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Not even a birthday shoutout from Drake can faze Lamar Jackson, who is focused only on winning

Kimberley A. Martin
·Senior NFL writer

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — His special day began with a special shoutout from rapper Drake, but even that wasn’t enough to rattle Lamar Jackson.

The Baltimore Ravens quarterback remains unfazed by big moments and his burgeoning popularity, even on his birthday, even at the impressionable age of 23. For all of his moves on the football field — the dizzying and dazzling footwork, the gentle flick of the wrist that fires off pretty spirals from all arm angles — perhaps his most important trait is that he remains singularly focused.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is the MVP frontrunner and the leader of the top-seeded, high-flying Ravens, who host the No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional game on Saturday. All eyes have been on Jackson since Baltimore’s dominant season began. But this year’s playoff run, and all of the individual accolades that come with it, will mean far less to Jackson if he doesn’t attain the ultimate prize.

“Every game is serious, every game is important. Every playoff game is a Super Bowl because it’s do-or-die. Either you win or go home,” the second-year quarterback said Tuesday, before outlining his biggest target. “ … I’m bringing a Super Bowl here. That’s my goal, that’s what I want to do. I’ve been wanting a Super Bowl ever since I was a kid. That’s why I play the game: Because I want to win."

The Ravens are plenty rested after securing a first-round bye, as well as home-field advantage through the playoffs. But players insisted the time off won’t result in any rust on the field.

“That’s what practice is for,” safety Earl Thomas said. “You keep the rust off at practice. You get your eyes right, you get your techniques, your alignments and all that stuff right. The game is muscle memory. You sharpen all your tools and you’re going to be ready when the game comes.”

Jackson — who, like Thomas, was one of several players to sit out in Week 17 vs. Pittsburgh — said he came to the facility during their wild-card week bye to get “maintenance from the training staff” and to throw passes to receiver Willie Snead IV.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 22, 2019: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens runs onto the field at halftime of a game against the Cleveland Browns on December 22, 2019 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Baltimore won 31-15. (Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback and MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson turned 23 on Tuesday. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

The Ravens’ hope is that this year’s playoff run goes a little smoother than last year’s when they lost to the Chargers, 23–17, in the wild-card round. But this is a different team. And Jackson looks like a different quarterback.

Still, there was a valuable lesson to be learned from his one and only playoff experience.

“Can’t start too late. You’ve got to attack fast,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t really matter what quarter it is — first or second, you’ve got to attack it. You’ve got to finish the game strong. You can’t go in the game playing half-ass or nothing.”

His humble nature and even-keeled disposition belie the weight of responsibility he carries on his shoulders. The Ravens go as he goes, and on Saturday, the stakes will be higher than they’ve ever been. But Jackson didn’t seem particularly tense about facing the Titans. "We’re just going to approach it like any other game," he said.

Just as his 23rd birthday was just another day, no different from the others.

“It’s just another year for me,” he said. “I don’t really celebrate. I’d rather just chill, hang out with my family, stuff like that. The Lord gave me another year and I’m grateful for it.”

He took the Drake shoutout in stride, just as he took rapper Quavo’s request for an autographed jersey. “It was pretty cool. You know, I’ve been talking to Drake for the longest,” Jackson said. “You guys don’t know that, but I’ve been talking to him for the longest. So it was pretty cool. I’ve seen it. Everybody’s been telling me, so it’s dope. It’s Drake.”

He’s now a celebrity in the eyes of other celebrities. But even that doesn’t get to him.

“It don’t be hitting me sometimes,” Jackson said, smiling. “With all those guys knowing me, saying good things about me, I just cherish it. But I just be focused on football, so I don’t really try to get caught up in it.”

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