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How Ravens’ Lamar Jackson got his MVP groove back for the NFL playoffs



How Ravens' Lamar Jackson got his MVP groove back for the NFL playoffs

When the Ravens fell to 6-4 after their overtime loss to the Titans in Week 11, there was real concern about whether they would miss the AFC playoffs, a season after going 14-2 as the AFC’s top seed. The core question at the time was “What’s wrong with Lamar Jackson?”

No one is asking that about Baltimore’s reigning NFL MVP quarterback anymore, as the team prepares for a rematch in Tennessee in Sunday’s wild-card matchup (1:05 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN). Jackson is still looking for his first win in the NFL playoffs and must face the opponent who also eliminated the Ravens 28-12 in last year’s divisional round.

Since that regular-season rematch, the Ravens haven’t lost a game with Jackson. Since Jackson missed Week 12’s loss at Pittsburgh while battling COVID-19, he’s come back to lead them on a dazzling five-game winning streak with excellent momentum going into his third career playoff game.

Jackson’s performance against the Titans in Week 11 was his last bad one. Over the past five games, Jackson has a completion percentage of 67.0 and a passer rating of 115.8. He’s averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt. He’s also averaged 86 rushing yards per game with 15 total TDs.

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Last season, during his MVP campaign, Jackson had a completion percentage of 66.1 and a passer rating of 113.3 while averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. He averaged 80.4 yards rushing per game. His current numbers say he’s playing at or better than that level now.

So what explains Jackson breaking out of his slump? For one, he’s simply been more accurate as a passer and has showed more decisive juice as a runner. He’s back to being confident and aggressive in his dynamic athletic skill set, vs. being tentative. Defenses have done their best to adjust to the Ravens’ unique style of offense under Greg Roman and Jackson was challenged to raise his game.

There’s good reason that Jackson wasn’t put on autopilot from the get-to to repeat his elite play from 2019. The Ravens lost one big piece of their offensive line in guard Marshal Yanda to retirement, and then saw left tackle Ronnie Stanley go down with an ankle injury in Week 8. The young wide receivers, led by Marquise “Hollywood” Brown didn’t make a big jump early and the traditional running game didn’t start out as dominant as it was wire-to-wire in 2019.

Jackson seemed to come back refocused after his one-game absence. The time off allowed him to what he needed to do better to lift the offense back up. In turn, Roman and the Ravens deserve plenty of credit for making some good changes around him.

(SN illustration)

Part of has been settling on the strongest offensive line continuity without Stanley and Yanda. It took a while for Orlando Brown Jr. to adjust playing on the left side to replace Stanley, but flipping him was smart, as veteran D.J. Fluker has been sturdy at right tackle. Both Patrick Merkari and short-term rookie injury replacement Trystan Colon-Castillo have shored up center. Ben Powers, who made his first start in that Titans game, has been the right guy to take over right guard for Yanda.

With the Ravens feeling stronger up front, Roman has called more designed runs for Jackson inside to keep defenses off balance, as he’s still capable of turning the corner for big runs, too. The Ravens also have worked to become less predictable about when they pass and how they pass, knowing the play-action package needs to be a bigger threat on early downs when defenses are geared most to stopping Jackson and their rushing attack.

With those concepts, second-year first-rounder Marquise Brown and rest of the wide receivers — per the not-so subtle request of “Hollywood” himself — have gotten more involved. Since the Titans game, Brown has caught 26 of 41 targets for 332 yards and 6 TDs in 6 games. Fellow starter Miles Boykin has only 5 receptions in the past 5 games, but 3 went for critical TDs. Tight end Mark Andrews remains his go-to force, but Jackson has done a better job of spreading the ball around in key situations.

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No move has been bigger to boost Jackson, however, than the Ravens’ decision to fade Mark Ingram in the backfield and let rookie J.K. Dobbins and third-year man Gus Edwards take over. That complementary duo has delivered an ideal 1-2 punch with much younger legs, leading to optimizing power and explosiveness in the rushing attack.

During the five-game winning streak, Dobbins and Edwards have rolled through defenses. Dobbins has turned 62 carries into 425 yards and 6 TDs, averaging 85 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry. Edwards has turned 50 carries into 337 yards and 2 TDs, averaging 67.4 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry. Ingram had to see less work, after he dropped from 5.0 yards per carry to 4.2 this season.

The Titans had trouble with many aspects of the Ravens’ offense in Week 11, before everything came together and Jackson and everything else got hot again. The Titans’ defense isn’t capable of pulling what it did in last year’s playoffs, either.

The complete, best version of Jackson has yet to show up in the postseason. With a little help from his Ravens’ coaches and teammates, Jackson is in a different kind of groove this time. Getting through a midseason obstacle has made him only stronger for the playoffs.

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Warriors’ Draymond Green ejected for yelling at . . . a teammate?



