The regular-season dominance came to naught when the Ravens were upset by the Tennessee Titans, 28-12, in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs. Jackson threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in that game. The Ravens failed to convert two fourth-and-1 opportunities, with the Titans scoring quickly after each failure.
The defeat, coming after a swift playoff dispatch at the hands of the Chargers in 2018, provided ammunition for the football orthodoxy eager to write off the Ravens as a novelty act with a system ill-suited to “win the big game” and a quarterback who needed to settle down in a nice, safe pocket like a grown-up.
Last year’s playoff loss did not really reveal any fundamental flaw or moral shortcoming in Jackson or the Ravens’ philosophy, though it did expose some of the 2019 Ravens’ minor, prosaic weaknesses.
Their run defense ranked just 21st in the league, according to Football Outsiders analytics, and the Titans’ Derrick Henry rumbled through tackles for several big gains in the playoff loss. The Ravens’ receiving corps was thin and inexperienced, leaving Jackson to throw to burly tight ends while trying to play catch-up.
The Ravens addressed those weaknesses in the off-season by signing the free-agent defenders Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, and drafting reinforcements at receiver. Factor in further development from the 23-year-old Jackson, and the Ravens enter the 2020 season on a short list of top Super Bowl contenders.
The rest of the league, however, still appears to regard the Ravens as either a fad, an outlier or a dangerous subversive. There are no Ravens copycats trying to turn their dual-threat quarterbacks into Jackson imitators. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman was not plucked away to be some other team’s head coach. After decades of emphasizing the importance of pocket passing and the perils of allowing a quarterback to run too frequently, the N.F.L. hegemony seems to be waiting for the Ravens to fall short again, or for Jackson to get hurt, so the naysayers can cluck their tongues.
To their credit, the Ravens remain committed to bucking conventional wisdom; there has been no rhetoric about Jackson running less this year. If the Ravens can break through their playoff ceiling and reach the Super Bowl, they will open doors for more players like Jackson, open minds in the league to new ideas and change the way N.F.L. football looks forever.