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Cover Story: Why 'Locked In' Lamar Jackson Is Ready to Take the Ravens Farther

Lamar Jackson has been given more freedom in the Ravens offense, and he's running with it.

By: Ryan Mink

The Ravens had beaten the Seattle Seahawks, 37-3. Baltimore's offense piled up 515 yards while the defense surrendered 151. By any definition, the game was a butt kicking.

Naturally, everyone in the Ravens locker room was feeling satisfied – everyone except Lamar Jackson.

Jackson went to some teammates and re-hashed drives when they didn't score and plays when they could have gained more yards.

"Lamar was still in go-mode," tight end Isaiah Likely recalled. "You're like, 'Dang, he's still not happy. He wants to put up 60.' He was like, 'This is what it takes to get to the Super Bowl.'"

"Locked in" have been the words everyone around the Ravens is using to describe Jackson's mentality. There's no doubt that he's different. Explaining exactly how is the challenge.

"He's always seemed locked in, but this feels different," said fullback Patrick Ricard, who has been with Jackson his entire career. "Maybe it's the experience he's had or the maturity. But he's always been a mature guy. I don't know, it's hard to pinpoint what it is. It just seems like he's more focused."

Whatever it is, it's working.

The Ravens are the AFC's top seed. They've already beaten nearly half the teams in the playoff field and clobbered two of the best, the 49ers and Dolphins, in back-to-back weeks to cap a six-game winning streak down the stretch.

Four years ago, however, they were in this same position and came up short. As the Ravens prepare for their playoff opener, Jackson is determined not to have the same outcome.

"Lamar tells us all the time, he was on that 2019 team and it left a bitter taste in his mouth," Likely said. "It's him reminding us to stay locked in. He's been here before and he understands that this isn't enough. The ultimate goal is for us to win the Super Bowl."

But it's not just a desire, not just talk. Jackson has been building all year for this.


Everyone has their own version of when they noticed something was different about Jackson this season. For Quarterbacks Coach Tee Martin, it was as soon as Jackson showed up for organized team activities in late May, about three weeks after inking his record-setting deal.

That contract was 27 months in the making, and when everyone could finally exhale, Jackson was ready to get to work. It was even evident as he recorded a selfie video from his car announcing the deal to the masses.

"You mature quicker when you go through scrutiny for almost two years," Martin said. "He was already a man – a father and all that stuff. But when you're out there representing yourself, that's tough. That's some heavy-duty work."

Martin was the Ravens' wide receivers coach the last two seasons, so he had watched from "afar" how Jackson handled his business. This year, it was going to take a renewed focus. Under a new offensive coordinator, in a new scheme, Jackson was thrown into the deep end.

Todd Monken took Jackson's wristband away, essentially yanking the lifejacket when it came to the offensive verbiage. In some ways, Jackson was starting fresh.

"The mentality that he took towards work was very unique," Martin said. "Everything that we asked him to do, he did it. Things that were different or may not have made sense to him, he tried and he worked at it. From the moment he came in, he wanted to go to work and get better.

"That's something I give him a lot of respect for. Having already been a league MVP and signing a major contract, you come in hungrier than you ever have. That speaks to the man he is and his character."

From left: Quarterbacks Coach Tee Martin, QB Lamar Jackson

An Aug. 5 training camp practice served as a turning point. The defense got nine interceptions that day as the offense worked on third-and-long situations. All the picks weren't against Jackson, and the deck was situationally stacked against the offense, but it ticked him off.

"We came back and went the rest of training camp with maybe like one interception the rest of training camp," Martin said. "Lamar is so competitive, and he doesn't like to be wrong. He doesn't like to have it all look like it was him. And so, he took it upon himself to just continue to study more and learn the concepts inside-out."

Before the Ravens' Week 2 game in Cincinnati, Martin said Jackson was especially dialed in. It was a key early-season divisional game against the team that beat the Ravens in the playoffs last year, as an injured Jackson had to watch from his couch.

