Takeaways from Ravens vs. Chiefs
The Ravens dropped a heartbreaker to the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday, 27-24, in overtime. The loss moves Baltimore to 7-6, though the team still has possession of the second wild-card spot. It's also the team's first loss with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson starting.
Here are a few takeaways from yesterday's game:
Ravens lose an instant classic.
Has your heartrate gone back to normal since yesterday's game finished?
The game featured more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but ultimately had a nightmarish ending for the Ravens. In the final two minutes alone, there was a 39-yard completion on fourth-and-9, a touchdown scored on a fourth down, a fumble, and a missed kick that would've won the game. That's not even including a crazy overtime.
As The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer noted, the contest had a wide range of emotions that made it an all-around exhausting affair for the Ravens Flock.
"The Ravens should've won the game. Then they should've lost the game. Then they had a chance to tie the game," Shaffer wrote. "After almost 70 minutes of football, they exited Arrowhead Stadium with a heartbreaking loss and a moral victory they're not going to want to accept."
Though it obviously ended in disappointment for Baltimore, many pundits came away from the game calling it an instant classic, with PressBox's Bo Smolka referring to it as "great theater." Some analysts even suggested it was the game of the year.
Part of the reason the game was an instant classic is due to how talented the Chiefs are, especially quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But, as NBC Sports' Peter King noted in his weekly "Football Morning in America" article, the Ravens pushed Mahomes in a way that he hasn't been all season.
"On one snap, Mahomes saw 11 Ravens within three yards of the line. Cover zero and then some," King wrote. "Who does that? Who says, We're going to blitz the tar out of you. Complete it downfield if you have time—and you won't. Baltimore did. On one of those plays, Mahomes just folded himself into a spot just behind the line, surrendering. But not for long."
Considering Kansas City sits atop the AFC playoff standings, The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck believes there are some positives that can be taken from the game, writing "the Ravens played the best team in the AFC right down to the wire and showed they definitely are a playoff-caliber team."
Still, as entertaining as yesterday's game was, it counts in the standings the same way any loss would – there are no style points for taking a talented team to overtime. With two minutes to go in regulation, the Ravens led by seven and had an excellent opportunity to pick up a key win in the playoff race, but didn't.
Ravens prove they can stick with the best with run-first offensive strategy.
An often-discussed point by pundits leading up to Sunday's game was if the run heavy offense the Ravens have utilized since Jackson became quarterback could keep pace with Kansas City's high-octane offense, which is still ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring (36.2 points per game) and yards per game (437.5).
It was an up-and-down day for Jackson that included his first game with two passing touchdowns, as well as leading the team with 71 rushing yards. He also fumbled with less than a minute to go in regulation, completed just over 54 percent of his passes, and had to depart the game with an injury for the second straight game.
At the end of the day, Jackson's performance, as well as the rushing attack in general, which finished with 198 yards, stayed with Kansas City's offense. And for Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy, that's more than enough to show that Jackson should remain the team's starter.
"Four straight games with a ton of success running the ball, and they nearly defeated one of the best teams in the NFL with an MVP candidate in Patrick Mahomes," Levy wrote. "This should be the biggest takeaway from this game — with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens can compete with any team in the league."
Russell Street Report's Todd Karpovich gave Jackson a C, noting that the rookie played relatively well until the final stages of the game. Pro Football Focus thinks Jackson needs to improve his pocket presence, while The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker believes his ball security is a bigger issue.
Smolka is thinking more similarly to Levy though, writing "This is Lamar Jackson's offense now." Still, he isn't sure this strategy will help the Ravens beyond this season.
"Whether the offense can be built to have long-term success is uncertain, but it's clear that the Ravens have something to be reckoned with in the near term, facing teams without much time to prepare for it," Smolka wrote.
Offensive line crumbles late.
Commentator Tony Romo noted numerous times throughout CBS' broadcast that a big part of Baltimore's success since adopting a more run-heavy offense has been the offensive line bullying opponents late in games.
The offensive line did well for most of the game, only allowing one sack and three quarterback hits prior to the team's final two drives, but the unit struggled at the end of the contest. The Ravens' final drive in regulation ended with Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston strip sacking Jackson after flying through, unblocked, into the backfield.
The team's lone drive of the overtime period featured crucial holding penalties on left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard James Hurst. There was also a split sack by Houston and Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford that knocked Jackson out of the game.
When the game got to its closing stages, it was Houston, a four-time Pro Bowler, who took over, not the offensive line. King named Houston the defensive player of the week for the entire NFL, writing, "On a day the Chiefs needed some plays from someone on defense, Houston gave the team 1.5 sacks, the forced fumble, the recovered fumble, another hit on Jackson, and six tackles."
Run defense not as effective as in recent weeks.
A big part of the defense's success during Baltimore's recent three-game winning streak was stuffing the run. Over that span, the Ravens allowed just 149 yards on the ground, which is under 50 yards per game.
