OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Lamar Jackson may have a bit of cabin fever, NFL style.
A first-round bye left the star quarterback with no game last weekend, and Jackson has made it clear that he's itching to take the field and play. He has repeated one word in particular — “antsy” — to describe his mindset.
“We had some time off to regroup, lock back in,” Jackson said Tuesday. “I’m hype. Antsy.”
It's hard to blame him. Jackson's Baltimore team posted the NFL's best record during the regular season at 13-4, but one loss would end the Ravens' season. Jackson himself is 1-3 in the playoffs as a starter, and there's a sense that the time is now for a breakthrough.
Excitement, nerves — maybe even a bit of boredom because of the bye.
One thing that seems clear is that he'll be unusually motivated when Baltimore hosts Houston on Saturday.
“Just keeping my mind focused on the assignment," Jackson said Wednesday. “Not letting anything enter into my mind that would mess up my thoughts for the game.”
Jackson wasn't standoffish while taking questions from reporters, but his short responses suggested he was eager to finish up all the pregame routines and just play.
Does he feel more prepared for the playoffs than in the past? “Yeah, I believe so. I believe so.”
What would it mean to reach the AFC title game for the first time? "It would be great. It would be great. But we are going to just handle everything a day at a time.”
How confident is he that Baltimore's offense — which has never scored more than 20 points in a postseason game during his career — can produce enough this time?
"Very confident. Very, very confident. Extremely confident.”
Jackson seems to understand that, as much as ever, his performance on the field will matter more than anything he says beforehand. The Ravens have had Super Bowl hopes since he arrived in 2018 and quickly became one of the league's top quarterbacks. But the path through the AFC has been daunting.
Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City hosted the past five AFC championship games. Baltimore hasn't even made it that far, falling on the road at Buffalo and Cincinnati in its most recent two appearances, the latter of which came when Jackson was injured.
This season, it was Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow who went down with a significant injury, and the Chiefs haven't looked nearly as threatening offensively. Buffalo has made a late-season run, but if the Ravens face the Bills, the game would be in Baltimore this time.
With Jackson healthy and a candidate to win his second MVP, this may be the year the stars align for the Ravens. That brings even more urgency to these playoffs, though.
“Lamar is ready to go. The guys are ready to go. They’ve worked hard for this opportunity, to get to this point and compete in such a big game against such a worthy opponent,” coach John Harbaugh said. "Playing a very good football team, and we’ve got our hands full. We’re hoping to put our best foot forward.”
In Jackson's postseason debut as a rookie, the Ravens lost at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. The following season, 2019, they went 14-2 but lost their playoff opener at home. Jackson accounted for about 500 yards in that game against Tennessee, but he also turned the ball over three times.
This season, Jackson set career highs in several passing categories, but in some ways, his stats haven't been as eye-popping as they were when he won his first MVP in 2019. The Ravens, however, have been a complete team, and Jackson has led them to quite a bit of success without having to carry them.
Now 27 years old, Jackson has both the ability and the experience to accomplish something special over the next month.
“In my six years, I’ve just seen a lot,” Jackson said. "I’d say that’s where I’ve grown the most.”
NOTES: WR Zay Flowers (calf) was a full participant in practice Wednesday. So was TE Mark Andrews (ankle), who is still on injured reserve but has been designated to return. “Just knowing how good this team is, how good our players are, how good our tight ends are, if I feel like I'm going to be helpful to the team, I'm going to go,” he said. “If I feel like I'm close but not there, then let these guys go, and hopefully get that next weekend.” ... The Ravens waived RB Melvin Gordon III, another sign that recently signed RB Dalvin Cook may be active this weekend. ... LB Jadeveon Clowney (illness) did not practice.
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