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Preston: Ravens playoff losses starting to damage psyche of young team

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on the 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans and the performance of quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Maybe if the Ravens sign a big receiver or add some physical, intimidating linebackers, they can create a deeper trust as far as advancing in the NFL playoffs.

The postseason exposes team weaknesses, and the Ravens got exploited Saturday night in a 28-12 AFC divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

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The Ravens are a relatively young team and have the potential for a serious run at winning a Super Bowl in the next few years, but this team has a damaged psyche and it is starting to show.

For the second straight year, the Ravens were eliminated in the postseason after one game. This time, they were the No. 1 seed in the conference and had an opening-round bye after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers in a wild-card game last season.

But the top seed shouldn’t be losing to the No. 6 seed at home after a three-week layoff.

“I think today we all struggled. It is not just [quarterback] Lamar [Jackson],” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the game. “I think honestly the sad reality of it is this Ravens team, we have been here two years in a row, and we have lost. So, I think you have to look at yourself in the mirror, and I think this team’s identity right now is get in the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. That is just the hard truth.”

"They just did a great job. We've just to try harder and get it next time and convert it." said Lamar Jackson when asked how long this loss with stick with him.

Humphrey was emotional, maybe too emotional, but this loss hit a nerve. Maybe the Ravens can use this as a learning experience because they’ve never been a top seed.

A team can get all the acclaim and hype during the regular season, but it is meaningless once the postseason starts. The Ravens got whipped in every phase of the game, which is unusual because they were always mentally prepared during the regular season.

“Very tough, very tough,” Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce said about the loss. “Not to say that anybody looked past this, but the way we were on a roll, no one thought it would be over this quick. A very disappointing performance by the team. When our best was needed as a collective, we didn’t have it. But that’s the nature of football. I’m sure the Patriots felt the same thing.

“Tennessee is a well-coached team. They fought hard. They embarrassed us. Anytime a team comes into your home stadium and takes it to you and breaks your 12-game winning streak, you’ve got to tip your hat to them and find a way to somewhat move on.”

The Ravens’ loss showed what many have thought throughout the season. If Jackson doesn’t bring his "A" game, the Ravens will struggle.

Jackson, who hadn’t played in three weeks, completed 31 of 59 passes for 365 yards but threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and finished with a passer rating of 63.2. Few teams will win with a quarterback throwing that much.

The loss revealed Jackson’s biggest weakness. A lack of arm strength prevents him from completing many passes outside the numbers. He has trouble delivering the ball on short hitch routes, much less on deep comebacks.

“I don’t really care about what they say,” Jackson said of being criticized for not being able to win a playoff game. “This is my second year in the league. Many people [aren’t] able to bring it to the playoffs. I’ve got a great team with me. I don’t really worry about the people say. We’re just going to keep going, like I said, [and] get ready for next year.”

Arm strength is something he needs to work on during the offseason. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman also has to learn that he doesn’t have to give up on the run so quickly, especially with this offense, which isn’t built for big comebacks.

But yet the most glaring weakness on offense is finding a legitimate, big wide receiver to complement tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. Because of Jackson’s inaccuracy, some receivers, like Seth Roberts, make “business decisions” and won’t attack passes. The Ravens need a big body, especially on the outside.

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The Ravens need those big bodies on the inside on defense as well, especially at inside linebacker. The Ravens knew they had to slow Titans running back Derrick Henry, and he still pounded the Ravens for 195 yards on 30 carries, including one run of 66 yards.

Throughout the regular season, the Ravens could stop inside runs with tackles Brandon Williams, Pierce and Domata Peko Sr., but they didn’t have tough inside linebackers. Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor were solid but didn’t have a physical presence, especially when the Ravens were in their base defense.

The Ravens might have to draft an inside linebacker with their first-round pick.

If that happens, they’ll probably say goodbye to Bynes. The Ravens also need to say goodbye to defensive back Brandon Carr and linebacker Chris Board, and it also might be time to say farewell to cornerback Jimmy Smith, even though he seems to be a front office favorite.

It’s all part of the work the Ravens have to do in the offseason. They were a surprising team in 2019 and Jackson developed faster than anyone expected. But they need to take the next step. It was great to win 14 of 16 regular-season games, but history isn’t always kind to those teams.

The Ravens will be remembered as a great offensive team, but also a team that couldn’t get it done. They couldn’t even win a playoff game.

At home.

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