The Baltimore Ravens fell short in the playoffs for the second year in a row as the Buffalo Bills took down Lamar Jackson & Co. in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Jackson was unable to finish the game after suffering a concussion, and his final stat line is underwhelming. The former MVP finished with only 162 yards on 14-of-24 passing and only 34 yards on the ground along with one back-breaking interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Jackson did play a big part in winning the Wild Card game that allowed the Ravens to be in Buffalo on Saturday night, and can now say he has won in the postseason. But it was another tough showing for the young quarterback as he failed to figure out the Bills defense and really couldn't do anything all night. The conditions were not ideal, but the best QBs get the job done, and Saturday's loss felt like another point in favor of those who claim Jackson can't pass the ball well enough to win at the highest level.
That may or may not be true. It's important to remember that Jackson is all of 24-years-old and this year was only his second full season as a starter. The Bills regularly sport one of the better defenses in the league under head coach Sean McDermott and Baltimore's offense as a whole took a big step back from 2019. Losing to a 13-3 Buffalo squad is not the same as sputtering to a loss to the Wild Card Titans last year at home.
Still, it's clear Jackson's play needs to improve if the Ravens want to be perennial Super Bowl contenders. You can say that about every starting quarterback around the same age not named Patrick Mahomes, but it remains true. You know what would help Jackson to raise his passing game? A legitimate No. 1 receiver, which he does not currently have.
Mark Andrews is one of the NFL's best tight ends but not a game-breaker in the mold of Travis Kelce or George Kittle. Last year brought hope that Marquise Brown could be Jackson's version of Tyreek Hill, but the man they call Hollywood disappointed in his sophomore season with only 59 catches for 769 yards and eight touchdowns, including 10 games with 50 yards or fewer receiving. Similar to Jackson, there's no reason to jump to conclusions about Brown's final form as a wideout quite yet, but even in his stellar rookie year Brown tended to disappear every now and again. Jackson needs a partner who will show up every week as a reliable target.
The Ravens have a lot of chances to acquire such a receiver. Kenny Golladay and Allen Robinson are two free agents Baltimore might target. Chris Godwin is supposed to hit the open market but the Bucs will probably do everything they can to keep him in Tampa Bay. Golladay or Robinson would give Jackson a big-bodied target to lob passes to down the field, an element Baltimore has lacked for a long time.
The draft will also present numerous options for Baltimore. Their first-round pick will be too low in the order to have a prayer at landing guys like DeVonta Smith or Ja'Marr Chase, but this year's receiving class looks like it could be just as strong as the stellar 2020 group. A guy like Rashod Bateman will probably be around when Baltimore picks in the mid-20s and fits Jackson's timeline perfectly.
A great receiver makes all the difference in the world for a quarterback still growing into a fully-fledged NFL passer. He represents a bailout option when everything goes south and an "open even when he's not" player is invaluable no matter who the QB is. The attention such a wideout demands opens up the game for everyone else, not just the man under center.
As it stands, Jackson isn't quite good enough dropping back to make his receiving core greater than the sum of its parts. Baltimore has an average core at best and it has showed in two consecutive postseason appearances. Jackson could and very likely will get better in that area. Getting him a top-notch target to look for will accelerate the process.