The Chiefs did not break off any big runs, with their longest one being just 13 yards. But Kansas City also had some success on the ground, finishing with 94 yards on 27 attempts, despite not having recently released running back Kareem Hunt.
Without Hunt, there was an opportunity to make Kansas City more one-dimensional, like the Atlanta Falcons were last week. Instead, Hunt's replacement, Spencer Ware, was able to make some plays, finishing with 129 total yards, including 75 on the ground.
That may not seem like a massive amount, but going up against an offense featuring an MVP candidate in Mahomes, and two dynamic receiving threats in tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, making sure no other playmakers made a significant impact was key for the Ravens.
Instead, Ware was a spark, according to Chiefs.com's BJ Kissel, who wrote that many of Ware's runs were "several key plays in which he fought through multiple tacklers to provide a little energy to the team."
Reaction to Fourth-and-9 Completion
OK, let's dive into the play that changed the course of this game.
With 1:29 left in regulation, the Ravens looked set to deliver a knockout blow to Kansas City, only for Mahomes to complete a 48-yard pass on the run to Hill while throwing across his body.
Once the game was over, some began to link the Mahomes-Hill completion to Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton's fourth-and-12 completion to wide receiver Tyler Boyd last year, which ended Baltimore's season, as well as the reception and reach for a touchdown by Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown in 2016. The headline for Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw's story was "Baltimore Ravens: Defense has shown us nothing's changed."
"Baltimore's defense has looked so dang dominant on a weekly basis, but when push comes to shove, they disappear in the big moments," Bradshaw observed, while Karpovich wrote, "Fourth and long. For the second straight season, the Ravens could not make a stop in that critical situation. Once again, that failure has serious playoff implications."
Yes, there are similarities between the Mahomes-Hill connection and the other two plays. One big difference though is how much football is left to be played. Cincinnati's play came with under a minute in the final game of the season, while Brown's happened with nine seconds left in the penultimate contest.
"Both of those plays knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The Mahomes-Hill connection, which happened in front of three different Ravens defenders, didn't squash their playoff hopes."
Baltimore has three games left to bounce back from the disappointment. They still own the No. 6 wild-card spot, and sit just a half game back of Pittsburgh for the division lead. This was not a season-ending play.
Another difference is simply how unreal Mahomes' throw was. There was a breakdown in coverage on Cincinnati's play last year, while Brown managed to muscle his arm across the goal line for a touchdown while battling three Ravens. Sure, there are things the Ravens would like to have done differently on the play, but as NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, "[Mahomes] completes throws others can only dream of attempting."
How many quarterbacks could make that play? As Russell Street Report's Derek Arnold put it, sometimes all you can do is throw your hands up in exasperation.
"How do you defend that guy? I seriously have no idea…" Arnold wrote. "The pass on that 4th-and-9 was incredible. Give credit where due."
Matthew Judon Leads Monstrous Pass Rush
Baltimore's pass rush was one of the bright spots in Sunday's defeat. The group constantly harassed Mahomes, hitting him 15 times, including three sacks.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon led the charge, continuing his super second half play. After starting the season slowly, Judon has nine tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble since Baltimore's Week 10 bye.
Against Kansas City, Judon finished with five quarterback hits and a sack, as well more than a half-dozen quarterback pressures. As Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle Barber put it, "If Patrick Mahomes wasn't superhuman, he'd have five sacks. He hit him so many times as Patrick released the football. Can't do anything more."
"A magnificent effort that will be overshadowed by the overtime loss, edge defender Matthew Judon made life difficult for Mahomes," PFF wrote.
Judon was not alone as outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith combined for a sack as well. According to PFF, the play of Judon, Suggs, and Smith "had Mahomes' looking over his shoulder on seemingly every dropback."
The pass rush has looked far more threatening these past two weeks than it had previously, and it's well-timed, considering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore's next opponent, ranks third in the NFL in pass attempts (517).
PFF Offensive and Defensive Rankings
- Tight end Nick Boyle had the best game for the offense, according to PFF, with a 2.5 rating. Right guard Marshal Yanda scored a 2.0, while wide receiver Willie Snead IV finished with a 1.9.
- James Hurst finished with a -3.6. Tight end Mark Andrews was given a -3.1, while quarterback Robert Griffin III finished with a -1.5.
- Jimmy Smith's 2.6 PFF score led all defenders. Defensive tackles Michael Pierce (1.9) and Brandon Williams (1.7) rounded out the top three.
- Safety Chuck Clark finished with a -2.8, while cornerback Marlon Humphrey scored a -2.7. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was given a -1.2 score.
- Some of the refereeing decisions in yesterday's game were questionable. Many pundits noted that the refereeing was not at its best, but few were more blunt than Barber, who named the referees his MVP's of the game. "The Kansas City barbecue home-cooking was in full effect and it showed early and often," Barber wrote. "The Ravens were battling uphill against a top three offense in the league with the referees at their backs. I'm salty and I don't care." Don't worry Kyle, we're all salty.