The Los Angeles Chargers slowed down Action Jackson to a crawl in his first NFL playoff game.
Lamar Jackson struggled throughout the first three quarters at M&T Bank Stadium in the Ravens’ 23-17 loss to the Chargers, a game the Ravens never led at any point.
Jackson led Baltimore on back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, putting them in position for a possible miracle comeback, but it was too little too late and ended with yet another fumble.
Jackson finished 14 of 29 for 194 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and three fumbles. Entering the fourth quarter, he was just 3-of-9 for 25 yards passing with an interception, putting the Ravens behind the eight ball.
“I feel like I played poorly,” Jackson said. “At the beginning, a lot of throws weren’t hit that I was supposed to make, turnover, I fumbled once, and I wasn’t playing my game today. I’m ticked off about that, definitely.”
Jackson was the youngest quarterback to ever start an NFL playoff game. Who knows whether it was that, the stakes or just a ferocious and fast Chargers defense that threw him off his game most.
The Chargers have the best defense that Jackson faced all year, and this was his second time facing them in three weeks. Baltimore’s offense gashed them in Los Angeles in the first half, but the Chargers seemed to catch up in the second half of that game.
On Sunday, the Chargers were a step ahead and consistently won the battle in the trenches. Jackson didn’t find much room to run himself with 54 yards on nine carries. Baltimore’s running back duo of Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon fared even worse with 36 yards on 14 carries.
The Ravens fumbled three times on their first eight offensive snaps – two by Jackson and one by Dixon. One was on an errant snap, another came when Jackson seemed to knock the ball out of his own hand, and Dixon was stripped. That put the Chargers in the driver’s seat from the start.
Jackson had 13 fumbles in eight games as the Ravens’ starter. He fumbled at least once every game. Especially in an offense predicated off of read-option plays, ball control has to be better.
“That’s something that we’ll go to work on when we come back,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “That will be priority [No.] 1 – to be a great ball-handling team.”
The Ravens had just three first downs in the first three quarters, leading some fans, who presumably wanted to see Joe Flacco take over under center, to start to boo Jackson and the offense when it came onto the field.
“We still love the fans. They’re going to come fill up seats for us,” Jackson said. “It was a hard finish. They were looking for better in us. We didn’t perform well. It happens sometimes.”
Rookie offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said Jackson still had confidence on the sideline, and the rookie quarterback eventually got hot, leading the Ravens on a pair of touchdown drives.
One was an eight play, 75-yard drive capped by a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. The other was a 12-play, 80-yard drive that Jackson kept alive with a miraculous scrambling heave to Dixon for a 39-yard gain, then capped off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree on fourth down.
Jackson’s rebound gave the Ravens a chance. Jackson and the offense had to go 66 yards in 45 seconds for a miracle comeback win, but he was stripped and the Chargers recovered to end the game.
In the end, it will be a game to learn from for Jackson. There will be a lot more games, and likely more playoff starts, ahead with him as the Ravens’ starting quarterback.
“He is the future. He’s such a bright kid, unbelievable energy and personality. He’s likeable. He works hard,” safety Eric Weddle said. “As you guys can tell, he’s devastated right now, and that’s what’s going to drive him in the offseason. And, he’ll come back 10 times better than he was this year.
“He’s going to be a great one. I love him to death, and I can’t wait to see where his career ends up.”
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who doesn’t like to give rookies too much credit, said Jackson will have to make sure he doesn’t hit “cruising altitude.”
A popular narrative this offseason will surely be whether the Ravens can have long-term success with Jackson and his unique style of play. The Chargers were the first team to face him twice, and they shut he and the Ravens offense down.
Jackson will have to improve as a passer and with his ball security this offseason. But he certainly has the talent to do it.
“We all have to get better,” Suggs said. “I’m pretty sure he’s dedicated to getting better. I think he had a really good rookie year. He’s going to have a successful offseason. He’s Lamar Jackson.”
“Our future is really bright,” wide receiver Willie Snead IV added. “With a year under his belt, I feel he can come out and do the same thing, but even better. He’s going to get to grow, he’s got a lot of confidence. I think the future is really bright.”