- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2020

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At the Baltimore Ravens facility, players and coaches celebrating birthdays that day are featured on television screens during team meetings.

On Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was Lamar Jackson.

Of course, this whole football season has been like a birthday party for the Ravens’ star quarterback.

The 23-year-old sensation is a near-lock to win MVP — that’s of the entire league, not just the Ravens — and has wowed teammates, opposing players and fans with his rare combination of nifty footwork, raw speed and cannonlike arm strength.

The 2019 regular season belonged to Jackson, and now he has his sights set on the postseason. 

Already a celebrity among celebrities — rapper Drake wished the quarterback a happy birthday on social media Tuesday — Jackson gets the chance to take it up another level Saturday when he leads the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round game in Baltimore against the Tennessee Titans.

“We expect guys to be at their best on their birthday,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said with a smile Tuesday. “Their birthday week.”

Jackson, who has looked unstoppable at times, may be tested by the Titans, a team coming off an upset over the defending-champion New England Patriots.

In his playoff debut a year ago, the young quarterback had one of his worst outings.

The Los Angeles Chargers stumped Jackson and the Ravens, using an unconventional package of seven defensive backs to shut down Baltimore’s rushing attack. They forced the then-rookie to throw, resulting in some ugly sidearm passes that were far off the mark.

Jackson looked helpless for three quarters until he led a late rally that drew Baltimore to under a touchdown with less than a minute left. Los Angeles, though, held on and won 23-17.

The loss, he admitted last week, still motivates him. It taught him the importance of starting fast.

“It don’t really matter what quarter it is, first or second, you’ve got to attack,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to finish the game strong. You can’t just go in the game playing half-[effort]. You have to see results.”

Despite last year’s postseason flop, the Ravens were all-in on Jackson this season. They promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator and redesigned their entire offense around Jackson’s unique skills.

The strategy worked. Jackson set a league-record in rushing yards for a quarterback (1,206) — and became only the second passer to rush for more than 1,000 yards (Michael Vick, 2006). He also had success in the air, throwing 36 touchdowns to just six interceptions. His 113.3 quarterback rating ranks 12th all-time among passers who have thrown at least 100 passes in a season, according to Pro Football Reference.

Week after week, opposing defenses have studied the Ravens, trying to figure out how to slow the quarterback down. Most have failed. Baltimore hasn’t lost since Sept. 29.

“We’re on a mission, and he’s the one who is going to take us there,” backup quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “Everybody follows that. Everybody understands that, ‘This is our goal, let’s try to find ways to help Lamar to be the best he can be.’

“He knows he doesn’t take have to take that pressure on himself to go out there and try to be Superman.”

Griffin said Jackson understands Saturday’s game isn’t just about proving he’s better than last year. “It’s not just lip service,” he said. The Ravens understand the goal is to win it all.

It fuels Jackson, as well.

“I’m bringing a Super Bowl here,” Jackson said. “That’s my goal. That’s what I want to do. I’ve been wanting a Super Bowl ever since I was a kid. That’s why I play the game. Because I want to win.”



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