Of all the discouraging stats for Lamar Jackson in the rookie sensation’s NFL playoff debut, this was probably the worst: At halftime Sunday, his combined total of fumbles and interceptions (three) was higher than his number of completions (two).
A day before his 22nd birthday, Baltimore’s Jackson became the youngest quarterback to start a postseason game, and aside from getting in gear late, he sure looked like someone not quite ready for the big stage in the Ravens’ 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC wild-card game.
The Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville had a passer rating of 0.0 early in the fourth quarter before finishing at 78.8 by going 14 for 29 for 194 yards, two fourth-quarter TDs, one pick and one lost fumble. He was sacked seven times.
Coach John Harbaugh stuck with him instead of switching to Joe Flacco — ignoring chants for the past Super Bowl MVP from spectators near Baltimore’s sideline, who drew a rebuke from one Ravens player that told fans not to waver in their support of Jackson.
While the Chargers (13-4) advanced to play the New England Patriots next Sunday, the AFC North champion Ravens (10-7) had their first trip to the playoffs since 2014 end quickly.
Jackson led them there since replacing Flacco at QB by going 6-1, thanks to a strong running game and the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The sprint to a division title included a 22-10 victory at the Chargers two weeks ago. Rather than a harbinger, that game seemingly provided a scouting report for LA, the first club to face Jackson twice.
In that regular-season win against the Chargers, Jackson threw for a career-high 204 yards and put up a 101.3 rating that was his best in an NFL start.
It was clear from the outset Sunday this was not going to go as well. The Ravens fumbled on three of their first eight plays from scrimmage, two by Jackson that were recovered by Baltimore. The third, by running back Kenneth Dixon, led to the first of Chargers kicker Michael Badgley’s five field goals.
At the half, Jackson was 2 for 8 for 17 yards passing. The Ravens had only 69 total yards and a paltry three first downs.
Baltimore finally put some points up in the third quarter via Justin Tucker’s 33-yard field goal as a result of a 6-yard “drive” — that’s how far Jackson took the Ravens after C.J. Mosley’s fumble return set the hosts up at the LA 21. There were jeers from the crowd of 70,432 after Jackson was stuffed for no gain on third down before the kick.
That cut Baltimore’s deficit to 12-3, and not long after that, it had a great chance to get closer. That’s because Javorius Allen’s partial block resulted in an 11-yard punt, giving the Ravens the ball at the LA 40. But another get-nowhere possession led to a field-goal attempt by Tucker, this one from 50 yards — and the most accurate kicker in NFL history produced his first postseason miss in 10 tries.
The next Ravens drive featured a sack on first down, and another on third down — and more boos. Flacco remained on the sideline, standing, his helmet on. After the Ravens trailed 23-3, Jackson delivered TD passes to Michael Crabtree from 31 yards with 6½ minutes remaining, and from 7 yards just before the two-minute warning.
With one last possession in the closing minute, Jackson lost his third fumble of the game — and this one was recovered by the Chargers with 19 seconds left to seal the outcome.
Source: The Associated Press