The final steps of Lamar Jackson’s MVP season

Andrew Gillis

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Lamar Jackson angrily unbuckled the right side of his chinstrap and walked to the bench with his head hung before he not-so-gently placed his helmet behind where he sat. 

As the seconds ticked off the Ravens' season, and Jackson's second-year in the league, teammates came over to give their quarterback words of encouragement. James Hurst was first, followed by Robert Griffin III. Members of the coaching staff soon followed. 

Jackson put his hands together and stared toward the ground as the final seconds ticked off the clock before he got up and walked to shake hands with the Titans, who had just dominated the Ravens 28-12 in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs on Saturday. 

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Statistically, Jackson had the best day of the season. Realistically, it was much more complicated than that. 

"We just beat ourselves," he said. "We had, I had, a lot of mistakes on my half. Three turnovers, that shouldn't happen. They came out to play. We just started out slow. We've just got to do better next time, but (now it's) moving forward, get ready for this offseason, get ready for next year." 

He finished the night 31-of-59 passing and had 365 yards through the air - all career-highs. But interceptions, one of which went off Mark Andrews' hands, were what most will remember from his second playoff performance. 

Jackson also was sacked, and fumbled, in the third quarter with the Ravens down 15. The fumble and recovery by the Titans led to a 22-point deficit, which effectively put the Ravens out of the game. 

Fair or otherwise, Jackson will now be labeled as a quarterback that's made the playoffs twice in his career, and is 0-2 in those starts, games that got away from the Ravens early. 

"I don't really care about what they say," Jackson said of playoff doubters. "This is my second year in the league. Many people (aren't) able to bring it to the playoffs. I've got a great team with me. I don't really worry about the people say. We're just going to keep going, like I said, (and) get ready for next year." 

The stats didn't show the dropped passes, either, of which there were a handful of crucial ones. Andrews' drop directly led to an interception. Seth Roberts had a drop near the Titans' sideline that could've sprung him for a touchdown. Hayden Hurst got hit right in the chest with a pass at the two-yard line, but wasn't looking for the ball. 

Bad met worse quickly for Jackson and the Ravens, who had to quickly abandon their rushing attack early - rightly or wrongly - due to a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter. 

But something else the stats didn't show was Jackson's ability to extend plays and keep the Ravens alive for longer than they deserved. He placed beautiful passes throughout the field, including one of his best passes as a professional to Marquise Brown down the sideline to put the Ravens at the four-yard line near the end of the first half.

Still, the narrative that surrounds Jackson for the remainder of 2020 will be his performance as a playoff quarterback.

"It is one game," right guard Marshal Yanda said. "We are not going to depict a guy based on one game. We are going to take the entire body of work for the 2019 season. And the kid played his ass off. That is where I stand on that." 

One key difference from last season's playoff loss, however, is that the Ravens know they've got their quarterback of the future on the roster. And he's still on a rookie contract for three more seasons.

"He's going to respond by being extremely motivated and determined to improve as a football player," coach John Harbaugh said. "And the strides he made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to continue to get better."

Jackson will likely win MVP in a few weeks after he led the league in touchdown passes (36) and had 43 total touchdowns this season. He had 4,333 total yards and led the Ravens to a 14-2 regular season record. 

Even after a wildly disappointing playoff game, a game that Jackson will likely be chided for, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Jackson not only played well against the Titans, but that there's still room to grow.

"He's a guy that's finding his way, it's year two for him," defensive back Brandon Carr said. "So he's not going to be perfect, but at the same time, he's incredible, just who he is right now. The sky's the limit for that guy, and I'm excited just to see him continue to grow."

All season long, Jackson had reiterated his point about not looking for individual accolades. His focus was the Super Bowl.

While, his long walk off the field at M&T Bank Stadium wasn't what he'd envisioned all season, and his postgame presser wasn't the one he'd wanted to walk to hours prior, the Ravens have a clear answer at quarterback for the foreseeable future.

And when next year rolls around, he'll walk to the podium and the familiar "Super Bowl" phrase will come from him once again.

"He's the most competitive person I've been around," Andrews said. "I know that 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."

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The final steps of Lamar Jacksons MVP season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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