Lamar Jackson [608x342]
Lamar Jackson [608x342] (Credit: EPA/SHAWN THEW)

LAFC win streak ends in draw against Austin FC

 

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson took the field for spring practices on Wednesday, he jumped up and down with excitement. The reigning NFL Most Valuable Player then handed the ball off to new running back Derrick Henry, exclaiming "Go, big guy, go" afterward.

As much joy as there is for the future, Baltimore is still fueled by an AFC Championship Game loss four months ago. There are 35 players who remain from a team that finished with the NFL's best record last season (13-4) and ultimately fell one game short of the Super Bowl.

When asked how long it took for him to turn the page after that 17-10 defeat to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 28, Jackson replied, "Now."

Jackson later added, "I believe that just motivated us throughout whole offseason. People are still talking about it; us players still talk about it. It definitely left a bitter taste in our mouths just being that close. We worked so hard in getting there and [we] didn't do what we wanted to do, didn't fulfill our dream; [there's] definitely a little chip on our shoulder."

It's a familiar taste for Jackson and Baltimore: Their track record is to dominate in the regular season and hit a rut in the postseason.

Jackson has the second-best regular-season record in the NFL since 2018, going 58-19 (.753) while averaging 28.3 points per game. In the playoffs, Jackson is 2-4 and has averaged 10.5 points in those losses.

His biggest takeaway when watching film of the AFC Championship Game? Lack of scoring.

"I believe we were driving the ball down the field -- not how we wanted to -- but we drove the ball down the field," Jackson said. "We just have to put points on the board. We had two costly turnovers in the red zone -- the game would've been different."

One of the biggest turning points came early in the fourth quarter, when Baltimore trailed 17-7. Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers caught a pass at the Chiefs' 7-yard line, and it looked like he was going to make it a one-possession game.

But as Flowers dove forward while extending the ball with both hands, Kansas City cornerback L'Jarius Sneed punched the ball out before Flowers crossed the plane of the goal line.

"Honestly, I still [haven't] gotten over it," Flowers said. "I still think about it, but I know next year, we have a chance to get back there and try to make it to the Super Bowl, so that's why I'm working every day and going hard every day to get back to that moment."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh understands what it takes to rebound from a tough playoff loss. The last time the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Game was 2011. The next season, Baltimore won the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh said he doesn't mind that his players continue to talk about the loss.

"I want them talking about everything," Harbaugh said. "What we're talking about is confronting everything that has to do with us being the very best we can be as a football team and as an individual player. So, if that's part of the confrontation, 'Let's go, man. Let's talk about it, and let's get better, and let's find a way to beat those guys.'"

The Ravens get a chance right away to beat the Chiefs. Baltimore opens the NFL season at Kansas City on Sept. 5.

Jackson doesn't view this as a revenge game.

"We lost to them in the playoffs," Jackson said. "Just us beating them in the regular season doesn't really do anything; it just helps us keep stacking up wins to hopefully make it to the playoffs if anything to try to get in that same position again and hopefully be successful. It really doesn't matter who we play [in the] first game; obviously it's the Chiefs, but I really didn't care."

For Jackson and the Ravens, the focus is getting back to the AFC Championship Game and redeeming themselves.

"I believe it hurts more losing before the Super Bowl than actually being a part of it, because we worked so hard [for] 17 weeks, plus the little playoff games, and we get to a game away and lose," Jackson said. "We didn't really put any points on the board, and we were just scoring 30 points against crazy teams -- great defenses. Don't get me wrong, that's a great defense as well, but [we had faced] the top-ranked defenses. We just have to finish."