About six hours later, when Lamar Jackson’s 50th pass of the night was knocked away from tight end Mark Andrews on a fourth and five from the 16-yard line of the Tennessee Titans with 4:27 remaining, the place began to empty so quickly it resembled how the stadium about 35 miles to the south looked most of this past season.
That team’s season ended with a 3-13 record and the owner finally firing his alter ego as team president. This team’s season wasn’t supposed to end here; it was supposed to end in South Florida, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
Instead, after Jackson — the NFL’s presumptive MVP — threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, it ended with the sixth-seeded Titans leaving Baltimore with a stunning 28-12 victory in a game that really wasn’t that close.
Maybe it was the weather — 69 degrees for an 8:15 p.m. January kickoff. Maybe it was rust — Jackson and a number of starters hadn’t taken a snap in anger since Dec. 22. Maybe it was an excellent defensive scheme by Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees — who once worked here in Baltimore. The Titans gave up massive chunks of yardage throughout the night — the Ravens punted exactly once — but only one touchdown. Or maybe it was all of the above and a surprisingly human performance by Jackson, who looked anything but during the 12-game winning streak that allowed the Ravens to finish the season 14-2 and secure the top seed in the AFC.
“They played winning football in a tough environment,” Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh said of the Titans. “We didn’t play winning football. This will stick with us for a long time.”
There’s no doubt about that. The Ravens — barring an injury to Jackson — probably will be back in the playoffs a year from now. This loss will be felt until then. And perhaps even after.
“We beat ourselves,” said Jackson, who walked to midfield after the final whistle and hugged and congratulated every Titan he came across. “I had turnovers, and that hurt. We fought, we moved the ball, but we didn’t finish when we needed to finish.”
Jackson’s numbers reflect that. He accounted for more than 500 yards of offense — 365 through the air, 143 on the ground — but the gaudy numbers didn’t tell his story. Three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — did. The first interception came on a throw that sailed on Jackson and went off the hands of Andrews. About four minutes later, the Titans turned it into a touchdown.
Another interception came on a badly underthrown ball in the third quarter, halting a Ravens drive deep in Tennessee territory. There was also the fumble as he was being sacked shortly after the Titans had taken a 21-6 lead. That also led to a score.
And just as crucially, there were two fourth and ones on which Jackson was stopped short. The Ravens had gone for it on fourth and one eight times this season. They had picked up the first down eight times.
The argument could be made that a night that was supposed to be about the Baltimore quarterback was, in truth, about the Tennessee quarterback. Ryan Tannehill’s statistics weren’t great — he threw for 88 yards and rushed for another 13, but he was sacked only once and had a passer rating for the night of 109.2. Jackson’s was 63.2.
Tannehill took over as the Titans’ quarterback with the team 2-4 after Marcus Mariota faltered in a 16-0 loss to the Denver Broncos. The first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2012 (eighth overall), Tannehill was ultimately a disappointment after seven years in Miami, and he was traded last offseason for late-round picks to be insurance for Mariota.
Jackson’s playoff record stands at 0-2, including his first-round exit last season to the Los Angeles Chargers, a loss that saw Jackson play three quarters of ineffective football before a fourth-quarter rally fell short. The fourth quarter Saturday night felt eerily similar.
The Ravens spent this offseason building their team around Jackson. The gamble paid off — by midseason he was dominating the MVP conversation, and this stadium, once specked with purple Ray Lewis No. 52 jerseys and Joe Flacco No. 5s, became a sea of No. 8s with “Jackson” on the back.
Ravens fans had grown accustomed to heroics from No. 8. On Saturday night, the heroics came from the visitors. When Derrick Henry, who gashed Baltimore for 195 yards rushing, threw a jump pass to Corey Davis for a score midway through the third quarter to push the Titans’ lead to 21-6, Jackson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive. Tannehill scored from the 1 to finish off the drive and, for practical purposes, the Ravens.
Soon thereafter, the Ravens posted the message on the scoreboard warning fans to drive home safely — not at the end of the fourth quarter, but at the end of the third.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way — not again — not after such an exhilarating and remarkable regular season. Jackson shrugged when asked how long it would take to get over this loss.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I hate losing. But we have to move on. We’ve got to get better for next year.”