Lamar Jackson's teammates have his back. They love their quarterback and their immense confidence in him remains unshaken.
The Ravens' stunning 28-12 divisional loss to the Tennessee Titans left Jackson 20-3 as a starter during the regular season, but 0-2 as a starter in the playoffs. It's the one blemish in his stellar rise to MVP status.
After an MVP-worthy regular season, Jackson had his second lowest passer rating of the season (63.2), completing 31 of 39 passes for 365 yards. He also ran 20 times for 143 yards. But what stands out are three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble).
As much as football is a team sport, quarterbacks get most of the glory, but they also receive most of the criticism. However, inside the locker room as the Ravens packed their bags Sunday, support for Jackson came from every direction.
"He's an incredible guy as an athlete, as a person," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "That's very contagious for a locker room. He brings a lot of excitement to the city, to the ballclub, and to his teammates. They play for him. They root for him. They've got his back out there, and that's important for a locker room to have his team support him and the city as well.
"He's a guy that's finding his way. This is Year 2 for him. He's not going to be perfect. But at the same time, he's incredible who he is right now. The sky's the limit for that guy. I'm excited to see him continue to grow."
Several former NFL players have already voiced their support of Jackson on social media, like defensive end Chris Long and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.
Jackson has only played two NFL seasons. He is just 23 years old. Drew Brees didn't win his first playoff game until he was 27. Peyton Manning lost his first three playoff starts, and he was consistently criticized for not leading his team to a Super Bowl until he did it for the first time at age 30.
The challenge for Jackson is to be resilient enough, and determined enough, to overcome his early playoff disappointments. Jackson can't experience playoff success until he gets back to the playoffs.
In the meantime, he will hear the doubters just as he did last offseason. That criticism is part of what fueled Jackson to improve, to blossom into the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes, who set the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Teammates respect Jackson for many reasons, and his competitiveness is among his most endearing qualities. The Ravens know how badly Jackson wants to win, and that he is willing to do whatever it takes to improve. Tight end Mark Andrews and Jackson were drafted in the same class, and they became Pro Bowlers in their second season, building a chemistry that extends beyond the field. Andrews believes Jackson will use another playoff loss to drive him.
"He's the most competitive person I've been around," Andrews said. "I know he's going to take this and use it as fuel to make himself a better football player. I know he knows that for us, he's our leader. He means everything to this team, this city, and what we're all about. We go as he goes. That's our guy and I love him to death. It's so much fun playing with him, and he's going to continue to get better. We all will with him."
It should help Jackson that he has a young nucleus to grow with. Andrews and tight end Hayden Hurst just finished their second seasons, as did running back Gus Edwards. Wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin were rookies.
The Ravens will be looking for more offensive pieces to place around Jackson, hoping to accelerate his development even more. Boykin believes Jackson will keep raising the bar for himself, and for everyone around him.
"I'm sure he'd tell you this, he himself is even getting better," Boykin said. "It's only his second year. So, he's doing this in Year 2, I can only imagine what he's doing in Year 3, 4 and 5."
Jackson didn't need another playoff loss to motivate him, and now he must deal with another crushing postseason loss. However, his career is still young, and after watching Jackson's approach this season, backup quarterback Trace McSorley believes Jackson will now be more driven than ever.
"The last playoff loss didn't sit well with him and drove him big-time," McSorley said. "I'm sure it will be a lot of the same with this one. He wants to win Super Bowls, be the best player in the league. But he wants to be the best version of himself for this team, to make this team as good as it can be. It'll motivate him, as it will motivate all of us."