Lamar Jackson struggles as top-seeded Ravens shocked by Titans

BALTIMORE -- Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens' historic season abruptly ended with a shocking defeat Saturday night, opening questions about whether the NFL's top team struggled because of rust and postseason pressure.

In a 28-12 divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, Jackson threw two interceptions and fumbled once in an uncharacteristic performance for the front-runner for NFL Most Valuable Player.

As a result, the Ravens suffered their first loss in 104 days (since Sept. 29) and became the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 6-seed since 2010. Baltimore also became the sixth team since the NFL playoffs began in 1933 to win at least 14 games in a season but fail to win a postseason game.

"We just beat ourselves," Jackson said. "I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers -- that shouldn't happen. But [Tennessee] came out to play."

This marked the second quick exit from the playoffs for Baltimore. Last season, the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 23-17 in the wild-card round. On Saturday, Baltimore was once again bounced from its postseason opener.

In the locker room afterward, several players sat quietly with stunned looks on their faces. Others shook their heads as they walked to the showers and training room. Ravens coach John Harbaugh went from locker to locker to shake players' hands.

The last time the Ravens won a postseason game was in 2014, when they upset the Pittsburgh Steelers. That fact led Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey to address "the sad reality" of this team.

"I think you have to look at yourself in the mirror, and I think this team's identity right now is to get in the playoffs and choke," Humphrey said. "It is what it is. This is just the hard truth."

Was it rust? During the week, Jackson scoffed at the idea that he would be affected by a 20-day layoff, but he produced just the second three-turnover game of his career. The Ravens, who sat five Pro Bowl players in the regular-season finale before their first-round postseason bye, scored the fewest points by any team in its first playoff game after leading the NFL in scoring during the regular season.

"I don't have that answer," Harbaugh said when asked whether rust was a factor. "It's unanswerable. Our guys practiced really hard and did the best they could. But we didn't play a sharp football game, for sure."

Was it the playoffs? Jackson didn't want to talk about last season's postseason problems. He is 0-2 in the postseason, compared with 19-3 in the regular season. He has five total turnovers in the playoffs after last year's wild-card loss to the Chargers and Saturday's divisional defeat to the Titans. Jackson had only eight turnovers in the entire 2019 season.

Asked about those who point out that he is winless in the postseason, Jackson said, "I don't really care about what they say. This is my second year in the league. Most people [aren't] able to bring it to the playoffs. I don't really worry about [what] people say. We're going to keep going [and] get ready for next year."

In his first full season as an NFL starter, Jackson put up numbers previously unseen in the NFL. He became the first player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards. He led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and broke Michael Vick's single-season rushing mark for a quarterback.

But in the end, Jackson could become the first NFL MVP to lose his first playoff game of the season since running back Adrian Peterson did so in 2012. Meanwhile, it has been 20 years since a player won the MVP award and the Super Bowl in the same campaign.

Jackson wasn't sharp while throwing high and behind receivers against a Titans defense that rarely blitzed him. He finished with 31-of-59 passing for 365 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His 63.2 passer rating was his second worst this season.

Harbaugh said he isn't worried about the loss hurting Jackson's confidence going forward.

"I won't have to say much to him. We will talk for sure [Sunday], and we will see where that conversation goes, just from a standpoint of two people talking. But I know how he's going to respond," Harbaugh said.

"He is going to respond by being extremely motivated and determined to improve as a football player. And I think the strategy made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to get better. That's what he should do. It's simple -- him and everybody else. That's what we all should strive to do, and I just know his character and who he is as a person. That's what he will be thinking about."

Not all the blame falls on the first-team All-Pro quarterback. Running back Mark Ingram was a nonfactor with a strained calf, finishing with a season-worst 22 yards on six carries. The Ravens' wide receivers and tight ends dropped five passes. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman abandoned the run after halftime, calling 39 pass plays in the second half.

After winning a franchise-best 14 games and earning the team's first No. 1 seed, the Ravens watched the Titans use a run-dominated game plan against them, physically pushing the Ravens around. Baltimore, which broke the NFL's 41-year-old single-season rushing record, allowed 218 yards rushing to Tennessee, including 195 yards to running back Derrick Henry.

"Probably first time in my career that I felt like it wasn't much I could do at the time," Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce said of Henry. "The dude is a zone unlike anything I've played against."

Jackson and the Ravens picked a bad time for the worst upset loss in franchise history. The Ravens had been 36-0 in games in which they were favored by 10 or more points; they were the only current team that hadn't lost a game in which it was favored by double digits.

"You never expect to get into a car crash until you get into [one]," Baltimore linebacker Matthew Judon said. "We were riding, and we were rolling high, and it hit us."

The Ravens, though, will bring back the core of a team that ended the regular season on a 12-game winning streak. Baltimore returns 19 of 22 starters, including everyone from its offense.

"We [are] a young team, especially on offense," Jackson said. "We can only get better. We can only get better. It's only up from here."