Why the ‘Lamar can’t win in the playoffs’ narrative is dumb

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Andrew Gillis
·5 min read
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Why the ‘Lamar can’t win in the playoffs’ narrative is dumb originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It doesn’t take too much reflection to realize that Sunday’s game for the Ravens, and specifically quarterback Lamar Jackson, is a big one. 

Putting aside playoff implications, Jackson is out to prove the playoff narrative that’s surrounded him in the last two years is false. He’s led the Ravens to two playoff appearances in his first two NFL seasons. Both games were at home. Both ended with a loss. 

Since then, narratives have arisen about Jackson as a playoff performer — that he can’t win the big game and has been the reason for both Ravens’ losses. 

“I’ve only been in the playoffs twice in my young career,” Jackson said Wednesday. “Other people who’ve been in the league forever haven’t been in the playoffs at all. It is what it is, but I’m definitely trying to erase that narrative, right there. That’s the No. 1 right now in my mind, for sure.”

Sure, a win would silence those who believe that “narrative.” But the narrative is lazy to begin with.

Jackson, who turned 24 on Thursday, recently became the fastest quarterback in league history to reach 30 wins (in 37 starts). He’s won a league MVP already, has led the league in rushing for a quarterback twice and led the league in passing touchdowns in 2019.   

But those stats don’t appear to be in the minds of people who believe Jackson can’t win in the playoffs. 

The narrative extends back to his rookie season, and has seemingly stayed in the minds of NFL fans since that day. And the fixation with anointing individuals based on team accomplishments has led to one of the laziest commentaries of quarterbacks in the league.

By all accounts, his first playoff game was an unmitigated disaster. The Ravens lost by just six, but Jackson finished 14-of-29 for 194 yards passing and an interception. He was sacked seven times, put the ball on the turf three times (lost once) and rushed for 54 yards. At halftime, Jackson was just 2-for-8 passing for 17 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating was 0.0. 

He was also the youngest quarterback in league history to start a playoff game. 

A season later, with questions about how effective a mobile quarterback could be in the NFL, Jackson led the Ravens to a 13-2 record as a starter and rushed for 1,206 yards, a quarterback record. He threw for the most touchdown passes in the league (36) and was later named the league’s second unanimous league MVP in February. 

But in a 28-12 loss to the Titans, he went 31-of-59 passing with 365 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was throwing to a receiving corps that can realistically be credited with six or seven drops — one of which was a deflected pass off Mark Andrews’ hands that killed an early drive, and another big one went through Seth Roberts’ hands on a pass that would’ve sprung him for a big gain, or potentially a game-changing touchdown.

Jackson also rushed for 143 yards on 20 attempts and registered the most touches (83) for one player in a single game. It’s clear the loss last season wasn’t his doing.

The lazy narrative is that Jackson isn’t a playoff performer, one that wilts when the lights are brightest and the defenses improve. But the narrative that he can’t play well in big spots simply isn’t true.

Jackson has played some of his best games against the best teams in the sport in some of the biggest spots. Against the Patriots in 2019 on Sunday Night Football, he led the Ravens to a win over the NFL’s last unbeaten team. On Monday Night Football against the Browns this season, he was the game’s best player. 

He’s clearly the Ravens’ most impactful player, and a realistic look at the Titans game a year ago shows Jackson wasn’t the Ravens’ biggest problem in their 16-point loss.

But compared to some of the best quarterbacks of this era, Jackson’s playoff start isn’t anything to fret about. In Ben Roethlisberger’s first two playoff games, he threw five interceptions and completed 57 percent of his passes. He’s won two Super Bowls in his career. 

Peyton Manning went 50-for-105 with an average of 186 yards passing in his first three playoff games with just one touchdown and two interceptions. He lost all three games. 

Two losses in the playoffs hasn’t derailed elite quarterbacks before. Jackson, who’s still just 24 years old, shouldn’t be an exception.

“He’s a different type of guy,” Andrews said of his quarterback. “His mindset, the way he thinks, that’s not something that’s going to weigh him down or really affect the way he plays this game. “He’s got big goals. He’s got a lot of teammates to help him out, and we’re just excited for this game.”

Just because Jackson has started his playoff career 0-2 as a starter doesn’t mean he’s destined to become a perennial playoff underperformer. A closer look at the playoff games and the rest of his long list of accolades is plenty of evidence to prove that. 

And even if the Ravens lose Sunday, it would take a catastrophic and epic failure on Jackson’s part for the playoff narrative to hold any water. 

“They try to criticize him, and then they also compare him to the greats,” cornerback Marcus Peters said. “ Just watch the young man grow, watch the young man continue to lead this team. How he holds and carries himself in a day-to-day manner, it’s out of this world.”