The Ravens had a hot offense, led by soon-to-be two-time MVP Lamar Jackson.
But they hit a barricade in the AFC Championship at M&T Bank Stadium – partly due to a strong Kansas City Chiefs defense and partly due to self-induced mistakes.
Baltimore's offense rarely was in sync and turned the ball over three times in the 17-10 loss.
Afterwards, players were left stunned – struggling to grasp for an explanation after seeing such a promising season end short of the Super Bowl.
"It's crazy. We had some opportunities out there. We've just got to take advantage of them," Jackson said. "We scored one touchdown, and that's not like us."
With Jackson at the helm this season, the Ravens hadn't been held under 20 points since Week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even when they got off to a sluggish start last week in the divisional playoffs, they turned it on in the second half to pull away.
Baltimore was held to just 110 yards in the first half but ended up posting more yards (336 to 319) and way more yards per play (5.9 to 4.4) than the Chiefs. Two end zone turnovers proved to be the difference.
With the Ravens trailing by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, wide receiver Zay Flowers fumbled when trying to extend the ball for the goal line. Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed punched it out, the ball went into the end zone, and was recovered by the Chiefs.
The first-round rookie, who otherwise had a fabulous game with five catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, said he thought he broke the plane when he reached the ball out, but he was just short.
"I'll learn from my mistakes," he said. "Sometimes the best team doesn't always win."
The Ravens charged back down the field on the next drive, again with a chance to cut the Chiefs' lead to a field goal, but Jackson threw into triple coverage for tight end Isaiah Likely and was intercepted by safety Deon Bush.
"I [saw] Tampa 2, and I [saw] both of them trailing, and I didn't want to throw it all out of the end zone," Jackson said. "I just tried to let him turn around and make a play. I thought it was going to be a [pass interference], but it is what it is. The safety made a great play and made an interception."
Baltimore's running game never got going. Jackson was held in check with 54 rushing yards, while the team's running backs – Justice Hill and Gus Edwards – ran just six times for 23 yards. Harbaugh said, "it was that kind of game."
Harbaugh said the Chiefs didn't do anything particularly out of the norm. They blitzed Jackson at a 50% clip and got pressure consistently in the first half – once resulting in a sack/strip recovered bytheKansas City in Baltimore territory.
"We [saw] on film [they] blitz here and there, but 50 percent, that's different," Jackson said. "We [weren't] expecting that, but sometimes ... They have lanes. We got intermediate routes, and they jump in. [I] can't just throw the ball and try to make them tip the passes, so I'm trying to make something happen, but they did a great job."
The Chiefs held Jackson to just 67 yards passing in the first half. He finished 20-of-37 for 272 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He had 54 rushing yards on eight carries.
"The whole game planand the whole focus is on [Jackson] and stopping him first," Chiefs linebacker Dru Tranquill said. "He had a couple big plays, and he is going to have a couple of plays. He's a great player and an MVP-caliber player. I thought blow after blow, 15 rounds, heavyweight fight – I thought we got the best of them tonight."
Meanwhile, in the battle of MVP quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes completed his first 11 passes of the game to lead back-to-back touchdown drives. While the Ravens defense rebounded, the 14 points were enough. Mahomes and the Chiefs didn't turn the ball over and he iced the game with a long completion on third down late in the third quarter.
"They played the game basically perfect," Jackson said. "I felt like if we wouldn't have turned the ball over, we definitely would have had a shot. We definitely would have came out with a win, but they did a great job not turning the ball over and putting points on the board."