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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: It’s time for Lamar Jackson to take charge — and the Ravens to stop coddling him | COMMENTARY

Lamar Jackson should embrace the final six games as if it were a new season.

Earlier this week, the fifth-year Ravens quarterback embarrassed the organization with a vulgar tweet in response to a fan that criticized his play shortly after a 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh attributed the reply to frustration after a tough loss, but it’s the continued implosion of the star quarterback during the last couple of weeks.

Simply put, the Ravens have babied Jackson ever since the organization drafted him No. 32 overall in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.

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The enabling continued when Jackson, who always speaks to the media on Wednesdays, was a no-show after practice. A team spokesperson said Jackson wasn’t available because he was getting additional treatment from a trainer. He was later listed as limited with a quadriceps injury.

So instead of making Jackson accountable, the Ravens said he might be available Thursday or Friday. There has been no apology from Jackson for the embarrassment suffered by the organization, nor an explanation about whether he was frustrated or simply had another meltdown.

At this point, it appears the Ravens know this experiment with Jackson better work or a lot of coaches will be fired in a year or two.

Until then, expect more coddling.

Ravens quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (8) and Tyler Huntley (2) share a laugh before a game against the Jaguars on Sunday in Jacksonville, Florida.

A lot of Baltimore fans are divided over Jackson’s tweet. The older generation, those over 50, found his words to be offensive and insulting, and they want the NFL or the team to fine him. Good luck getting that from the Ravens, who won’t even make him available for a news conference.

The younger crowd says he has a right to defend himself, but this is the same group that chronicles every minute of their personal life on social media.

My advice to Jackson is stand up, put on your big boy pants and take charge of this team and win because Baltimore fans are no different than those in other cities when it comes to their sports heroes.

Winning causes amnesia, especially when a team is in the hunt for a championship.

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This is the ideal time for Jackson to embrace that challenge and put his team on his back and carry the Ravens into the postseason.

It’s been done before with other Ravens, including Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Lewis was indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges after an altercation in Atlanta in January 2000. He pleaded down to a misdemeanor of obstruction of justice and the league fined him $250,000, but he served no extensive jail time.

Lewis reported to training camp in 2001 in the best shape of his life and told me he only wanted to win a Super Bowl and prove he was the best defensive player in the league.

He was wrong. Lewis was the best football player on the planet. He had 162 tackles on that record-setting defense, including 31 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups and one fumble recovery and a touchdown in four playoff games.

He is considered to be the best middle linebacker to ever play the game and became so popular in Baltimore that a statue was erected of him outside M&T Bank Stadium.

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To accommodate the statue, the Ravens had to move the one of former Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas.

That’s clout.

Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis does his signature dance in front of his former teammates as he is introduced before a game at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 23 celebrating the 10th year anniversary of the team's Super Bowl championship.

Flacco has his own comeback story. He threw an interception that Denver cornerback Chris Harris returned 98 yards for a touchdown with 15 second left to put the Broncos ahead, 17-0, in a game they eventually won, 34-17, on Dec. 16, 2012.

As Harris ran down the sideline, Flacco dove and missed and laid face first on the turf stretched out like a little baby. It appeared that the Ravens’ playoff chances were all but over.

But Flacco got hot in the postseason, completing 73 of 126 passes for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games, including a 34-31 win against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Flacco tied Joe Montana’s record for most touchdowns without an interception in the postseason, and nearly a month later the Ravens rewarded him with a six-year, $120.6 million contract that made him the highest-paid quarterback in the league.

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Maybe Jackson might get the picture here. You win, you set the stage for atonement — and you get paid.

Jackson’s implosion started with the late fourth-quarter interception he threw in a 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 2 and continued with his two late turnovers in a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 16.

Since then, the Ravens have turned Jackson into a game manager, reducing his passing attempts and turnovers. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Jackson look angry on the sideline and sitting by himself. We’ve seen him punt a ball in frustration after the Ravens were called for a delay of game penalty several weeks ago.

He has no one to blame but himself. He should have taken the money the Ravens offered in preseason negotiations instead of trying to secure a fully guaranteed contract.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has enough charisma to motivate other players and the Ravens need more of that and less conflict on Twitter, columnist Mike Preston writes.

Jackson’s not a nasty person. I don’t believe he was being anti-gay with his tweet. I’ve heard much worse on football fields and in locker rooms in heated exchanges, but it’s seldom serious.

I also won’t accept that Jackson is too young anymore, not after five years in the NFL. I don’t believe analysts are too critical of him or that the Ravens won’t pay him because he is Black, not with the Ravens having named Ozzie Newsome the NFL’s first Black general manager in 2002 and Newsome having two prominent Black men in his front office in John Wooten and James Harris.

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The quarterback position is one of the most polarizing in sports. Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers are getting ridiculed as much as Jackson when they struggle.

I’d like to see Jackson rebound like Lewis and Flacco, but I’m not sure that he is tough enough mentally or that the Ravens will stop the constant pampering.

The Ravens have been enablers. Jackson was allowed to bring his offseason quarterback coach to training camp, which is almost unheard of around the league. He has missed a day of practice the past two weeks without any explanation until he appeared on the injury list.

When Harbaugh changed training camp practice times to later in the day, it helped Jackson be fully alert in meetings and practices.

What gives here? After overthrowing two receivers for touchdowns and scoring two touchdowns on five trips in the red zone against the Jaguars, did Jackson expect a fan to ask him how was the weather? Were the Ravens close to providing him breakfast in bed before training camp practices?

This is baby stuff, but Jackson can change the narrative now. He needs to stop trying to be a prototypical quarterback and use his talents. He’s a running quarterback who can make some big plays with his arm, but even bigger ones with his legs.

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Jackson has enough charisma to motivate other players, and the Ravens need more of that and less conflict on Twitter.

When Jackson brings his A-game, the Ravens are tough to beat. That might not be enough to get them far in the playoffs, but fans here want and expect that kind of effort.

If that happens, he’ll be a fan favorite again and some team, maybe the Ravens, will offer him a long-term contract. A statue of Jackson might not be built in Baltimore, but he could have a special place here if he embraces the challenge.

And if the Ravens stop pampering him.


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