Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Go Narrative Busting
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens don't care about your narratives.
We've spent plenty of time discussing the storylines surrounding this team over the past few seasons, but they had the last word on Sunday.
The Ravens punched their ticket to the AFC divisional round with a 20-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, their first playoff win since 2014.
"Coming into the postseason, no team needed to shake more negative narratives than the Ravens," The Ringer’s Kaelen Jones wrote. "A year after rocketing into the NFL's elite class only to have everything fall apart in the playoffs, the Ravens had their shot at redemption on Sunday. They went up against the Titans, the team that had unceremoniously knocked them out in last year's divisional round, and earned their revenge, winning 20-13. In doing so, Baltimore stomped out many of the concerns that surrounded this team and proved that this group is peaking at the right time."
"Whether the narratives about Jackson or the Ravens held any merit before Sunday were up for debate in the first place," added NBC Sports’ Andrew Gillis. "Now, they've faded into the past."
It's only appropriate to discuss the narratives the Ravens overcame with the win:
"Lamar Jacksoncan't win in the playoffs."
It always seemed premature after just two postseason games when a Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning didn't win his first playoff game until his sixth season. Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, proved he could win consistently at the NFL level, so it was only a matter of time before he rewrote the narrative.
"It was pretty clear that the reigning NFL MVP, who turned 24 just a few days ago, was tired of the narratives he heard coming into the game," For The Win wrote. "With good reason: They made very little sense."
"It was two games, for goodness sake," The New York Post’s Mark Cannizzaro wrote. "Yet Jackson, in only his third NFL season, already was being labeled a postseason failure, disappointment, choker, (insert your own derogatory armchair-quarterback analysis).
"That Jackson is the reigning NFL MVP and the fact that the Ravens had a 30-7 record with him at quarterback entering Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game against the Titans in Nashville, didn't seem to supersede the fact that Jackson was 0-2 in the playoffs."
Jackson is now in elite company, joining Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes as the only players in NFL history to win an MVP and a playoff game by the end of their age-23 season.
"Narratives that were written in pencil were being rewritten in ink, particularly after a poorly thrown pass by Jackson was intercepted and converted into a field goal to make it a two-score game," NFL.com’s Jim Trotter wrote. "The former Louisville star might be fast enough to run away from defenders, but not his recent past. Memories of his three-turnover performance in last season's playoff loss to the Titans came rushing back.
"... With that weight now off his shoulder, it will be fun to see just how far Jackson can take the Ravens. We sometimes forget that he's just 24 years old with so much growth to come. It might be a stretch to say he's playing with house money the rest of these playoffs, but not by much. And that makes him and the Ravens all the more dangerous."
"The Ravensaren't built to play from behind."
The narrative that the Ravens aren't built to win from behind was tested when they found themselves down 10-0 early in the first quarter. But a heavily debated topic that stemmed all the way from last year's playoff loss to the Titans can be put to rest.
"The Ravens were 0-6 in the Jackson era when they've fallen behind by 10 points or more," The Draft Network’s Jamie Eisner wrote. "Baltimore's last win after losing by 10 or more points was way back in September of 2016. Simply put, the Ravens, with their run-heavy style, were built to get and play with a lead, not to scratch and claw back into a game. But there's a difference between a strong preference and an inability, and Baltimore proved that, at least for one Sunday, they were able to hang and persevere even when the chips were stacked against them."
Trailing after the first quarter, the Ravens stuck to their gameplan. Jackson led a 12-play, 60-yard drive to set up a Justin Tucker 33-yard field goal in the second quarter. After a Titans punt on the ensuing drive, Jackson broke off the game-defining 48-yard touchdown run that completely shifted the momentum in the Ravens' favor.
"It was Jackson's playmaking prowess that yanked the team back to life," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "He delivered several third-down completions on a drive that ended in a field goal, and then he enjoyed his brightest moment late in the second quarter with the long touchdown run."
Out of the half, Baltimore's offense marched down the field on a 10-play, 77-yard drive that was capped off by a J.K. Dobbins 4-yard touchdown run. The NFL's top rushing offense ran for 236 yards and two touchdowns, controlling time of possession 33:38 to 26:22.
We discussed the topic in this very column after the Ravens' Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then, comeback wins against the Cleveland Browns and Titans proved the offense can operate successfully with a lead or in a deficit.
"The Ravenscan't stop Derrick Henry."
After Henry rushed for 195 yards in the playoff matchup last year, the Ravens brought in the pieces to make sure that didn't happen again.
On Sunday, Wink Martindale's defense held the NFL's leading rusher in check with 40 yards and 2.2 yards per carry. Henry's longest carry was for just eight yards and the Titans' only rushing first down came on a Ryan Tannehill quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter
"Nobody in the organization will outright say this was a direct response to Henry's playoff performance, but there's little doubting that it certainly played a role in the offseason strategy," Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Plato wrote. "In trading for Calais Campbell and signing Derek Wolfe in free agency, the hope was that adding them alongside Brandon Williams on the defensive line would help the Ravens be better-prepared in a potential rematch with Henry and the Titans.
"... The results? Positive, to say the least."
