Lamar Jackson defined the terms of his NFL career before embarking on a now famous draft night statement: "You're going to get a Super Bowl out of me. Believe that."
But as great as he's had 2 1/2 seasons, the Ravens quarterback has found no post-season success. He couldn't throw a touchdown pass until the last 12 minutes of unilateral losses against the Chargers and Titans. Between these defeats he threw three interceptions and lost two fiddles in the first three quarters.
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Jackson's underperformance against Los Angeles two years ago sparked an unfortunate story about his big game game. His lackluster efforts against Tennessee in January undermined an MVP campaign intended to serve as a tour to embarrass stubborn doubters. So this year is a frustrating third attempt to finally prove to the public what his stats are already showing: he's an all-round superstar at the center who deserves far more praise than he's received to date.
Jackson is, of course, measured by what he does after week 17, but regular season matchups like Sunday's rematch against the Titans aren't entirely insignificant to the perception. Think of every dazzling show he delivers as bonus style points for his ultimate championship goal. Taking apart Mike Vrabel's defense would no doubt be a great satisfaction and a strong performance against a potential 2020 playoff opponent would strengthen the entire Baltimore roster.
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Neither the Ravens nor Jackson have been as good as 14-2 a year ago a year ago. A surprising loss for the Patriots last weekend underscored their vulnerability. 6-3 they are three games back from the Steelers for first place in the AFC North and in a battle for second place with the Browns.
Jackson's passerby rating has dropped from 113.3 to 95.6. Having averaged the best 6.9 yards per carry in the NFL during his MVP run, he's averaged 5.8 yards per card this season. He believes that the offense does not punish opponents with the ruthless efficiency that it achieved in the previous campaign.
"We have to finish first," said Jackson. "It's the little things on tape as it is, we could have put them away."
Jackson does not publicly view Sunday's competition against the Titans as a game of revenge. He told reporters of Baltimore's playoff exit 10 months ago: "That was last year, we just fell short and there is nothing we can do about it."
And how could it be a game of revenge?
If Jackson dominated, the expected mixed reaction on social media would demonstrate the insane reality of his career. His consistently above-average regular season game is almost always filled with memories of two bad playoff games. Predecessor Joe Flacco's mediocre game was forever accompanied by gossip about four amazing playoff games in 2013.
But as a spicy starter for a victory over the titans when it comes down to it later? You can believe Jackson would enjoy anything.