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Lamar Jackson answers critics, exercises playoff demons with Ravens win over the Titans

NFL Playoffs: Lamar Jackson
Nov 22, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) warms up prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s AFC Wildcard game against the Tennessee Titans did not start out swimmingly for quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. That included the team finding itself down 10-0 less than 15 minutes into the game. Jackson continued to struggle through the air, including an interception into the hands of Malcolm Butler within those first 15 minutes.

For critics of the reigning NFL MVP, this lent credence to the belief that his play style won’t translate to playoff success. After all, Jackson was 0-2 in his career while throwing three touchdowns against three interceptions in two playoff starts.

The former first-round pick was unjustifiably criticized after last season’s loss to these very same Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs after a record-breaking 2019 regular season. Ignored was the fact that his receivers couldn’t catch a well-thrown pass if their lives depended on it.

Fast forward nearly a calendar year, and Lamar Jackson was in a similar situation. Down two scores with nothing working offense. The critics’ voices became emboldened. Then, something happened. Lamar Jackson became Lamar Jackson.

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Lamar Jackson answers critics, exercises playoff demons with Ravens win over the Titans

This 48-yard touchdown run on third-and-9 was about as majestic as it gets. Lamar Jackson broke multiple tackles before his speed eluded would-be Titans pursuers. It also became emblematic of the remainder of the game in Nashville on Sunday.

Jackson outplayed Ryan Tannehill from a passing perspective, throwing for 179 yards in the process. Baltimore’s defense engulfed two-time reigning rushing champion Derrick Henry to the tune of 40 yards on 18 attempts. The very same Derrick Henry that had put up 328 rushing yards in his previous two games against the Ravens.

Everything seemed to turn to gold for a Ravens team that entered the playoffs having won five in a row following a COVID-19 outbreak that cost Lamar Jackson a game.

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“Probably. Probably because of the body heat and we’re running in the cold. It was so cold out there,” Jackson told reporters back on Dec. 16. “That probably had an effect on that as well. I can’t call it.”

This was in response to Lamar Jackson cramping up during a huge Monday night win over the Cleveland Browns back in Week 14. With his team in must-win mode, the talented quarterback returned from said absence to lead the Ravens to an awe-inspiring 47-42 victory.

This was the moment that the struggles we saw from Jackson earlier in his third NFL season gave in to a defining moment for the record-breaking quarterback. Well, at least until his latest career-defining performance.

In no way was Lamar Jackson perfect during a 20-13 win over the Titans. He completed 17-of-24 passes for less than 180 yards without a touchdown. But the dual-threat ability that has come to define the still-young quarterback came out in droves. Coming off a second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground, Jackson added 136 rushing yards in this game. He converted big third down plays, both on the ground and through the air.

It was a culmination of efforts from Jackson to prove skeptics wrong. Baltimore’s five-game winning streak to conclude the regular season included the team averaging 37.2 points per game. For his part, the quarterback tallied 15 total touchdowns against three interceptions during that five-game span.

It wasn’t enough for the skeptics. These Ravens would go on to lose another playoff game, they said.

Jan 10, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff game at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

But in reality, it might never be enough for the boisterous minority who have taken every opportunity to dog on Lamar Jackson since he became a first-round pick back in 2018.

He doesn’t fit the narrative of what a quarterback should look like. That prototypical 6-foot-5 signal caller with a family history of mullets and pick-up trucks. The quarterback that could toss the ball 65 yards down the field without as much as any real effort. You know the kind.

Yet, Jackson continues to prove at every turn that the modern NFL quarterback can come in multiple forms. It had not led to playoff success ahead of Sunday’s game.

That’s until now. Lamar Jackson has answered the critics while exercising his own demons.