Lamar Jackson defined the terms of his NFL career before starting with a now-famous draft evening statement: “They’re getting a Super Bowl out of me. Believe it.”
But as great as he has been through 2 1/2 seasons, the Ravens quarterback has not found success after the season. He failed to throw a touchdown pass until the final 12 minutes of skewed losses to the Chargers and Titans, and between those defeats he threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles through the first three quarters.
Jackson’s sub-performance against Los Angeles two years ago established an unfortunate tale of his big game. His poor performance against Tennessee in January undermined an MVP campaign that was to be described as a tour to annoy persistent doubts. So this year is a frustrating third attempt to finally prove to the public what his stats already show: He is an all-round superstar below center who deserves far more praise than he has received to this point.
Jackson will, of course, be judged on what he does beyond Week 17, but matchups in the regular season like Sunday’s rematch with the Titans are not entirely pointless in shaping how he is perceived. Think of every great display he delivers as a bonus point to his ultimate championship goal. There would no doubt be great satisfaction in choosing Mike Vrabel’s defense, and a strong performance against a potential 2020 playoff opponent would provide a boost in confidence for the entire Baltimore roster.
Neither the Ravens nor Jackson have been as early as they were when they went 14-2 a year ago. A surprising loss to the Patriots last weekend underscored their vulnerability. At 6-3, the three games are left by the Steelers for first place in the AFC North and in a battle for second place with the Browns.
Jackson’s passer rating is down from 113.3 to 95.6. Following an average of NFL-best 6.9 yards per game. Carrying during his MVP races, he averages 5.8 yards per carry. Tote this season. He feels the offense does not punish opponents with the ruthless efficiency it did last campaign.
“We just have to quit,” Jackson said. “It’s the little things on tape where it’s we could have put them away.”
Jackson does not publicly view Sunday’s competition against the Titans as a revenge fight. He told reporters at the Baltimore playoff exit 10 months ago: “It was last year, we just fell short and we can do nothing about it.”
And how could it be a game of revenge?
If Jackson dominates, the expected mixed response on social media would demonstrate the insane reality of his career. His consistently above-average play in the regular season is almost always greeted by reminders of two poor playoff games. Meanwhile, forerunner Joe Flacco’s mediocre play was forever accompanied by talk of four amazing playoff games in 2013.
But as a spicy appetizer to a victory over the Titans when it counts later? You might think Jackson would enjoy it all.