Jackson Ready for Playoff Run

Lamar Jackson photo

Lamar Jackson hopes to start fast in the Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional Playoff matchup against the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.


Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson helped his team become the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But can he get them to the Super Bowl?

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

Owings Mills, Md.—For all the rave reviews and the talk of having revolutionized football that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has received during the 2019 regular-season, the big question for the former Louisville star could get answered this weekend.

Can he lead them to a Super Bowl?

Jackson, the odds-on favorite to be NFL’s Most Valuable Player, has a tough task ahead of him in the Ravens AFC Divisional Playoff matchup against a very physical Tennessee Titans squad looking to spring a huge upset Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

In a season where he’s been mobbed by children at a local mall, named an All-Pro and starred on just about every highlight reel on every sports media outlet from ESPN to YouTube, Jackson said he is focused on the single goal of a Super Bowl win.

“It’s cool, It’s cool … I’m just trying to work. I want a Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “All the accolades and stuff like that, I’ll cherish that, but I’m trying to chase something else right now. … I’ve been wanting a
Super Bowl since I was a kid. That’s why I play the game because I want to win.”

Throughout the season, Jackson has become the ultimate weapon as a duel-threat quarterback with record-setting numbers. In his first full season as a starter, he set an NFL record for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback by gaining 1,206 yards, breaking a record held by former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

“The new era that we’re in now in the NFL, he knows his matchups,” said Ravens veteran safety Earl Thomas, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. “He uses the big tight ends, throws where only they can catch the ball and we all know what he can do once he starts to run.”

When the season began, more than a few NFL experts wrote Jackson off as a “running quarterback”, but he’s changed the minds of many in that regard. Jackson passed for 3,127 yards, completed 66.1 percent, was third in the league in quarterback rating, and led the league with 36 touchdown passes.

“He’s good at everything, he was already so good at everything,” said tight end Mike Andrews, who caught 64 passes from Jackson for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. “I think mentally the quarterback position is so hard and so tough. After a year of being in the system, seeing defenses in the NFL, he’s been able to learn and been able to grow mentally in the whole football mindset.”

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson’s running ability and his knack for getting the ball in tight spaces is a big help the Ravens in the red zone.

“He can also extend the play, hold the ball, move if he has to and he’s really done well with that,” Harbaugh said.

Jackson’s teammates like wide receiver Willie Snead IV said Jackson is driven by a desire to win and will take all the necessary to get there like working with his receivers after practice and during the offseason prior to training camp.

“It’s all set on Lamar. He wants to be great because of his work ethic and as a competitor. He wants to be the best. He wants the best for us,” Snead IV said. “He wants to see us all eat. I’m on board for that.”

But the true worth of Jackson’s season will be having to do it under the spotlight of a single-elimination playoff run where every opposing coach, including Saturday’s opponent, has seen him on tape and is scrutinizing his every step, hoping to find some weakness in what he does to exploit throughout the course of the game.

As he approaches his second playoff game, Jackson says he’s more prepared than he was during last January’s Wild Card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and he’s ready for anything the Titans throw at him.

“I’m not a rookie anymore, I’ve been around. I’ve seen everything that they can bring …  And we’re going to see it,” Jackson said. “Can’t start too late. You have to attack fast. It doesn’t really matter what quarter is, first or second, you have to attack. You have to finish the game strong. You can’t just go into the game playing half-assed.”

During the team’s organized teams last spring, Jackson said Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has been testing him in practice by throwing a number of blitzes and disguised coverages at him.

“(Martindale) used to disguise crazy blitzes during OTAs and stuff like that, and it just helped me a lot, knowing where guys would be and knowing the area of the field. I just have to get the ball out where my receiver can get it or no one can.”

Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III said the Ravens coaching staff has done a good job of preparing Jackson for any kind of wrinkle the Titans or any other teams will throw at him during the course of the game.

“Whatever they play we can adjust to that in-game so we’re not sitting ducks like ‘they played man-to-man all season and now they’re playing zone, what are we gonna do?’ Griffin III said. “When you do put stuff on tape and teams do something to take that away, you can adjust to give them a new problem.

“I think that’s what we’ve done all year (with Jackson). We continue to give teams new problems with Lamar running, Lamar throwing, our receiver packages, our tight end packages, jet sweeps … we keep giving teams new problems. …We want to be the math that they can’t figure out.”

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said he has been using backup quarterback and former starter Marcus Mariota simulating Jackson to prepare his defense. But that’s not enough to fully capture Jackson’s speed in-game conditions.

“Other than try to tie (Jackson’s) shoelaces together, not many people have had success,” Vrabel said with a little tongue and cheek during a phone interview with the Baltimore-area media. “We’ll have to prepare and try to get our players as ready as possible to defend not only him but (running Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards.”

If you want to see what happens, catch the game on Saturday night at 8pm on CBS-3.

Nevermore: For an old Baltimore Colts Fan, Ravens Dramatic Win Exorcises Demons of Ghost to the Post

By Chris Murray

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker jumps for joy after booting the game-winning field goal to beat Denver in overtime in the AFC Divisional  Playoff.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker jumps for joy after booting the game-winning field goal to beat Denver in double overtime in last Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff.

