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Lamar Jackson's playoff status vs. Bengals still uncertain 5 weeks after knee injury

Lamar Jackson hasn't played since he suffered a knee injury in Week 13, and there's a chance he doesn't suit up for the Baltimore Ravens' playoff matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round, either.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday, 38 days after spraining his PCL, and head coach John Harbaugh refused to provide a legitimate update on his quarterback's status for the second time this week. Instead, Harbaugh said he would play Jackson if the QB was "safe and healthy," a distinction he says he applies to all his players.

This non-update comes two days after Harbaugh said that "hopefully [Jackson's injury is] progressing to the point where he can get to practice sometime soon." Prior to ruling out Jackson for Week 18, Harbaugh said he was "hopeful" Jackson would return for the playoff game.

Harbaugh initially called the injury "week to week" after Jackson left the Week 13 game against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4 after only 10 snaps. Updates on Jackson's recovery have been minimal since then, and the quarterback has remained sidelined for the past five weeks. All the while, Harbaugh's tune has shifted from optimism to pessimism to complete ambivalence.

While Harbaugh hasn't categorically confirmed or denied it yet, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo both doubted Jackson was healthy enough to play against the Bengals on Sunday night.

If Jackson plays, he'd become the second quarterback since 2005 to start a postseason game after missing the final five games of the regular season, according to ESPN. And the Ravens need him.

Baltimore went 2-3 in the five games Jackson didn't start and averaged only 12.5 points per game — behind only the New York Jets over that span. The Ravens' 75 points in their final six games are also the second-fewest points scored by a playoff team over that span in the Super Bowl era, according to the NFL Network.

Backup Tyler Huntley is poised to start once more if Jackson can't go, though he wasn't seen throwing during the media portion of practice Wednesday and missed Week 18 with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. Anthony Brown played for Huntley and threw for 286 yards, two interceptions and one lost fumble in the 27-16 loss to the Bengals this past Sunday.

Huntley, meanwhile, completed 67 percent of his 112 passing attempts but averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt with two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and three interceptions during his time under center since Jackson's injury.

Signs point to Lamar Jackson missing a sixth game with a knee injury. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Signs point to Lamar Jackson missing a sixth game with a knee injury. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jackson still looking for new contract

Compounding the issue for the Ravens is Jackson's impending contract negotiations this offseason.

Jackson is set to become an unrestricted free agent if Baltimore doesn't re-sign him or place the franchise tag on him. Both sides tried to come to an agreement before the 2022 season but were unable to after Jackson reportedly turned down a six-year, $250 million offer that would have paid him a higher average salary and more guaranteed money than Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

It's unclear what Jackson's preferred offer would be. The Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal this past offseason.

Jackson's late-season durability and postseason performances

Perhaps the contract debates are a product of Jackson's season-long durability, which has been an issue in the past two seasons. Jackson missed five of the Ravens' final eight games of the 2021 season, including the final four games of the year with an ankle injury. The Ravens ultimately finished fourth in the AFC North and missed the playoffs for the first time in Jackson's career with an 8-9 record.

Jackson also hasn't been great in the postseason. Jackson completed 64.6 percent of his passes over two 2020 playoff games with 341 total passing yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. He did, however, rush 25 times for 170 yards and a touchdown, most of which came in a wild-card win over the Tennessee Titans. Jackson completed just 51.1 percent of his passes for 565 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in his other two playoff games. He rushed 29 times for 197 yards in those games as well.

Either way, this doesn't bode well for Jackson's future in Baltimore and the Ravens' immediate Super Bowl aspirations.