Eisenberg: The Best Thing the Ravens Have Going for Them


In case you missed it, Lamar Jackson recently called a halt to taking questions about his disappointing performance in the Ravens' playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last year.

"I really don't want to talk about it anymore," he said last week.

The topic still came up a bit this week, but inevitably, Jackson's shutdown quieted chatter about that aspect of the Ravens' divisional-round playoff matchup with the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Don't be fooled.

That loss to the Chargers, and the motivation Jackson still draws from it, might be the best thing the Ravens have going for them, not only against the Titans, but frankly, in any other game they might play this season.

You can't quantify it. There isn't a NextGen Stat for it. But Jackson's innate, burning competitiveness is probably a bigger advantage for the Ravens than anything you can quantify.

(Idle question: If there was a NextGen Stat, would it be BRM? Burn Rate Over Median?)

If you don't quite understand, consider this: Jackson thought the Ravens were going to win the Super Bowl last year.

Few others did. The Ravens snuck into the postseason as a No. 4 seed thanks to a late-season push that coincided with Jackson becoming the No. 1 quarterback. Everyone got excited about the possibilities, but other teams had more going for them.

Nonetheless, when Jackson struggled against the Chargers in a 23-17 loss, he was totally and absolutely crushed. Not just because he lost a game. He couldn't believe the NFL season was going to end without confetti falling on his shoulders as he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

He was convinced that would happen. In his rookie season. That's just how he thinks.

Is it a bad thing? The Ravens certainly don't think so. Is it a little crazy? Hey, Jackson won the Heisman Trophy at age 19. He has soared in 2019 "mostly because he works hard at it," Ravens Quarterbacks Coach James Urban said last week, but my point is he doesn't just hope his hard work pays off; he expects the payoff to come.

Remember what he said on the podium after he was drafted and the NFL Network's Deion Sanders asked him what the Ravens should expect?

"They'll get a Super Bowl out of me. Believe that," Jackson replied.

It sounded like youthful bravado to those unfamiliar with him. But actually, the comment was an early example of the high expectations and singular focus on winning that Jackson carries around with him as reflexively as he carries his phone and wallet.

"It's infectious, man," tight end Mark Andrews said this week. "I haven't seen anyone who is just so hell-bent on winning. It's all he cares about. When he says all he cares about is winning a Super Bowl, he means it. That's rubbed off on everyone in this locker room, everyone in this facility, everyone in this organization, and everyone in this city."

So, when "all he cares about" is taken from him, as it was by the Chargers a year ago, with his performance pivotal, that memory isn't going to wane.

He may not want to talk about it anymore, but believe me, last year's disappointment is motivating him now.

"Bro, I really hate it. I can't wait to play this week," he said.

Sure, there are other reasons why oddsmakers are favoring Baltimore over Tennessee by more than a touchdown. The Ravens have won 12 games in a row. Their offense is the NFL's most devastating force this season. Their defense and special teams are strong.

But the Ravens' success begins with Jackson, who has even labeled Saturday night's game a Super Bowl of sorts.

I don't think that bodes well for his opponent. The Titans are dangerous, no question, and they're coming in hot after eliminating the Patriots. But it could be they're in the wrong place at the wrong time because the presumptive league MVP is so determined to make his second NFL playoff experience better than his first.

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