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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is an MVP candidate, but the jury is out if that’ll be enough | COMMENTARY

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — We’ve seen this movie before.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson is the star attraction, just as he was Sunday by throwing four touchdown passes and running for another score in the Ravens’ 37-26 win against the New England Patriots. He electrified the crowd with his running ability (107 yards on 11 carries) and rifled enough passes into tight coverage to finish with a passer rating of 110.3 and 218 yards.

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But when the Ravens get into the postseason, which they watched from home last year, they bomb. It has become the usual ending. Since Jackson has been in Baltimore, the Ravens are 1-3 in the playoffs and have only advanced to the divisional round once.

Jackson might be on course for another NFL Most Valuable Player award to pair with the one he won in 2019, but sometimes it appears this movie is going to have a similar result.

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The Ravens have played only three games and there are still a lot of things that can happen. But what they don’t have anymore is a respectable defense. They have allowed nearly 400 yards in each of their first three games. And we all remember the fourth-quarter meltdown in a 42-38 loss to Miami in Week 2′s home opener.

“We’re not there yet but we’re on our way, and I feel like that’s something that we’re working hard on to improve, but in this particular game, I think the thing was guys stepping up and making plays,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team forced multiple turnovers in the fourth quarter Sunday to salvage what felt like another potential disaster.

Jackson can make you forget about this bad defense. Some of his runs Sunday were incredible, and there are times he embarrasses defensive players one-on-one in the open field. Maybe the most surprising aspect of his game is his strength; tacklers have a hard time bringing him down, even when they are draped all over him.

But he is the only truly great player on the roster. No one else keeps opposing coaches up at night.

That worries me.

This is a franchise known for defensive greatness and Hall of Famers such as middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Rod Woodson. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is knocking on the door in Canton, Ohio, too.

There is no one close to that stature on this 2022 defense. There are no rugged, game-changing players who can take over a game. The Ravens’ cornerbacks still have problems in coverage and the linebackers are equally as bad because they can’t get off blocks or put consistent pressure on the quarterback.

On Sunday, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones completed 22 of 32 passes for 321 yards despite finishing with a passer rating of 62.1.

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That doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy about this defense.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass in the first half Sunday against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

There were some good signs Sunday, though. A banged-up offensive line got in sync in the second half and the group should improve once — or maybe if — Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley decides to return from an ankle injury.

Fourth-year player Justice Hill started to emerge somewhat as a running back and starter J.K. Dobbins was back on the field after recovering from a preseason knee injury that forced him out of the 2021 season.

I like Devin Duvernay’s speed and the occasional big play by fellow receiver Rashod Bateman. And of course, there is tight end Mark Andrews, who had eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

Jackson can carry this team with his legs, but not necessarily with his arm. You saw some of that Sunday with the sloppy second quarter and the poor mechanics as his passes started falling short or sailing over the head of his receivers.

But the Ravens seemed confident after Sunday. Gillette Stadium is a tough place to win, especially with all the tradition here and six Super Bowl trophies.

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But the Ravens have a lot to overcome — more than usual. We’ve seen this before. I used to watch Ray Lewis walk off the field after playoff disappointment after playoff disappointment because the Ravens could never find a top quarterback.

Maybe they can change the ending in 2022.

“Just focus, determination,” Jackson said. “I feel like we build more off adversity, and we play better off adversity. We’ve just got to keep going though because we have a long season ahead of us.”

Week 4

BILLS@RAVENS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

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Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM


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