During the bus ride to the game, Martin texted Jackson asking if he wanted to get out on the field early to warm up. All his career, Jackson had typically been one of the last people on the field before the game. It was just his way of doing things. This time, Jackson replied, "Let's go."

"When we hit the field for warmups, he had this look. I was like, 'Oh shoot, this is different,'" Martin said. "He was hitting everything and then it just translated to the field."

Immediately after games, Martin leaves an advance scouting report on the next team in Jackson's locker – by request. It's something that Martin wanted when he was a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, where he won a national championship in 1998. Jackson badly wants to win a championship, and he has a champion coaching him.

Since the beginning of the year, Martin has done a series in the classroom called "Championship Quarterback." They talk about the traits and characteristics that winning quarterbacks have – mentality, body maintenance, how to lead on and off the field, etc. It's how they start each week's preparation.  When Martin talks about what it takes to be a championship quarterback, he said Jackson is "super locked in."

"He knows what he wants and he knows it's going to come with work. And you have to be locked in all the way to the end," Martin said.

"There's no time to relax. There's no time to recognize accolades. To win a championship, you don't exhale until the confetti falls. That rhythm, that focus, that mindset – you can't lose it. That's how I approached it through my championship season, and he has that type of focus and mentality."


Before Jackson had signed his new contract or even met Monken, the new offensive coordinator empowered his quarterback. Monken texted Jackson when he was still down in Florida.

"He was telling me, 'I'm going to give you the keys to the offense. It's up to you to make certain decisions at the line. If you don't like it, put us in a better situation, but if you mess up, it's going to be on you.'" Jackson said.

"I'm cool with that, because I'm seeing the field, and I'm out there. I'm the one that has to make things happen – my teammates and [me]."

Jackson spent the past four seasons with Greg Roman in a run-heavy offense tailored around Jackson's unique running abilities. Jackson had a lot of success in that system, but the Ravens knew there was more to be unlocked.

Jackson has long had the arm talent to do so, and he's become an even better and more accurate passer over the years. Now it was time for him to take the reins of a robust passing attack.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said what has stood out to him most about Jackson this season is his ability to assimilate into the new offense. The Ravens paid Jackson not just for what he had already been as one of the NFL's most electric players, but for what they believed he could become as a more well-rounded quarterback. And he's delivering.

When Jackson comes to the line of scrimmage, he can change the play to a certain run play or alter the route concept if he sees the coverage is different than he wants. He can communicate that with signals or verbally to the wide receivers.

It's not like it's happening every play, but Jackson has a newfound level of command in Baltimore's offense. Monken said Jackson's smarts are what have enabled him to thrive with the keys in his hands.

"First off, he's highly intelligent. He understands what you're asking him to do and what you're allowing him to do and when the situation presents that," Monken said. "And he's embraced wanting to do that. Not every quarterback wants that on their plate and be empowered to change a play at the line of scrimmage or to put themselves out there.

"It starts with him. He's diligent. He's intelligent. He's certainly more than capable of seeing things – what the defense is presenting to him – and how he can get us into a premium play."

Martin described Jackson as an interactive learner. He's not a huge note taker, preferring to see plays and pictures on his iPad. But when he's in the meeting room, he's "processing it in his mind."

"It's already being put to life," Martin said. "For Lamar, there's not this separation between classroom and the field. The meeting room is a rep. The walkthrough is a rep. The practice is a rep. I think that's what allows him to play the game so fast from a mental standpoint.

"He may not have 10 pages of notes, but if you ask him, he's spot on. When you test him, it's very, very rare that he's not correct."

Jackson's 75-yard touchdown pass to Zay Flowers against the Dolphins got a lot of buzz because of Jackson's left-handed drop. That twist was Jackson's suggestion, and the fact that the ball went to Flowers was Jackson's vision. Flowers' role on that play is to serve as the clear-out guy. It just so happened that the Dolphins had a coverage bust, and Jackson instantly recognized it.

"He didn't think twice. He let it rip," Martin said. "He's out there playing ball and it's free. It's like this aggressive freedom."


The last championship Jackson won was as a member of the 11U Northwest Broward Raiders in the South Florida FYFL Super Bowl.