Remember the narrative about opposing teams stacking the box to stop Jackson? That's exactly what the Ravens did against Henry, putting eight or more defenders in the box on 72 percent of Henry's runs, according to NFL's Next Gen stats.
"The Ravens essentially brought Wolfe and Calais Campbell to town for precisely this kind of game," Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote. "After being bullied by Henry and the Titans in the playoffs last year, and again in Week 11 this year — Campbell and Williams both missed that game — the Ravens slammed the door on that idea this time around."
Pundits and Analytics Questioned Titans' Late Fourth-Down Decision
Down 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Titans decided to punt on fourth-and-2 from the Ravens 40-yard line. Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel said he felt confident in Tennessee's defense with the Ravens in bad field position, but the decision drew plenty of criticism from pundits and the analytics community.
"Per Football Outsiders, the Titans ranked 10th in the league this season in percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown," USA Today’s Doug Farrar wrote. "In those situations, Tennessee was able to convert 71% of the time."
"Even if they didn't want to use Henry in that situation, punting the ball really made no sense," For The Win’s Steven Ruiz wrote. "The Titans have had one of the best offenses in the league for the past two seasons and they couldn't come up with a play to net them two yards at a pivotal situation?"
The decision worked in the Ravens' favor. On the ensuing drive, Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-2 on the Tennessee 23-yard line. Jackson connected with Dobbins on a pass that would have converted the first down, but it was nullified by a questionable offensive pass interference call on Willie Snead IV.
ESPN's Mina Kimes said that she believed the lack of success Henry had running the ball contributed to the decision to punt.
"It feels like the lack of success they've had with Henry and generally this game is starting to affect some of the decision-making play-calling," Kimes said.
Pat Ricard Continues to Prove Invaluable to the Offense
Those who closely follow the Ravens understand how important Pat Ricard is to the offense, and it was shown to a national audience on Sunday.
Ricard helped pave the way for a rushing attack that totaled 236 yards on the ground, but perhaps his most important contributions came as a receiver. He finished with three catches for 26 yards on a season-high four targets.
"Ricard slipping out and catching several passes in the flat today — combined with his typical strong blocking, helped the Ravens win this game," Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote. "With Ronnie Stanley and Nick Boyle out of action for the Ravens, they have needed Ricard to provide more than most people probably anticipated before the season. The big man has responded, and Project Pat gets another week in the spotlight."
As efficient as the Ravens offense has been, it makes it even tougher for defenses when they have to account for a 311-pound fullback who can catch passes out of the backfield. Naturally, that garnered plenty of attention from those who haven't had a chance to see Ricard play.
"No time like the first drive of the second half of a do-or-die playoff game for Greg Roman to utilize the fullback for three receptions for 26 yards and then lead block for the go-ahead touchdown!" Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber wrote. "An absolutely brilliant game by the fullback."
Ravens-Titans Could Be NFL's Next Best Rivalry
What once was a fierce rivalry is now shaping up to be the same again years later.
When Marcus Peters intercepted Ryan Tannehill late in the fourth quarter to seal the win, the Ravens' midfield celebration garnered plenty of attention.
"I, for one, loved every second of it," The Draft Network’s Trevor Sikkema wrote. "There were no punches thrown. The game didn't get out of control. But you know what, if you don't like someone dancing on your logo at midfield after they beat you, don't let them beat you. If you don't like them talking smack all in your ear, shut them up. It's as simple as that. This may be a game of respect, but it's also a game of pride, and you better believe I love a good football rivalry that takes that pride to the edge.
"So is that what we can officially call this Ravens-Titans series? Is this poised to be one of the NFL's next great rivalries?"
"Just more fodder for the teams' next meeting," Sporting News’ Zac Al-Khateeb wrote.
Where Do Ravens Rank Among the Remaining Playoff Field?
Where do the Ravens rank among the remaining AFC playoff field? That's exactly the question NFL Network's Steve Smith Sr. was asked, and he believes it's right behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
"The Ravens are my 2A, but also, the Bills are my 2B," Smith said.
"[The Chiefs] haven't looked great over the last half of the season," NFL Network's Chris Rose responded.
"That's correct, but they beat the Ravens," Smith said.
Sportsnaut’s Matt Johnson ranked the Ravens sixth behind the Chiefs, Bills, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Jackson had a career-defining moment Sunday against the Titans," Johnson wrote. "Down 10-0 in the first half, the reigning NFL MVP was facing another playoff deficit. Could he lead the Ravens back for his first postseason win in three attempts, exercising the demons from last year's matchup against this very same team? Jackson responded resoundingly. Baltimore came away with a 20-13 win as Jackson went for 315 total yards."
Smith said he thinks the Ravens and Bills match up well against each other and the anticipation is already beginning to build. NBC Sports’ Peter King said it's the game to watch next weekend.
"The revived Bills have been playing playoff games since the weird Wednesday afternoon loss in Pittsburgh; they've won six straight," King wrote. "Buffalo's won seven in a row. Both quarterbacks, hot. Both defenses, hot."
- The Bills open as three-point home favorites over the Ravens.