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Late for Work: John Harbaugh Reflects on 'Incredible Journey' With Lamar Jackson Over the Past Year

(From left) Head Coach John Harbaugh & QB Lamar Jackson
(From left) Head Coach John Harbaugh & QB Lamar Jackson

John Harbaugh Reflects on 'Incredible Journey' With Lamar Jackson Over the Past Year

The final chapter of the 2023 Ravens' story has yet to be written, but what a compelling tale it has been thus far.

This past offseason, the Ravens and Lamar Jackson had seemingly reached an impasse in contract negotiations, leading to Jackson requesting a trade. Now nine months after Jackson signed a five-year contract extension, the Ravens are the No. 1 seed in the AFC and Jackson is likely going to win his second league MVP award.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked on the latest episode of “The Adam Schefter Podcast” what stands out about what transpired with Jackson over the past year and where they are now.

"That's it – just the story, the incredible journey that he's been on and we've all been on together, not knowing where it was going to go or how it was going to end, but keeping focused on the idea that God has a plan," Harbaugh said. "[Lamar] is a person of faith. We all kind of leaned on that throughout this whole process and just understood that there was going to be an outcome and there was something that was going to be a good outcome, there was something that was going to be a planned outcome if we all approached it from that perspective."

While he was always optimistic that things would work out, Harbaugh admitted that he wasn't certain they would.

"Man, who knew it was going to end up like this? We didn't know that. I didn't know if he was going to be here or not," Harbaugh said. "You don't control that. Decisions were going to be made or circumstances were going to happen and it's all choices and that kind of stuff. But I knew that [General Manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [Owner] Steve [Bisciotti] wanted Lamar. And I believed in my heart that Lamar wanted to be here.

"There was negotiating and things that were made. We didn't get dragged down by that kind of stuff. We're not getting dragged down by what people say and what people think, or opinions or any of that other kind of stuff. Let's just see where this thing goes and let's see what plan God has for all of us through all of this. And then it turned out the way it did."

The next chapter in the Ravens' story takes place Saturday when they host the Houston Texans in a divisional playoff game. Harbaugh, Jackson, and the rest of the team are taking a day-by-day approach while also keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize – a Super Bowl championship.

Harbaugh celebrated on the field with his brother Jim, the head coach at Michigan, after the Wolverines won the national championship last week. He couldn't help but think about the Ravens having their own championship celebration.

"Going down on the field and when the confetti came down and thinking, man, wouldn't that be something if we could get this done for our team too and our team experiences this," Harbaugh said.

Jackson Is No. 3 on ESPN Analytics Writers' Top 100 MVP Ballot

Even though Jackson is the clear front-runner for MVP, he did not take the top spot in ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder's top-100 MVP ballot.

Jackson came in at No. 3 in Walder's rankings. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was No. 1, followed by Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

"This will feel like an insult to Jackson when he probably will win the MVP award," Walder wrote. "He had an incredible season, ranking fourth in QBR and leading the Ravens to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. For me, though, there has to be a good reason for him to overcome the significant QBR and EPA per play deficit he faces compared to Prescott, and I don't see one.

"Jackson is getting credit for the Ravens being the 1-seed, and he played a big role in it. But the wins argument rings hollow in part because Baltimore's best unit was its defense — and the second-best unit was its special teams. Its offense had the league's best starting field position, and that's where the disconnect with the mainstream and EPA partly lies, as defense — and special teams — plays a role in points scored even when they aren't the ones actually scoring the points."

Walder makes some interesting points, but it seems a bit unfair to penalize Jackson because the Ravens have a strong defense and special teams. Jackson's ability as a playmaker and command of Todd Monken's offense has been on full display throughout the season.

Other Ravens who placed in the top 100 were: No. 23. safety Kyle Hamilton; No. 24. inside linebacker Roquan Smith; No. 56. defensive tackle Justin Madubuike; No. 79. edge Jadeveon Clowney.

Ravens Ranked As Second-Most-Likely Team to Win the Super Bowl

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund used her model to rank the eight remaining teams in terms of their likelihood of winning the Super Bowl.

The Ravens were No. 2 with a 23..3 percent chance of taking home the Lombardi trophy. The San Francisco 49ers, the top seed in the NFC, were No. 1 at 27 percent.

"While the Ravens were resting, their playoff path became easier, thanks to losses by AFC North rivals Cleveland and Pittsburgh, with the Browns' exit specifically increasing Baltimore's odds to win the AFC," Frelund wrote. "Add in the return of tight end Mark Andrews from an ankle injury that kept him sidelined over the team's final six games, and things get even better for the Ravens."

Looking ahead to Saturday's game against Houston, Frelund wrote: "[The Texans] are great at limiting yards after the catch over expectation. Next Gen Stats shows that in the regular season, Houston allowed just 130 YACOE, which ranked fourth. For context, the 16th-ranked team (the Eagles) allowed 233."

Frelund gave the Texans a 1.9 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, the worst odds among the eight teams.

"Dealing with the pressure brought by the Ravens, who topped the NFL in both pressures (283) and sacks (60) in the regular season, is going to be one of the biggest keys of Houston's divisional round matchup with Baltimore," Frelund wrote. "To that end, it's worth noting that Stroud was 4 of 7 passing for 109 yards with two TDs on the run in Saturday's win over Cleveland. "As for Houston's ground game, Devin Singletary recorded +23 rush yards over expected (more than he did in any regular-season game) on 13 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, with a per-carry mark of 5.1 yards. And that was against a Browns defense ranked fourth-best in EPA allowed against the run in the regular season.

"If there's one thing Houston must address in the matchup with the Ravens, it's a lack of performance against play-action passes; the Texans allowed the most yards per attempt (10.4) on play-action passes in the NFL in the regular season, exactly the same as the Ravens' league-best average on play-action passes when on offense (10.4)."

Torrey Smith Sees Same Qualities in Ravens As Super Bowl Teams He Was On

Former NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith was on Super Bowl-winning teams in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and he sees the same special qualities those teams had in the 2023 Ravens.

"It's just special," Smith told Kay Adams on FanDuel TV's “Up & Adams.” "Coach Harbaugh actually allowed me to shadow the team for a day – I was looking into what it's like to be a coach – and it felt like it did when we won the Super Bowl back when I was in Baltimore; it felt like how it did in Philadelphia when we won the Super Bowl there. There's this culture of 'it's about the team.' You're talking about a room full of receivers with a million first-round picks in there: Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor.  Zero egos. All of these guys are locked in on trying to win a championship. And when you have that type of energy and when you see a defense that's playing at that high of a level, guys that are playing for each other.

"Roquan Smith setting the standard for what it's like to be a Baltimore Raven; defensive line flying around; guys who were castaways in other organizations and now have the opportunity to step up. Do you see Clowney? He's the Clowney that we all know and love. He's out there balling, being himself. I think Coach Harbaugh deserves a lot of credit for that as well. He always says to let your light shine and he's letting his guys do that. You're seeing what this team looks like that's playing for each other and it's a lot of positive energy here in this city."

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