Warriors' Draymond Green ejected for yelling at . . . a teammate?

Warriors forward Draymond Green was on the receiving end of a horrible technical foul call Thursday night. To make matters worse, it was his second tech of the game, which meant he was ejected. 

Why was the call so bad? Because Green was yelling at a teammate, rookie James Wiseman, rather than an official or an opponent when he got T’d up.

Green was incredulous as he got the news during Golden State’s game against the Knicks.

Oddly, neither of the other two officials chose to confer with colleague John Butler and make sure the second-quarter technical was legitimate. They, too, had to have heard what Green was yelling inside the empty Chase Center.

MORE: Wiseman impresses Kerr with ‘Giannis play’

Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the game that one of those other officials, Ben Taylor, told him at halftime that Butler thought Green was yelling at him and not Wiseman.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was just happy to see Green gone.

“Draymond, we caught a break when he got thrown out,” he said postgame, per The Associated Press. New York won the game 119-104. 

The NBA can decide to rescind Green’s second technical once it gathers all the information about it. Based on the Warriors’ reactions and Taylor’s reported admission, expect that T to go away quickly on Friday. Too little, too late, but at least some justice will be done after Green was done wrong by the officials.

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NBA trade rumors: Cavaliers to send Kevin Porter Jr. to Rockets following outburst



NBA trade rumors: Cavaliers to send Kevin Porter Jr. to Rockets following outburst

The Cavaliers have found a taker for Kevin Porter Jr.

Cleveland is trading the second-year wing player to the Rockets, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported late Thursday. It will receive a protected second-round draft pick in return. The Associated Press reported the deal was pending NBA approval.

MORE: Cavs’ Sexton beats Nets’ Big 3 in double OT

The Cavs decided to move Porter after he threw a tantrum over the team giving his locker to newly acquired veteran Taurean Prince and moving him to another part of the locker room. The Athletic reported the Jan. 15 outburst included Porter throwing food and being “combative” during an argument with general manager Koby Altman.

Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Monday spoke of Porter as a soon-to-be-former member of the organization.

“We all want to see Kevin be successful,” Bickerstaff said, per The Athletic. “I still feel that way. So whatever it is that happens in the future for him, I hope nothing but the best for him. And it’s part of our responsibility as coaches to give everyone our all and try to make the best of every situation. I can say that we did that.”

Porter did not play for Cleveland this season because of unspecified personal issues. He was charged with weapon and drug offenses last November in Ohio following a car crash. Prosecutors later dropped the charges, ESPN reported. 

He played in 50 games (three starts) for the Cavs last season as a rookie, averaging 10.0 points and 3.2 rebounds. 

Houston will waive injured guard Chris Clemons to make room for Porter on the roster, Feigen reported.

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Blue Jays preparing to play home games in Florida if necessary, report says



Blue Jays preparing to play home games in Florida if necessary, report says

The Blue Jays are making contingency plans in the event the Canadian government prevents them from playing home games in Toronto at the start of the 2021 MLB season because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that the club is looking at its spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., as a possible alternate site and that the Jays and Dunedin officials have held preliminary discussions about holding regular-season games at TD Ballpark.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Jan. 12 that the Canada-U.S. border would remain closed to nonessential travel through at least Feb. 21, and on Jan. 16 Ontario extended emergency measures within the province through Feb. 19 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase.

MORE: New stadium to replace Rogers Centre in Toronto, report says

“We would welcome the opportunity if they were to open their season here,” Vince Gizzi, Dunedin’s parks and recreation director, told the Times. “It would just be wonderful for our city, if they were restricted from going in and out of Canada, that they could play here.”

The Jays were forced to play their entire 60-game schedule last year in the U.S. after Canada prohibited them from playing at Rogers Centre amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The team played its home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., the home of its Triple-A minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, beginning in mid-August. The Bisons’ 2020 season had already been canceled, making the stadium available to the Jays full time. 

The Bisons are scheduled to resume playing there next spring, although the exact opening date is unclear because MLB is still deciding when to begin the 2021 minor league season.

Dunedin is also home to Toronto’s affiliate in the Single-A Florida State League, but the Times speculated that any scheduling conflicts could be resolved by having the minor league team play on one of the fields adjacent to the stadium inside the Jays’ complex. The parent club’s home opener is scheduled for April 8. 

MORE: Blue Jays’ free-agent moves assure AL East respectability

The Times noted that MLB and the MLB Players Association would have to approve moving games outside Toronto. 

The NBA’s Raptors are dealing with a similar prohibition. They’ve moved their home games this season to Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., home of the NHL’s Lightning. Dunedin is about 30 minutes west of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The Maple Leafs are playing their home games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto but are not scheduled to leave Canada in the regular season. The NHL placed all seven of its Canadian teams in one division for the 2021 season and are having them play just each other, with games taking place entirely within Canada.

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