BALTIMORE — The Ravens relished the opportunity before a national prime-time audience to make a statement against the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, the Chiefs made a decisive statement that they still have the Ravens’ number.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, and his counterpart, Ravens reigning league Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson, struggled to get in any rhythm as the Chiefs (3-0) rolled to a 34-20 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 28.
Jackson fell to 0-3 as a starter against the Chiefs, calling them “our kryptonite”; he is 21-1 as a regular-season starter against everyone else.
“We got beat in just about every way you can get beat,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, whose team lost for the first time in 15 regular-season games.
The Ravens opted for a short field goal on their opening series, but the sense was that field goals would never be enough against Mahomes and Co., and the Chiefs never trailed again after he led them on a 75-yard scoring drive for a 6-3 lead midway through the first quarter.
Despite a series of miscues, dropped passes and ill-advised penalties, the Ravens rallied from a 27-10 halftime deficit to make it 27-20 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to tight end Nick Boyle on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Chiefs and Mahomes answered with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Here are five quick observations about the loss, which drops the Ravens (2-1) a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North:
1. The Ravens’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field.
The combination of Patrick Mahomes’ talent, a bevy of athletic playmakers and creative play-calling makes this Chiefs offense the most dynamic in the league, and there probably isn’t a close second. And the Ravens proved utterly unable to stop it.
The Ravens rushed four. They rushed six. They feigned pressure and dropped into coverage. Whatever they tried, Mahomes seemed always to be a step ahead. The Chiefs went 10-for-13 on third down, moving the chains in a relentless assault on the Ravens’ defense. Whether the target was Sammy Watkins (team-high 7 catches, 62 yards), Travis Kelce (6-87), or rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (5-70), Mahomes always had an answer. Players such as linebacker Matthew Judon or Tyus Bowser trudged back to the line of scrimmage after seeing Mahomes move the chains yet again.
“You win third down, you usually win the game,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “And today, they made plays. It seemed like every third down, they found a way to make a play. … This game is a one-play battle over and over again until the game is over, and they got more than we did.”
Late in the first half, with the Chiefs facing third-and-14, Marlon Humphrey came at Mahomes on a corner blitz. Mahomes casually retreated 10 yards or so behind the line of scrimmage and uncorked a perfect strike to Mecole Hardman, who had gotten behind everyone in the Ravens’ secondary, for a 49-yard touchdown and a 27-10 lead.
It was that kind of night for the Ravens’ defense against Mahomes, who appeared to be in complete command throughout.
2. The Ravens again steered away from their ground game early.
It might have been a moot point given that the Ravens were powerless to stop Mahomes, but the Ravens seemed to veer away from their running game early, a common characteristic in their few losses during the past couple of years.
It’s not as if the running game wasn’t working. The Ravens averaged 7.5 yards a carry overall, with 21 carries for 158 yards. Facing a Chiefs defense that had proved susceptible to the run early this year, the Ravens marched down the field on the opening drive of the game largely behind the running game, with six carries for 60 yards, including a 30-yarder by Jackson. But a pair of incompletions on second-and-3 and third-and-3 led to a short field goal, and over the remainder of the first half, the Ravens ran the ball on three of 15 offensive plays.
One series that bears more scrutiny occurred early in the second quarter after the Ravens forced the first punt of the game from the Chiefs. After taking over at their own 27-yard line, the Ravens threw three straight incompletions and punted the ball right back to the Chiefs.
Last year, Harbaugh stressed that possessions mattered when you face Mahomes and the Chiefs, but the Ravens, especially early, had too many possessions where they accomplished too little, especially through the air.
3. The much-discussed downfield passing game was nowhere to be found.
Jackson has stressed that one of his points of emphasis this offseason was the deep passing game, and coupled with a healthy Marquise Brown, the Ravens’ downfield passing game figured to be a bigger part of the offense. That wasn’t the case against the Chiefs, and hasn’t really been the case much this season at all.
Whether that’s because the pass rush is getting to Jackson before such plays can develop, or whether the Ravens have opted to call things differently, that deep passing game for the most part has not materialized.
In the first half against the Chiefs, Jackson averaged less than 3 yards per attempt, going 7-for-15 for 35 yards. He finished 15-for-27 for 97 yards, with the longest pass play going for 19 yards to running back J.K. Dobbins. No wide receiver had a catch longer than 8 yards.
4. Devin Duvernay gave the Ravens a spark.
Despite being badly outplayed in the first half, the Ravens remained within striking distance in part because of Devin Duvernay, the rookie wide receiver who scored on a 93-yard kickoff return touchdown in the second quarter.
Duvernay found a lane up the right sideline and went virtually untouched for the score, with Miles Boykin and Otaro Alaka among those sealing off Chiefs defenders en route to Duvernay’s first NFL touchdown.
The Ravens’ kick return team struggled last year, ranking 30th in the league with an average of 18.3 yards per return. The Ravens had no hesitation about handing the job to the rookie speedster Duvernay, and on a night with few other highlights, it was nice to see big-play ability from a young special teams player.
Of course, now that that return is on tape, teams are likely to just boot the ball into the end zone and take the touchback
5. The Ravens have to forget this loss quickly.
As disappointing as this loss is, every goal the Ravens have for this season is still in front of them. Granted, the Chiefs essentially hold a two-game lead over the Ravens now, since the Chiefs also win any tie based on their head-to-head win, but 13 games remain, and the Ravens need to make sure that the weight of this loss doesn’t linger.
The Ravens visit the Washington Football Team (1-2) next week, then host the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1) and visit the Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1). If the Ravens play to expectation, they should still be well positioned after that stretch, but win or lose against Kansas City, any talk about playoff seeding or home-field advantage was wildly premature.
This just in: The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-0, have flashed a tenacious defense and are not going to hand the AFC North to the Ravens without a fight.
It’s a long season.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox