Ravens QB Lamar Jackson can't hide his disappointment after stumbling against Chiefs

BALTIMORE – Lamar Jackson repeatedly described his mindset for the 2023 NFL season as “locked in.” Unfortunately for the presumed league MVP, he’ll remain locked out of Super Bowl immortality – at least for another year.

Jackson had one of his smallest performances in the biggest game of the year as his top-seeded Baltimore Ravens succumbed 17-10 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC championship game at M&T Bank Stadium.

“No excuses,” Jackson said afterward, dirt and grass still caked to his body during his postgame news conference.

Yet he was cleanly transparent about the disappointment of falling short of his long-avowed goal of winning a Lombardi Trophy, something the Ravens haven’t done in 11 years.

“I'm angry about losing,” said Jackson, who joined the club as a first-round pick in 2018.

“We were a game away from the Super Bowl. We've been waiting all this time, all these moments for an opportunity like this, and we fell short.”

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leaves the field after losing to the Chiefs in the AFC championship game.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leaves the field after losing to the Chiefs in the AFC championship game.

Surprisingly so.

Jackson rushed for 54 yards, a team-high, but Baltimore only managed 81 on the ground altogether – its lowest total of the season and about half its usual output. Worse, Jackson was constantly under fire from Kansas City's blitz while trying to pass – sacked four times, stripped once and serving up an interception on a throw intended for tight end Isaiah Likely, 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 linebacker Drue Tranquill said of Jackson.

“He had a couple big plays, and he is going to have a couple of plays. He’s a great player and an MVP-caliber player. I thought blow after blow, 15 rounds, heavyweight fight – I thought we got the best of them tonight.”

Jackson did pass for 272 yards (many of the empty-calorie variety late in the game) and hit rookie receiver Zay Flowers on a 30-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. But after that, Kansas City clamped down and largely rendered the Ravens into a one-dimensional, mistake-prone team. Aside from Jackson’s turnovers, Flowers fumbled right before breaking the plane for what would have been a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown that might have cut Kansas City’s lead to three points.

“We've just got to put points on the board,” said Jackson. “That's the thing right now. There's nothing we could have done better to prepare for the game.

“If we put points on the board … we'd be talking about something else right now.”

Yet despite whatever non-calls the officials didn’t make, mistakes made by teammates or the generally clean and efficient gameplan executed by the reigning champion Chiefs, Jackson – quicksilver as he is – isn’t going to be able to evade the growing narrative that he can’t win the big one.

“Honestly, what hurts me the most is that I wanted to get him the recognition that he deserves,” said Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen in reference to his quarterback. “It’s a team sport, it’s a team effort, but that guy was the main guy I was playing for, honestly.

“So much stuff he gets that he doesn’t deserve. This was his opportunity to be able to write some of that stuff 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 get, and that didn’t happen today.”

Added Baltimore center Tyler Linderbaum: “Lamar, he made us go. He’s our leader, and we certainly wanted to get it done for him. But we didn’t.”

A week after his first truly scintillating postseason performance in a 34-10 divisional-round rout of the Houston Texans, Jackson’s playoff record now stands at 2-4. Yet this season also marked a step in the right direction, Baltimore reaching the title round for the first time with Jackson, who turned 27 earlier this month. Even if it didn't show Sunday, he's evolved as a passer and matured as a leader.

But this wasn't his moment.

And if there’s anyone who understands that championship greatness can be slow to arrive, it’s Jackson’s teammate, wideout Odell Beckham Jr.

“A player like Lamar, thirty years from now − when we speak of Lamar Jackson playing – and everyone’s going to remember there’s certain moments that define your … career. And this is just one,” said OBJ.

“The greats have all been through tough times, and I don’t think this is gonna stop him from wanting to get to his ultimate goal.”


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lamar Jackson can't hide his disappointment after stumbling vs. Chiefs