Pundits Push Back on Renewed Negative Playoff Narrative About Lamar Jackson
After Lamar Jackson's spectacular second-half performance in the Ravens' win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round, the prevailing opinion from pundits was that he had shattered the narrative that he couldn't play well in the playoffs and silenced his critics.
Just a week later, the shattered narrative has been restored and the critics are silenced no more following the Ravens' stinging loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
Jackson, who is almost certain to win his second MVP trophy at the NFL's awards ceremony on Feb. 8, is 58-19 (.753) in the regular season but just 2-4 (.333) in the postseason.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, never one to mince words, referred to Jackson's performance against the Chiefs as a "choke job."
ESPN's Paul Hembekides compared Jackson to MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who is 13-13 with a 4.49 ERA in the playoffs.
"Every single October, you ask me why this keeps happening to Clayton Kershaw. The answer in that case is because that's who he is," Hembekides said. "The answer in this case is because that's who Lamar Jackson is. …. This is who Lamar Jackson is, and he is never going to have a better chance to go to the Super Bowl than he did [Sunday]."
There were those in the media who weren't as harsh in their takes on Jackson. Fox Sports analyst Keyshawn Johnson, for one, pushed back on the notion that Jackson "choked."
"The first thing people are going to say is that he choked," Johnson said on "Undisputed." "The thing is, he has time. He's still young. We have seen some of the greatest players eventually deliver at the moments. They struggle, and then all of a sudden they deliver.
"His reputation is gonna get dinged from the outside people that don't really pay attention and just see his playoff record."
Johnson makes a great point about Jackson having time to put the negative narrative to rest forever. Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning faced similar criticism before exorcising his playoff demons.
A post on X showed how strikingly similar Manning's numbers through the first six years of his career are to Jackson's through his six years in the league.
Manning went on to win two Super Bowls and play in four of them. He played in and won his first Super Bowl in his ninth season at 30. Jackson is still only 27. His story is still being written.
Press Box’s Glenn Clark also took a more measured approach in his reaction to how Jackson played on Sunday.
"He was not quite as good as the Ravens needed him to be. Which is a shame," Clark wrote. "But again, such a take isn't going to get the attention that pundits and fans crave. So that won't be the narrative that surrounds Jackson. Instead, it will continue to be about his questionable playoff record (2-4 now) and whatever nonsense someone who wants to detract from him will throw against the wall in an attempt to create stickage. 'This type of quarterback will never win the biggest games when he's forced to make throws,' or 'he's good but he's not like REAL quarterbacks,' or whatever the quarterbackiest nonsense you can imagine will continue to be thrown his way. And he'll have to wear it.
"The people who want to detract from Jackson will have their ammunition for another year. And fair or not, a $50-plus million annual salary brings a more significant microscope by which to be viewed. Jackson easily earned that salary this season. He became an (almost certain) two-time league MVP and delivered the first AFC Championship Game to be hosted by the Ravens in the history of the franchise. Those things matter even if fans (rightfully) wanted more. And everything we know about him suggests that his desire to touch confetti will drive him far more than any comments from attention-seeking loudmouths ever could. So while I say that he 'has' to wear it, my belief is that he'll choose to. Nothing we've seen about this young man and his drive suggests anything other than a player who will be hell-bent on taking another step next year."
Cam Heyward Said Steelers Showed Teams How to Beat the Ravens
Here's one that is sure to rile up Ravens fans.
Discussing the result of the AFC Championship on his podcast, Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward claimed Pittsburgh revealed the blueprint for how to beat the Ravens.
"I'd like to think the Pittsburgh Steelers, and other teams, this year have shown how to beat the Baltimore Ravens," Heyward said. "It wasn't like they were undefeated all year."
It's a fact that the Steelers won both meetings against the Ravens this season, but some context is needed.
Apparently dropped passes are part of the blueprint. In the teams' first meeting in Week 5, the Ravens dropped numerous passes, including two in the end zone, in a 17-10 loss at Pittsburgh. The Ravens did not trail in the game until there was 1:17 left in the fourth quarter.
In the Week 18 game against the Steelers, the Ravens rested Jackson and other starters because they had already clinched the No. 1 seed. The Steelers were playing for their playoff lives, as they pulled out a 17-10 win in a game that was tied heading into the fourth quarter.
Mike Macdonald Reportedly Interviewing With Seahawks and Commanders
There are two head coaching vacancies remaining, and Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald reportedly is in the running for both.
Macdonald is interviewing with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
"I think he's the best candidate out there right now," linebacker Patrick Queen said yesterday. "I don't think anybody does it like him. Nobody cares like him. Nobody will do what he does. He will not rest until he has everything right. Whoever gets him, if he leaves, they're getting the best candidate out there. The guy is all around just the best person I've ever been around, coach-wise [and] person-wise. He really cares and truly cares about the players, the people around the organization and the fans."