BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson has repeatedly described his mentality for the 2023 NFL season as “locked-in.” Unfortunately for the league's best player, he will still be denied Super Bowl immortality — at least for another year.
Jackson had one of his lowest performances in the biggest game of the year, as the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens lost 17-10 to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
“No excuses,” Jackson said afterward, with dirt and grass still stuck to his body during his post-match news conference.
However, he has been quite transparent about the disappointment of failing to achieve his long-stated goal of winning the Lombardi Trophy, something the Ravens haven't done in 11 years.
“I'm mad about the loss,” said Jackson, who joined the club as a first-round pick in 2018.
“We were one game away from the Super Bowl. We had been waiting all this time, all these moments for an opportunity like this, and we couldn't make it happen.”
Jackson rushed for 54 yards, a team-high, but Baltimore only managed 81 yards on the ground outright — the lowest total of the season and about half its usual production. Worse still, Jackson was under constant fire from Kansas City's blitz as he attempted to pass — he was sacked four times, stripped once, and intercepted a throw intended for tight end Isaiah Possibly, who was covered by three Chiefs In the end zone.
“He's a great player. The whole game plan and the whole focus is on him and stopping him first,” Chiefs midfielder Drew Tranquil said of Jackson.
“He had a couple of big plays, he's going to have a couple of big plays. He's a great player and an MVP-caliber player. I thought blow by blow, 15 innings, a heavyweight bout — I thought we got the best of them tonight.”
Jackson passed for 272 yards (many a bunch of empty calories late in the game) and hit rookie receiver Zay Flowers on a 30-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. But then Kansas City clamped down and turned the Ravens into a one-dimensional, mistake-prone team. Jackson's turnovers aside, Flowers fumbled right before breaking for what would have been a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown that probably would have cut Kansas City's lead to three points.
“We just have to put points on the board,” Jackson said. “That's the thing right now. There's nothing we can do better to prepare for the game.
“If we had put points on the board…we'd be talking about something else right now.”
However, despite any decisions the officials didn't make, mistakes made by his teammates or the generally clean and efficient game plan implemented by the reigning champion Chiefs, Jackson – mercurial as he is – will not be able to escape the growing narrative that he He can't win the jackpot.
“Honestly, what hurts me the most is that I wanted to get the credit he deserved,” Ravens linebacker Patrick Quinn said, referring to the quarterback. “It's a team sport, it's a team effort, but this guy was the main guy I was playing for, honestly.
“He gets a lot of things he doesn't deserve. This was his chance to be able to cross some of those things off and move on to the next thing. “That's why it hurts, because you want to see people like that, teammates that you love and care about, get what they're supposed to “They get it, and that didn't happen today.”
Baltimore center Tyler Linderbaum added: “Lamar, he got us going. He's our leader, and we definitely wanted to do this for him. But we didn't do that.”
A week after his first truly scintillating performance of the postseason in a 34-10 rout of the Houston Texans, Jackson's playoff record now stands at 2-4. However, this season was also a step in the right direction, as Baltimore reached the title round for the first time with Jackson, who turned 27 earlier this month. Even if he didn't show up on Sunday, he has developed as a passer and matured as a leader.
But this was not his moment.
And if there's anyone who realizes that championship greatness can be slow in arriving, it's Jackson's teammate, Odell Beckham Jr.
“A player like Lamar, thirty years from now — when we talk about Lamar Jackson playing — and everyone will remember that there are certain moments that define … your career. And that's just one,” OBJ said.
“All great people have had difficult times, and I don't think that will stop him from reaching his ultimate goal.”
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