For the Chris Murray Report

As I watched Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field  goal that put the Baltimore Ravens into this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, there were plenty of reasons for me as a native Baltimorean to be overjoyed.

Growing up as a fan of Baltimore’s storied sports franchises—the Colts and the Orioles—and now the Ravens, I have a special reverence for the lore and history of those franchises and certainly last Saturday’s thrilling win by the Ravens will be an indelible part of that history when it’s said and done.

For me, the Ravens double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos was eerily similar to the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff between the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders. That game, played on Dec. 24,  1977, went into double-overtime with the same plot turns and twists as Saturday’s game.  Unfortunately, the Baltimore squad was on the short end of a heart-breaking loss.

Raiders wide receiver Dave Casper get congrats from teammates and head coach John Madde n after catching winning pass to beat the Baltimore Colts in overtime in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Raiders wide receiver Dave Casper get congrats from teammates and head coach John Madden after catching winning pass to beat the Baltimore Colts in overtime in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs.

At 15-years-old, I was among those fans in Memorial Stadium that watched in stunned silence as Oakland’s Kenny Stabler hit Dave Casper for the winning TD pass in the north endzone facing 36th Street as the evening shadows descended upon a disappointed crowd;

As filled up with joy as I was this past Saturday, I remember the disappointment of seeing the Raiders celebrate on the turf of Memorial Stadium to end a game what was a playoff classic. The Ravens win last Saturday, for me personally, forever exorcised the demons of Christmas Eve 1977.

Both games went back and forth like a Russian novel. The Raiders would jump out to a lead only to have the Colts move back out in front.  The Ravens-Broncos this past Saturday was just as hairy, full of big plays, kick returns, and pick sixes. The game was tied five times with four lead changes.

In the game against the Raiders, the Colts got points on a pick-six by Bruce Laird and an 87-yard kickoff return by Marshall Johnson. They also got a pair of touchdowns from a backup running back named Ronnie Lee.

With about four minutes left in the game, Baltimore had a 31-28 lead and appeared ready to put the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders away. But for some reason, Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda got conservative and tried to run the clock out, but it didn’t work. That would be something that Colts running back Lydell Mitchell would question in the years after the game.

Dave Casper 44-yard heave from Ken Stabler that put the Raiders in position to kick game-tying field to send their AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Colts into overtime.

Dave Casper’s catches a  44-yard heave from Ken Stabler that put the Raiders in position to kick game-tying field to send their 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Colts into overtime.

The Raiders got the ball back with a little over three minutes left.  The big play that put Oakland in position to tie the game was the famed “Ghost to the Post,” play in which Stabler hit Casper for a 44-yard gain to the Baltimore 14 with two minutes left.  The Raiders would tie the game on an Erroll Mann field goal and send it into overtime.

Flashing forward to last Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens were down 35-28 with no timeouts and had the ball at their own 30 yard line with under a minute left.

The odds of scoring the game-tying touchdown seemed to be somewhere between slim and none. But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, facing a fierce rush from the Broncos defense , stepped up and launched a long pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who somehow got behind two Denver defenders, and raced to a 70-yard touchdown that tied the game.In the same way the Ghost to the Post took the air out of Baltimore fans and led to overtime in 1977, Flacco’s miracle fling to Jones deflated Broncos fans while Baltimore fans in bars and taverns throughout central Maryland were no doubt in the throes of euphoria as the game headed to overtime—I wonder how many of those fans were at Memorial Stadium Christmas Eve 1977.

After a defensive stalemate dominated play for much of the first overtime, Baltimore finally got its big break late in the period when Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass. It took the Ravens five plays to move within field goal range for Tucker’s game-winning kick.

Jacoby Jones catches game-tying TD pass from Joe Flacco that sent last weekend's divisional playoff game against Denver into overtime.

Jacoby Jones catches the game-tying TD pass from Joe Flacco that sent last weekend’s divisional playoff game against Denver into overtime.

When the ball sailed through the uprights, I could hear that same deafening, stunned silence from Denver fans that we experienced in Memorial Stadium back in 1977. But this time it was the Baltimore players celebrating a classic playoff victory on enemy turf and even though I was thousands of miles away, I was celebrating the way we were hoping to against the Raiders.

I watched the game at Champs Restaurant in South Philadelphia. I leaped from my seat with my fists pumped in the air when Tucker’s kick was ruled good. I blurted out an old Baltimore battle cry made famous by Colts and Orioles play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson, “Go to War, Ms Agnes!” “Ain’t the Beer Cold!”

In the storied history of the Baltimore experience in the NFL, the Ravens double overtime win over the Denver Broncos will go down as an all-time great like the Colts famous overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game  that was dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Some in Baltimore are calling the Ravens win over the Broncos, “The Second Greatest Game Ever Played.”

As for Christmas Eve 1977 and the Ghost to the Post, all I need to say is over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, quoth the Ravens, “Nevermore.”