Jackson's Raiders beat the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, who were back-to-back champions and riding a 40-something game winning streak. Jackson threw two touchdowns in the 14-6 win – and kicked the extra points, too.

Coach Ed "Bubba" Jones gave the kids a choice between going to Disney World or getting championship rings. They chose the rings. The rings cost about $200 each and Jackson and his teammates wore them like they were worth a million bucks. 

Since then, Jackson has won a slew of individual awards, most notably his Heisman Trophy in 2016 and unanimous 2019 MVP. Both stay in a closet, in bubble wrap, in a box. If/when he wins his second MVP this year, it will likely go in the same place.

If he wins the Super Bowl, however, Jackson has a spot picked out in his house to display the Lombardi Trophy.

"I want that Super Bowl," Jackson told Tom Brady last week. "That's the accolade that I really want – so bad. I've been chasing that for a long time."

Jackson's high school career ended with a 49-6 loss to powerhouse Miami Central, which was going for its fourth state title in five years.

In college, Jackson and Louisville suffered a sour loss to LSU in the Citrus Bowl to cap his Heisman sophomore year. His final game was a 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

After falling short of titles in high school and college, winning the Super Bowl has been an obsession for Jackson since he first came into the league. Everybody remembers his draft night vow that he would deliver a Super Bowl to Baltimore, and he hasn't forgotten either.

Teammates say he never stops talking about it.

"We'll be in the showers, and he'll randomly be like, 'Man, we've got to win the Bowl,'" running back Gus Edwards said with a laugh.

Jackson's regular-season record is 58-19. His playoff record is 1-3. It's the one blemish on his sparkling NFL resume. In four playoff games, Jackson has a 55.8 completion percentage and 68.3 quarterback rating, with three touchdowns to five interceptions.

After losing to the Titans in 2019, Jackson and the Ravens got some vengeance in the wild-card round the following year, beating the Titans after Jackson's 48-yard touchdown run flipped the game. The following week, however, in extremely windy conditions in Buffalo, he threw a game-changing pick-six and didn't finish the game because of a concussion. That was the last time Jackson was in the postseason.

The past two years, Jackson has been injured down the stretch. The Ravens fell out of contention because of it in 2021, and a knee sprain left him watching from the couch last year when the Ravens were knocked out of the playoffs in Cincinnati on a freakish 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

The pain of the 2019 early exit has been compounded. Add in the naysayers, and Jackson is itching to rewrite his playoff narrative.

"I definitely do have that chip on my shoulder," Jackson said. "I haven't accomplished what I wanted to yet, so that's why that chip is still on my shoulder."

Even before the team's four-game run beating the Rams, Jaguars, 49ers, and Dolphins, Jackson talked about how this year's team had a Super Bowl opportunity that can't be taken for granted.

The past month has only hammered that home more. Some of the defense's top players such as Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen are set to become free agents. Odell Beckham Jr., who finished second on the team in receiving, is playing on a one-year deal.

Monken, Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald and Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver have teams lining up to interview them for head coach openings.

Jackson is under contract through the 2027 season, but he's going to lose some of the pieces around him.

"I'm preaching. I feel like I'm preaching to the choir, but we gotta take advantage of what we have," Jackson said. "Because we might not see it again."

For now, however, the Ravens and Jackson aren't focused on the future. It's about right now. Jackson has been more vocal this year, like after that Seahawks game, or at halftime telling his teammates to stay focused and keep their foot on the gas.

Jackson finished the regular season about as well as possible, throwing more touchdowns (five) than he had incompletions (three) in a 56-19 demolition of the Dolphins.

"He's always had a single-minded focus, but I don't think I've ever seen it quite like this," Harbaugh said. "[He's been] one day at a time, locked in. That's kind of how he's approached it. It's been reflected in how he's practiced and how he's played.

"Our best players are also our hardest workers, they are our most responsible guys, and that's what drives the whole thing."

So how does Jackson explain his change?

"Just how things went before [in 2019] and me seeing different things now, that's what has me so locked in," he said. "I believe we're going to be better this year this time around."

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