It would be wrong to call it “the most important game for the Ravens this season.”
That’s, of course, because unless something goes particularly wrong, it’s actually the ONLY important game for the Ravens this season.
The Baltimore Ravens methodically picked apart the Houston Texans, 33-16, Sept. 20, setting up a mega-showdown on “Monday Night Football” Sept. 28 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The teams will each enter the game 2-0, albeit with the defending Super Bowl champions having been forced to survive an Eastern State Penitentiary-level scare from the Los Angeles Chargers to remain unbeaten.
If only this one could be in front of fans.
“The ONLY important game for the Ravens this season, Glenn?” I’m imagining you asking your gadget screen right now. “You don’t think that’s a bit presumptuous?”
“As long as nothing goes particularly wrong,” I respond in this hypothetical back and forth.
Look, the Ravens could end up locked in a battle with the Steelers for the AFC North and their Thanksgiving night showdown could prove to be relevant. But there will still be five weeks left in the season at that point, making it tough to imagine the result will directly determine much of anything in the moment. And with a schedule that closes @Cleveland, vs. Jacksonville, vs. Giants, @Bengals throughout the final four weeks, it’s particularly difficult to imagine any of those late-season games being particularly significant.
With that said, there are no practical stakes to Chiefs-Ravens as of yet. Much will be made this week about what a game like this could ultimately mean for two teams that are expected to battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the postseason. But there will still be 13 games left in the regular season for both teams to sort all of that out.
In the meantime, there’s something else at stake for the Ravens that is far less tangible but no less significant. It’s the ability to get a couple hundred pounds worth of gorilla off their back. We know that the biggest burden the Ravens are carrying is their 0-2 record in the postseason with Lamar Jackson as quarterback. That’s about a 400-pound silverback gorilla that they won’t be able to do anything about for a few months.
But relief from the 200-pound female gorilla they’ve also been carrying can be had. While the Steelers have been Baltimore’s top rival for decades, the Chiefs are now the measuring stick for the franchise. The teams are constantly connected not only due to their status as the expected top contenders in the AFC but also because of the obvious comparable young, spectacular quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have claimed the last two NFL MVP awards, respectively, and after Mahomes hauled in a half a billion dollars in a new contract this offseason, conversation immediately shifted to what Jackson might be worth after he’s eligible for a deal himself.
When discussing what the Ravens might accomplish in 2020, the conversation has to include consideration about the Chiefs. It is entirely reasonable to believe the Ravens are absolutely the most complete roster in football BUT still wonder if they can overcome Kansas City because A) Mahomes is just that difficult to defeat, and B) the Ravens are similarly 0-2 in their attempts to take down the champs.
Until they prove they can do it, we’re going to be forced to wonder whether they can. And it’s quite difficult to fathom a scenario by which the Ravens can win a Super Bowl without having to beat the Chiefs en route.
There is an argument that we know the Ravens “can” beat the Chiefs already because their two losses, both on the road, were by a combined eight points. It’s a reasonable argument to some extent. It’s not as if the Ravens have been totally outclassed by the Chiefs in the Jackson-Mahomes era! The two teams have played strikingly close games!
But that’s a little deceptive, too. You might remember last year’s game having a close final score. But the game itself was an emphatic butt-kicking. The Chiefs raced out to a 23-6 halftime lead, forcing the Ravens far out of their game plan. Some wild back foot heaves miraculously worked to make the score appear closer at the end, but the Ravens never had the ball in a one-score game. They got their butts kicked, plain and simple.
The 2018 game of course is the far better argument that the Ravens “can” beat the Chiefs. As you remember, the Chiefs trailed 24-17 late in the fourth quarter and needed two fourth-down conversions, including a cross-body pass from Mahomes as he was running out of bounds to convert a fourth-and-9.
If not for a miracle, the Ravens would have defeated the Chiefs in 2018. But Patrick Mahomes is to miracles what I am to never knowing exactly how close I should sit to the fire and moving my camping chair a couple inches either way every 5-10 minutes. Saying you would have beat the Chiefs had it not been for a Mahomes miracle is like saying you would have won the club championship had you not shanked your drive on three. You were ALWAYS going to shank your drive on three!
(I’m honestly not a golf man. Did that sound like something a golf man would say?)
Until you’ve actually friggin’ done it, there can be no assumption that a team is capable of beating the best player in the NFL and the reigning champs. That has to be proven. And while a win against the Chiefs wouldn’t guarantee such success would be replicated in the playoffs, it would go a long way to making us believe it possible.
So yeah, this is big. And hopefully the only one that causes us any anxiety in 2020. We’ve had enough of that.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox