Baltimore Ravens The interception of quarterback Lamar Jackson at the goal line on Saturday night was the defining moment of a 17-3 loss at the end of the season to the Buffalo Bills, but the play that took place a little earlier could have served as a more appropriate emblem of the team’s performance.
With the ball on the Bills 9-yard line at the end of the third quarter, Jackson fell back to second and on goal. Wide receiver Marquise Brown opened up the left side of the field and Jackson spotted him. The problem? Buffalo sent a blitz and no blocker stood in the way of defensive end Jerry Hughes to the backfield.
Hughes rushed between right tackle Tire Phillips and running back JK Dobbins and lined up towards Jackson, forcing the appellant to step back and make a stray pass under duress. A possible touchdown turned into a failure. Seconds later, Taron Johnson removed Jackson and ran 101 yards to the opposite end zone for a pick-six.
Two mistakes turned a potential tie at 10 into a 14-point deficit. And the Ravens’ offense faced another disappointing playoff performance, with another litany of missed opportunities to revisit.
“We just didn’t perform,” said wide receiver Willie Snead. “We didn’t perform when we needed it; we did not complete the trips as we normally would.
Problems like this have faced the Ravens over the past three years in the playoffs, sapping hopes of a championship run. On Saturday night, Jackson, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the rest of the franchise entered the offseason fixing a familiar and intimidating question: How can Baltimore make his offense play its best in games that matter? most ?
The Ravens have scored more than 20 points in 34 of Jackson’s 37 career regular-season starts.
They haven’t exceeded that number in any of his four playoff starts.
While each game has seen different patterns, twists and turns – and Saturday’s loss was particularly brutal, due to picking six and a concussion that knocked Jackson out of action a few pieces later – common themes also exist.
In their last three playoff games, Baltimore has combined to score on just two of its 10 trips inside the red zone. Opposing defenses have found at least occasional success against the Ravens’ top-notch racing game on every outing. Jackson, an MVP in a hurry to play, threw an interception in each of his playoff appearances.
No Ravens player or coach has said the Bills unveiled a radically innovative strategy on Saturday night to keep the visitors within three points, the lowest of the season. If there was a surefire plan to thwart Jackson, the defenses would use it in the regular season.
Instead, in post-game press conferences, the Ravens’ attacking players looked inside.
“We moved the ball, we were able to do some things, [and] we had some really good games, ”added tight end Mark Andrews. “We made a few plays, but things didn’t happen at the right time, and we didn’t make the plays when we needed them, and that’s it.”
Sustained playoff struggles intensified the scrutiny of Roman, who engineered an attack that helped Lamar Jackson become a superstar and broke running records in the past two seasons.
Playoff failures, however, weigh on every single Roman accomplishment.
The Ravens’ running game got off to a quick start on Saturday, as Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins combined to rack up 31 yards in their first three carries (10.3 average). The Bills adjusted by packing defensemen near the line of scrimmage, and Edwards and Dobbins totaled 53 yards on 17 carries (3.1 on average) the rest of the way.
Buffalo’s game plan forced Jackson to take to the air. Baltimore has not made its opponents pay; Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 162 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Unlike last weekend in a win over the Titans, Jackson (nine carries for 34 yards) also didn’t burn the Bills’ defense with a long scrum.
“They weren’t doing anything special,” Snead said. “They just took the run out and they tried to make us one-dimensional in the passing game, and we just didn’t take advantage of what they were giving us.”
Steve Smith, an NFL Network analyst who served as a wide receiver for the Ravens from 2014 to 2016, criticized the team’s offensive staff after the game. He said the team performed “grade school” course combinations in the playoff loss and asked Baltimore to find a new offensive coordinator.
“Their passing game is not very complex,” said Smith. “If you want Lamar Jackson to continue to be a stellar quarterback, a type of quarterback MVP, you have to implement a second notch or a third level of the passing game that makes things a little more complicated,” because it is not very complicated. And my 6 year old, who is sleeping right now, can probably start the attack as well. “
In the past, coach John Harbaugh has championed and praised Roman, who the Associated Press named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2019.
Harbaugh has also been a staunch supporter of Jackson and his receivers, yet the passing game has remained inconsistent for much of the season. Baltimore could aim to acquire more talent to capture passing this season, strengthen the offensive line or change its coaching staff, but no matter what the changes, Jackson will remain the face of the franchise entering the 2021 season. He will be the driving force. offensive.
And many see room for the 24-year-old to develop further.
“He’s an elite runner, an elite passer, but there are steps he can take, better progress he can take, and he knows it,” Snead said on Saturday night. “It’s the competitor in him to want to improve every offseason, to sort out the little things his game needs to be improved on and to keep improving as a passer. I think if he takes on that part of his game and really hits his full potential in it, then the sky is the limit for Lamar, man. It’s just a matter of time.
“So that’s really on him. I think this game is going to be a wake-up call for him, hopefully in the offseason. So we’ll see what he does next year.
Jackson and Roman are the lightning rods that will grab attention in the weeks and months to come. They weren’t the only factors behind Saturday night’s loss, however.
Missed blocks, penalties, bad snaps and even two stray field goals prevented the Ravens from accumulating points. That second game before Jackson’s interception was only one breakdown in a game full of them.
The Ravens edged the Bills by 120 yards, and they’ve done the same in playoff losses in previous years, but ruined long runs or failed to start quickly or give the ball away in every game. . Since Jackson joined the team in 2018, elements of a dynamic and historic regular-season offense have surfaced in the playoffs; they just didn’t come together to form a full performance.
And as the title race ended at Bills Stadium, the quest to find a solution began.
“We haven’t done enough,” Andrews said. “We will come back to work. We are all going to work hard. It’s going to be oil for the fire, and [we’ll] be ready to go. We will remember it.