Schmuck: Lamar Jackson and Ravens find out the hard way history can repeat itself

Perhaps there is some truth to the notion that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The Ravens spent the past two weeks waving off questions about last year’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, then spent Saturday night replicating that disastrous performance against the wild-card Tennessee Titans.


If Lamar Jackson took his first playoff loss hard, it’s difficult to imagine how he’s going to handle his team’s shocking early exit from the postseason this time.

The similarities were just too striking. The game began to unravel early when the Titans intercepted a deflected pass to short-circuit the Ravens’ first drive and converted the turnover into a touchdown.

If you recall, Jackson fumbled on each of his first two possessions in last year’s game and three times overall. This time, he fumbled late in the third quarter to set up the fourth Tennessee touchdown and added a second interception minutes later, which pretty much sealed the deal.

In between, the Ravens couldn’t do much of anything right. Even the fourth-and-1 analytics failed them, ending a pair of drives that were followed by Titans touchdowns.

So, what are we to make of all this? The Ravens, obviously, were on an unprecedented roll when they took the field. Their fans were in full throat. Then the roof fell in.

The most exciting regular season in franchise history was too quickly replaced by what was, quite possibly, the franchise’s most disappointing playoff loss.

There’s an argument to be made that the loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game retains that sad distinction. That was the game — and 2011 season — that ended with kicker Billy Cundiff’s infamous miss at Gillette Stadium.

But that was the Patriots in their prime. This was a Titans team that had to claim its place in the postseason with a Week 17 victory over the already crowned AFC South champion Houston Texans. This was a game that the Ravens were supposed to win easily before coasting into the fourth AFC title game of coach John Harbaugh’s head coaching career.

There will be a lot of theories, most popular of which will likely be that the Ravens were done in by the same playoff bye they so jealously coveted and successfully claimed.

The team was on a historic roll and then after all that good fortune had to take a knee for two weeks. Jackson was coming off a three-week layoff, since he was inactive for the Ravens’ Week 17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Still, the “rust” theory is the kind of thing that’s impossible to confirm or categorically deny, especially since the Ravens offense looked fine on that fateful first possession until a long pass glanced off the hands of tight end Mark Andrews and settled into the loving arms of safety Kevin Byard.

Byard returned it to midfield and Jackson compounded the mistake by yanking him out of bounds by his helmet, allowing the Titans to start their second drive of the game from the Ravens’ 35-yard line.

It was a tremendous momentum shift, since the Ravens had won the coin toss, deferred possession and stopped the Titans on their first possession.

Much like in the loss to the Chargers last year, Jackson didn’t really look like himself until it was too late, which might lend a bit of credence to any suggestion that he had left his mojo behind in the regular season. Harbaugh didn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand, but didn’t endorse it either.


"It’s unanswerable,'' he said. “Our guys practiced really hard and did the best they could, but we didn’t play a sharp football game, for sure. What should you attribute that to? I guess you can theorize a lot of different things.”

Maybe it wasn’t even that complicated. The Titans did to the Ravens what they did to the Patriots. They came into a hostile environment and did everything you have to do to win on the road. They protected the ball. They converted third downs. They played solid defense.

Most importantly, they jumped on the back of rushing leader Derrick Henry, who ran for 195 yards and broke the Titans’ single-game playoff rushing record he set last week in New England.

Jackson will have to settle for delivering a fabulous, record-breaking season and will likely be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, but that won’t lessen the sting of this devastating defeat.

He said at the start of the season that he carried around last year’s unhappy ending throughout the offseason. How long this one lingers is an open question.

"I don’t know,'' he said. “I hate losing. I really do, so I don’t know. But we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to get better for next year.”

Harbaugh said afterward that he isn’t worried about how Jackson’s second discouraging playoff loss will affect him.

“But I know how he’s going to respond,'' Harbaugh said. “He’s going to respond by being extremely motivated and determined to improve as a football player. And the strides he made between last year and this year are pretty indicative of that, and we expect him to continue to get better. That’s what he should do. It’s simple, him and everybody else. That’s what we all should strive to do.”

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