In the final 2021 NFL season standings, Sunday night’s Baltimore Ravens victory over the Cleveland Browns will simply go down as one of Baltimore’s likely double-digit win total. However, it wasn’t pretty, and with Lamar Jackson’s uninspiring performance, it has many fans and analysts worried about the QB’s prospects come playoff time.
Lamar Jackson had a history-making performance on ‘Sunday Night Football’
Lamar Jackson made history on several fronts Sunday night, and, mostly, it wasn’t good. During the Baltimore Ravens’ low-scoring, ugly victory over their NFC North rival Cleveland Browns, Jackson was 20-of-32 for just 165 yards and a touchdown.
He did, as usual, contribute a good amount with his legs. He ran for 68 yards on 17 carries.
The biggest problem was that he threw four interceptions against the Browns. In a strange wrinkle that suggests he was telegraphing and forcing throws, all four of his interceptions happened while targeting recently-extended tight end Mark Andrews.
This marked just the fourth time in the last 25 years that a QB threw four picks while targeting the same pass-catcher.
New York Giants QB Eli Manning did it in a five-INT game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 while targeting WR Hakeem Nicks. Luke McCown did it in 2011 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, throwing four to the New York Jets while targeting WR Mike Thomas. And, not to be outdone, it also happened to the Jets when QB Mark Sanchez was throwing to WR Braylon Edwards.
Despite joining this ignominious group, Jackson led Baltimore to a 16-10 win to retain the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. In doing this, Jackson also made history. According to a tweet by ESPN’s Jake Trotter, “Since 2015, starting QBs are 0-37 when throwing 4 INTs in a game.”
After Jackson’s performance on Sunday night, they are now 1-37.
Despite the win, there are concerns about Jackson’s performance
Even though Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens came away with the W, it wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring for the Ravens’ fans.
It was Jackson’s fourth multi-interception game of the season and the fifth time he’s thrown for less than 250 yards in a game. He also missed a Week 11 game against the Chicago Bears with a non-COVID-19-related illness.
On the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Monday morning, former Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson talked about the Ravens/Browns game. He said that while he’s encouraged by the defense stepping up and the team pulling out a victory when it didn’t play its best, he’s worried about Jackson:
Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions. That’s what I’m concerned with. Because when they get to the playoffs, he can’t have games like that. It just won’t happen, right? He’ll be another legend that we talk about being great in the regular season and not being great in the playoffs. And to me, that’s what Lamar Jackson is up against.Michael Robinson on Lamar Jackson
This tracks with Jackson’s career history. Since coming into the NFL in 2018, the former Louisville Cardinal has become one of the winningest QBs in the league. He’s won an MVP and made the playoffs in each of his first three full seasons.
However, the Ravens lost their first playoff games in 2018 and 2019. After finally winning a game against the Tennessee Titans in 2020, the Ravens lost handily to the Buffalo Bills, 17-3.
Jackson won’t be able to prove Robinson wrong (or right) until the playoffs start in January. For now, all he can do is keep racking up regular-seasons wins in the AFC and the AFC North, which he will have a chance to do again in Week 13.
The Ravens look to defend their No. 1 seed in Week 13 against another divisional opponent
At 8-3, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are a half-game up on the 8-4 New England Patriots for first place in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the 2021 AFC playoffs.
Next up for the team is another AFC North rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers come into the game at 5-5-1 and in last place in the division. The team is coming off a 41-10 smackdown at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers D allowed 165 rushing yards to RB Joe Mixon, and Ben Roethlisberger could only produce an anemic 24-of-41 for 263 yards with a TD and two picks.
It is the first of two Ravens/Steelers contests late in the season. The two teams will also face off on Jan. 9, 2022, in the newly-minted Week 18 at The Bank in Baltimore.
With the way the Steelers and Ravens are both (mostly) playing in 2021, both these games should go into the win column for Baltimore. And Jackson’s team will need the W’s too. In between the Steelers games, the Ravens face a brutal gauntlet if they hope to keep their first-place status.
Weeks 14-17 include games at the Cleveland Browns, vs. the Green Bay Packers, at the Cincinnati Bengals, and vs. the Los Angeles Rams.
If Jackson and his squad can run the table here, he will take another step toward becoming a regular-season legend.
But, as Michael Robinson noted, it’s the postseason that truly matters.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference