Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
Wild. Frustrating. Infuriating. I could empty my quiver of adjectives summing this one up. The Ravens came into the home of the AFC's top team and played so hard and so well, with such effort and intensity, that they had the win in their hands – a win marking them as a team with a higher ceiling than anyone imagined just a few weeks ago. But the Chiefs snatched that win out of their hands, really because of one play – a fourth-and-9 "miracle" in which quarterback Patrick Mahomes barely escaped pressure and hit Tyreek Hill for a long completion. Yes, a million things happened after that, including another fourth-down completion for the Chiefs, a Lamar Jackson fumble that seemed to lose the game, a missed game-winning goal by the Chiefs, and a dramatic overtime period. But none of that happens if Mahomes doesn't make something out of nothing with the long completion to Hill late in the fourth quarter. "We let them off the hook," Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said. It's especially galling because the Ravens showed how formidable they are with a rookie quarterback, strong running game and top-ranked defense carrying them. They can play anywhere, with anyone. But it becomes a hollow moral victory because the other guys were better at finding a way to win. Whew. I'm out of adjectives.
The Ravens' defensive blueprint was clear. They took on the Chiefs' famously aggressive offense with an equal dose of aggressiveness. Quite simply, they attacked Mahomes and his record-setting unit, bringing blitz after blitz. Looking at the box score, it appears the plan didn't work, as the Chiefs generated 30 first downs and 441 yards of offense. But if you watched the game, as opposed to just perusing the stats, you know the defense gave a playoff-caliber performance, one it would love to replicate in the team's next big game. The Ravens battered Mahomes, hitting him 15 times in all. They forced a big turnover, kept him out of the end zone for 32 minutes and forced a late three-and-out that set up the possibility of a win. As noted, the Chiefs were down to their last chance, and really, the defense brought the Ravens to that point. It doesn't feel right just to shrug and call it another example of the unit not protecting a late lead. Gives Mahomes credit. That was incredible stuff from him. But I'm sure he'd be happy NOT to see the Ravens again this season.
Offensively, there were plenty of positives. Jackson engineered two long touchdown drives in which the running game dominated, and also tossed a pair of touchdown passes. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was full of praise: "Very poised. Made plays; passing game, running game. Very impressive. He's such a competitor." There also were times when it was evident he's a rookie. He missed a couple of easy completions that could have sustained drives. He didn't see the pressure coming on the strip-sack fumble. Needing to generate points in overtime, he came up short. (Not helped by holding penalties.) In the end, the experience goes into his file as "various lessons learned." Could he have been sharper on some plays? Sure. Would it have been nice to take more advantage of a soft opposing secondary? Sure. But did Jackson have the Ravens ahead late, in position to win? Yes, he did. That's a feat considering the hostile environment. On to the next game, thank you.
Let's be clear: Harbaugh didn't mention the officiating in his postgame press conference until someone asked. So he wasn't going to bring it up. And once he did, he simply suggested to members of the Baltimore media contingent that they write what they saw. "You can't get fined," Harbaugh said. I'll take him up on his suggestion. If you're a regular reader of this column, you know I'm not a blame-the-refs guy. My instinct is to give them a wide berth for the thankless task of trying to implement a rule book thick with mind-numbing detail. But having said that, the Ravens seemingly have some legitimate gripes on calls that impacted this game. Please understand, I'm not remotely suggesting any intent; just that things didn't go smoothly on this front. In the first half, a roughing-the-passer penalty on Patrick Onwuasor was weak and a Kansas City defensive back had his arm around Chris Moore's waist on an incompletion in the end zone. In the third quarter, an unnecessary roughness call on Matt Judon after Chuck Clark's interception was needless. Worst, an offensive pass interference call on Michael Crabtree, which short-circuited a possible game-winning drive, involved no more than routine contact. I'm guessing the Ravens will hear that from the league when the calls are reviewed this week. But it doesn't matter now.
Short takes: Judon continued his strong surge with a performance that included a sack and, count them, five quarterback hits … It also should be noted that cornerback Jimmy Smith is bringing his "A" game every week now. He led the Ravens with nine tackles in this game … Although I've said my piece about the officiating, the Ravens also drew plenty of penalties that were warranted; enough to be decisive (11 for 112 yards) in such a competitive contest … Cyrus Jones was going to be the hero with his long punt return that set up a late go-ahead score for the Ravens. It was his second big return in three weeks. The Ravens have found their return man … I understand why Harbaugh went for it on a pair of fourth downs. You weren't going to win this game kicking field goals.