Sáb. Mar 2nd, 2024

BALTIMORE — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson answered some questions about his playoff chops Saturday night in a 34-10 divisional round win over the Houston Texans, but he had plenty of help.

The Ravens’ dominant defense showed no rust after a bye week, shutting down sensational rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud as the Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

Jackson has accomplished just about everything during the regular season and is likely headed toward his second MVP award, but he was just 1-3 in the playoffs until Saturday. He’s hoping that two more victories this campaign will silence all doubters.

Baltimore Ravens

Jackson gave the Ravens something they’ve never had in their 28-year existence: an AFC Championship Game on their home field.

Hurting the Texans with his legs as much as his arm, Jackson totaled four touchdowns and 100 yards rushing for the Ravens’ first divisional round win since their 2012 Super Bowl campaign.

Jackson recorded his third 100-yard rushing game in the postseason, surpassing Colin Kaepernick for the most by a quarterback in NFL history. Jackson also is the fourth player to record 100 yards rushing and two touchdown passes in a playoff game in NFL history and the first since Kaepernick in 2012.

In the process, Jackson shattered the narrative that he couldn’t win in the postseason after just one playoff victory in his first five seasons.

This marks the first time Baltimore will host the AFC Championship Game in 53 years, when the Baltimore Colts did so in the 1970 season. It’s the longest gap for a city to host a conference championship game.

The Ravens’ defense continually frustrated Stroud. After keeping the Texans out of the end zone in the season opener, Baltimore held Stroud and Houston’s offense out of the end zone in the playoffs. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is now 18-2 against rookie quarterbacks in Baltimore.

Eye-popping stat: When Jackson found Nelson Agholor in the end zone in the second quarter, it marked the signal-caller’s first touchdown pass in the postseason prior to the fourth quarter. Before Saturday, Jackson had thrown three touchdown passes in five playoff games and all came in the fourth quarter. Jackson did not record a touchdown pass in his previous two postseason games. This was also Agholor’s first touchdown catch in the playoffs; he had been one of six active players with at least 20 postseason receptions but without a touchdown catch.

Promising trend: Jackson repeatedly beat Houston with his legs, producing his fourth career playoff game with 50-plus rushing yards. That ties him with Steve Young, Russell Wilson and Kaepernick for the second most by a quarterback since 1950. Jackson’s 100 rushing yards are the most allowed by the Texans to a quarterback this season. With a 15-yard scoring run, Jackson became the first player in Ravens playoff history with a rushing and passing touchdown in the same game.

Pivotal play: Jackson converting a gutsy fourth-and-1 call at midfield. With the Ravens leading 17-10 in the third quarter, Baltimore put the ball in the hands of Jackson, who ran wide left behind offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley for a 14-yard gain. It kept alive a 12-play, 93-yard drive that ended with Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Likely.

Troubling trend: Steven Sims’ 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter marked the third straight playoff game that Baltimore has allowed a return for a touchdown. In the 2020 divisional playoff game in Buffalo, Jackson threw a pick-six in the red zone. Last year, during a wild-card game at the Cincinnati Bengals, Tyler Huntley’s fumble near the goal line was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Sam Hubbard. — Jamison Hensley

Next game: The AFC Championship Game, versus the winner of Sunday’s game between the Bills and Chiefs.

Houston Texans

The Texans’ surprise season, in which they made it to the divisional round for the first time since 2019, has come to an end.

Coach DeMeco Ryans and Stroud became the third rookie coach-rookie quarterback duo since 1950 to win a playoff game, but they couldn’t make it two. The offense struggled in ways that it hadn’t since Week 14, when Houston lost 30-6 to the New York Jets.

The issues started up front, as the Texans didn’t run or block well, and Stroud was pressured on 45.7% of his 35 dropbacks, tied for his second-highest pressure rate this season.

The defense was able to pick up the slack in the first half, but eventually it broke in the second half, allowing 21 points.

Describe the Texans in two words: No offense. The offense had no answer for the Ravens’ defense. The Texans averaged 343 yards per game (12th) in the regular season, but they finished with 38 rushing yards (averaging 2.7 per carry) and 213 total yards on Saturday. And just like in the season opener, they didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Ravens.

Biggest hole in the game plan: The Texans had no consistent answer for Jackson’s scrambling ability. They were hyper-aware of him, but they still struggled — allowing 48 scramble yards. The Texans yielded 217 total scramble yards in the regular season (12th fewest), and the most they had allowed in a game was 43 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11.

Pivotal (first half) play: The punt return by Sims gave the Texans life. It made the score 10-10 with 4:17 remaining in the first half — before things fell a part in the second. That touchdown was the Texans’ third non-offensive score this postseason, the most by any team in a single postseason since the Green Bay Packers had three in 2010.

Eye-popping stat: The Texans’ 11 accepted penalties against them set a franchise record, exceeding the previous mark of eight. In the first quarter, they had three false starts, an intentional grounding and a delay of game, and they were called for holding on special teams. Those six penalties in the first quarter were their most in any quarter this season. — DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: Season is over.


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