Lamar Jackson’s MVP-worthy game leads Ravens past Texans, into AFC championship round

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BALTIMORE — This Ravens postseason run is as much about Lamar Jackson’s legacy as it is Baltimore’s aspirations for a Super Bowl. 

It’s because Jackson, the one-time league MVP who’s likely to win his second this season, hasn’t found much individual or team success in the playoffs, where legends have stamped their name. It’s the blemish on his resume of greatness. Entering Saturday, he had a 1-4 record in the postseason, where he had just four total touchdowns and seven giveaways. 

This season’s divisional-round game was about taking the first steps to changing the narrative. About him meeting the moment of pressure with performance. 

“You know I heard that,” Jackson said of the chatter about him in the playoffs. “I don’t even got to hear it. I see it. But it is what it is. I really don’t care about what people say. I’m trying to win day in and day out. Every time I’m on that field, I’m trying to play to the best of my abilities.” 

That mission was accomplished Saturday night. 

Receiving MVP chants in the fourth quarter, Jackson had four total touchdowns — two receiving, two rushing — to guide the Ravens to a 34-10 victory over the Texans, punching Baltimore’s first berth to the AFC championship game in 11 years. The Ravens will also be hosting the conference title game for the first time in franchise history. 

A two-time first-team All-Pro, Jackson put the Ravens on his back throughout the game, kicking into high gear as Baltimore went on a 24-0 run in the second half. 

With the game tied at 10 through two quarters, and plenty of opportunities missed offensively, a fiery Jackson was one of the most prominent voices in the halftime locker room. 

There was plenty of cussing. 

“The team rallies off of him,” running back Justice Hill said. “Whenever he speaks, everybody listens.” 

Jackson finished the game completing 72.7% of his passes (16-of-22) for 152 yards and two touchdowns against zero interceptions, posting a terrific 121.8 passer rating. He also added 11 carries for 100 yards, his third career 100-yard rushing game in the playoffs. 

His dominance began in the second quarter, when he accounted for more than ¾ of Baltimore’s yardage on the touchdown drive in the period — highlighted by two carries for 38 yards, a 17-yard completion to rookie receiver Zay Flowers that pushed the team into plus territory and the three-yard touchdown pass to veteran wideout Nelson Agholor, which gave Baltimore an early 10-3 lead. 

In the third quarter, with the Ravens inside the red zone, Jackson responded to a near end-zone interception targeting tight end Isaiah Likely in a tight window — Texans safety Jalen Pitre got his hands on the ball — with a 15-yard touchdown scramble on the next play. 

Lamar Jackson, Ravens shut down CJ Stroud, Texans

Lamar Jackson, Ravens shut down CJ Stroud, Texans

Jackson’s biggest highlight of the game came later in the period. It was a taste of vintage Jackson. On a designed run up the left side of the field, the three-time Pro Bowler had a nasty juke that left defensive end Derek Barnett tackling air to cap a 14-yard scramble. That set up his third touchdown, a 15-yard pass to Likely. 

After his fourth and final touchdown, an eight-yard designed run, Jackson ran into the tunnel behind the end zone — symbolic of his readiness for next weekend’s AFC championship game against the winner of the Chiefs and Bills on Sunday. 

“He ain’t done yet. He has a lot left to prove,” linebacker Patrick Queen said. “That’s why he’s so hungry. You could see it in his eyes. You can see it in the way he talks. The way he’s acting right now. He has a lot to prove, and he wants to prove that.” 

What added to Jackson’s brilliance was his performance against the blitz. 

The Texans haven’t been known to blitz much under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans — Houston blitzed on just 21% of opponent dropbacks during the regular season, the fifth-lowest rate in the league — but they deployed it at a high rate Saturday to throw Jackson off his game. And it worked in the first half. But Jackson found success throwing the ball quicker in the second half against the blitz — in 2.25 seconds compared to 3.51, according to Next Gen Gen Stats. 

Jackson finished the game with a 72.2% completion rate (13-of-18) for 120 yards and both touchdown passes when facing a career-high 75% blitz rate, per NGS. 

“I think (offensive coordinator) Todd (Monken) called a different game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the second-half adjustments. “It wasn’t so much hold the ball and try to push the ball downfield. … Once Lamar was able to sit back there and just kind of pick ‘em apart and getting the ball out quick, he just did a great job of that in controlling the game.”

The Ravens defense deserves its props too. 

It held rookie sensation C.J. Stroud and the Texans’ explosive offense with an offensive touchdown. Baltimore erased Houston’s run game — the Texans had a season-low 38 rushing yards on a measly 2.7 yards per carry — and brought consistent pressure to Stroud, even though he wasn’t sacked. 

The Ravens recorded 23 pressures, according to Next Gen Stats. 

“The defense was as good as it could be,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s a good offense over there. That’s a good quarterback. … I thought our guys chased him. I thought our plaster downfield, our coverage was just outstanding. We covered as long as we needed so many times.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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