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Preston: Super Bowl or bust? Ravens’ record-setting season has raised the bar | COMMENTARY

The Ravens needed a shopping cart for all the NFL hardware they walked away with over the weekend.

Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, John Harbaugh was selected as Coach of the Year and Greg Roman was chosen as Assistant Coach of the Year.

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The Ravens already had 12 players named to the Pro Bowl squad, so the only team official who didn’t get recognized this season was Poe in his bid to become Mascot of the Year.

But with all this recognition comes one burning question: Why couldn’t this team, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, win a playoff game at home against the No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans?

With all of these awards, acknowledgements, hand shaking and chest bumping, the Ravens have failed to win ONE playoff game during the past two seasons.

So, keep the awards coming, because with each one there is more pressure to win. It’s great that the Ravens got the recognition, and a lot of it was deserved, but now a new standard has been set.

If the Ravens don’t win one or two playoff games in 2020, the season might be considered a bust.

Yes, the bar is set that high.

The Ravens will work hard to meet that challenge. They are a young team, especially on offense, and they have some talented players in place. They know they underachieved in in the playoffs after a dream season, and Harbaugh will make that the prevailing theme during the offseason.

He’ll come out with corny T-shirts with some type of “unfinished business” slogan. He’s a realist and knows that expectations come along with the winning and the accolades.

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It’s expected that Jackson will improve even after his breakout season. He deserved to be the MVP, but he still isn’t in the same class as Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, who is the league’s most feared offensive player and best quarterback.

Mahomes proved that Sunday night in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win against the San Francisco 49ers. Despite an average performance in the first three quarters, he took over the game in the fourth to pull out the victory and was named the game’s MVP.

Jackson is a better runner than Mahomes, but Mahomes is a much more accurate passer with a stronger arm who can consistently throw outside the numbers, which Jackson can’t do.

Jackson, though, has the potential to be almost as good if he improves as much this offseason as he did last year.

There will be many arguments both pro and con for the awards given to Harbaugh and Roman. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the other top candidates, played Sunday night.

Bieniemy, who is black, just doesn’t get any respect. He has been running the league’s top offense for the past two years but still can’t land a head coaching job, despite several interviews. Now, he can’t even win a league award.

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Harbaugh deserved his recognition. He brought in Roman as his new offensive coordinator this season, and Roman’s system was created around Jackson. It had a run-first theme built on Jackson’s elusiveness, but also a well-crafted passing game that fit Jackson’s strengths.

The Ravens finished with the best rushing attack in NFL history and were ranked No. 1 in scoring offense. A lot of fans and experts thought the Ravens were headed to the Super Bowl, but they got derailed in the divisional round.

It wasn’t pretty. The Titans pounded the Ravens and were physically dominant on both sides of the lines of scrimmage. The Ravens appeared rusty from their long layoff and lacked intensity.

For the second straight year, they got outcoached and outplayed in a playoff game. The year before, it was the Los Angeles Chargers who beat them in a wild-card game.

Jackson had a subpar performance in that game, too. Now he has to prove that he can win at least one playoff game before he can become the next sports legend in Baltimore.

One.

As for Harbaugh, there has always been a criticism of him for not being a good game day coach. Well, that’s been true in the postseason for the past two years.

He can’t decide when to run or when to pass. He doesn’t know when to intercede and tell his assistant coaches he wants it done his way. He looked as lost as his players against Tennessee several weeks ago.

But all will be forgotten if the Ravens can build on a 14-2 season and make a Super Bowl run. The pressure has been turned up a notch, but that’s what happens when a team wins a lot of the NFL awards.

Except the conference championship and Super Bowl trophies.

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