of it came after the Ravens fell far behind, partly due to his three turnovers. He also lost three turnovers in a playoff loss a year ago.

But before you get too hot about it, please understand that trying to lead a team to the Super Bowl in your first or second season is a super-high degree-of-difficulty feat.

A few guys have done it. Dan Marino carried the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl in his second year. Ben Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl in his second year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In his second year (first as a starter), Patrick Mahomes won his inaugural playoff start and nearly led the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl a year ago. He'll try again Sunday to reach the Super Bowl after leading the Chiefs to a playoff win last week.

Hey, Joe Flacco nearly got the Ravens to the Super Bowl as a rookie in 2008, winning two playoff starts before losing to the Steelers in the AFC championship game. But Flacco was in "game manager" mode on a team ranked No. 4 in the league in rushing and No. 2 in total defense. He was superb, but the 2019 Ravens wanted Jackson to carry them – a tougher challenge.

In any case, my point is there's a longer list of top quarterbacks who've struggled in the playoffs early in their careers, so Jackson has plenty of company.

He'll still hear about it, of course. No matter what he does going forward, a central part of his narrative will be whether he can finally shine when it matters. The storyline will get old, guaranteed. He needs to brace himself.

He also needs to learn from these experiences. The caliber of play is higher in the postseason. Even if you're an MVP, what works in the regular season doesn't always work in January. One should probably come into games expecting to deal with adversity.

In the end, though, it's all just part of Jackson's growth and development, the evolution all top quarterbacks experience. And Jackson is way ahead of the curve. When asked last week if it would bother him to hear about being 0-2, he replied, "This is my second year in the league. Many people (aren't) able to bring it to the playoffs."

It was a level-headed answer. Make of it what you want, but I think he's going to be just fine.

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