A magical season spiraled. Down the drain. Further and further into the darkness.
"I felt like this team was the best football team that it could be this year," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "With the group that we had, I thought we made the most of us, becoming the best football team we could be. We just weren't that today. And that's the disappointing thing."
After stumbling out of the gate, every chance for Baltimore to regain its footing came up short. An INT. A failed fourth down. A drop. A blown tackle. A missed pass. A fumble. Another failed fourth down. Another missed tackle. A pick. A fourth botched fourth down.
"We just beat ourselves," Lamar Jackson said. "We had, well, I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers, that shouldn't happen. They came out and played. We just started off slow. We just got to do better next time."
The Titans punched Baltimore in the mouth early and never relented. Derrick Henry plowed over defender after defender, for 195 yards on 30 attempts, and added a jump-pass TD. Ryan Tannehill managed the offense, taking his shots when warranted, tossing two TDs while throwing just 14 times (seven completions for 88 yards). The Tennessee defense swarmed, discombobulating Jackson time and time again. The Titans' D smothered targets making tight-window throws as small as a dollhouse.
Jackson earned his likely MVP season, galloping all over defenses, and spearheading a nearly unstoppable offense. Nothing can take away his special 2019 campaign. Saturday, however, he struggled for long stretches, throwing off the mark and often wobbly early, and didn't get much help with a bevy of drops from his pass-catchers. With Mark Ingram still battling a calf injury, the Ravens' multifaceted rush attack was grounded. Much of the blowout, it was Jackson trying to do everything himself.
The second-year quarterback piled up yards, throwing a whopping 59 times, for 365 yards, but completed just 31 of those attempts. Jackson also galloped for 143 rushing yards on 20 carries. His 508 total yards, however, will be washed away from memory by the mistakes. Jackson's two interceptions both came in scoring range, and his fumble led to a Titans short-field TD to essentially ice the game. Jackson was also stuffed on two fourth-and-1 runs, which Tennessee used to turn the tide of the game each time.
"No rust," Jackson said of his three-week layoff between games. "We drove the ball down the field. We just have to finish."
They didn't finish Saturday.
It's not the first and won't be the last time a player of Jackson's caliber got bounced in the playoffs. How many times did we watch Peyton Manning struggle in the playoffs before finally overcoming? In fact, no NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999. Jackson's season was magical. Perhaps sea-changing in a league reticent to change. The playoff loss won't change that, as disappointing as it was.
Saturday marked the end of the line for the AFC's No. 1 seed. Baltimore's loss marked the first time a top seed was bounced by a No. 6 seed since the New England Patriots lost to the New York Jets in the 2010 playoffs. It was also the first time a team with 14 or more wins lost their first postseason game since the 2011 Green Bay Packers (15-1) fell to the New York Giants.
Jackson's second-straight playoff defeat only steeled the young signal-caller.
"I don't really care about what they say," Jackson said. "This is my second year in the league. Many people don't be able to make it to the playoffs. I got a great team with me. We don't really worry about what other people say. We're just going to keep going, get ready for next year."
The quarterback improved greatly between his first and second seasons. With the bitter taste from Saturday lingering, you can bet he'll get to work to ensure next time he doesn't let a magical season slide down the drainpipe without much of a fight.