As the Ravens were leaving the field in Houston, it was natural to start thinking about Kansas City.
Those thoughts continued in the locker room and on the plane ride home. This entire week will be devoted toward Monday night's upcoming showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champs.
They are the only team with two wins over Baltimore since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback midway through 2018. However, those two games were in Kansas City. Now, the Ravens finally get their shot at the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium.
This won't be just another game, so why pretend? People have been talking about Ravens vs. Chiefs on Monday Night Football since this spring when the schedule was released. Both teams have held up their end by winning their first two games.
The winners of the last two MVP awards will be on the field – Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. Two Super Bowl-winning head coaches and close friends will match wits, John Harbaugh and Andy Reid.
Coaches often try to downplay the hype surrounding a regular-season game, but this is different. The Ravens have won 14 straight regular-season games because they don't look past any opponent. But not thinking about this game ahead of time was almost impossible.
"You can't help it, you think about it," Harbaugh said. "It's probably the first thing that goes into your mind once you get in the locker room. You kind of start talking about the game and then everybody is talking about it in the locker room, about the next one, too. Honestly, it's that way every week, but this probably as much as any week, we're thinking about the next one.
"I don't think you can ignore it. You can't sit there and pretend. Every game is important, they all count for wins, and you don't want to mess up one that the fans or somebody else might not think is important. But who wouldn't get excited for a game like this? When you're playing a team that is the defending champs, the favorites to win the whole thing again – going forward – the type of players they have, the coaches they have? You're going to get excited about it. It's not something that we downplay. We don't ignore it. We try to embrace it and make the most of it."
The Ravens are thankful to have an extra day to prepare for Mahomes, who makes eye-opening plays on a weekly basis, like the 54-yard touchdown pass that Mahomes threw to Tyreek Hill on Sunday that left the Los Angeles Chargers shaking their heads. While scrambling hard to his right, Mahomes hurled a bomb that traveled 55 yards in the air and settled perfectly into Hill's arms.
"He's just been phenomenal in his first three years in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "We've seen it up-close and personal in two different occasions – at their place the last two years – where he's made some just tremendous plays that have really, in the end, beaten us. So, we have to find a way to stop him and all those weapons they've got. It's going to be a big challenge."
The Ravens have some important pieces on defense to throw at Mahomes that they didn't have last season when they lost to Kansas City in Week 3. Since that game, the Ravens have added Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, and four other key players to the front seven – defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, and inside linebackers Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort and Malik Harrison. Those additions have made the Ravens' defense faster, stronger, and more opportunistic than the last time they saw Mahomes.
Start with Peters, who loves matchups like this against the league's best quarterbacks. He had a phenomenal interception Sunday against Deshaun Watson and a pick-six last year against Russell Wilson.
This is a game where the Ravens would love to force turnovers that lead to touchdowns, like the fumble Marlon Humphrey forced Sunday that resulted in a touchdown return by Fort.
When Mahomes makes a mistake, the Ravens are better equipped to turn it into a big play. Mahomes doesn't throw a ton of interceptions (he only threw five last season in 14 games). But he'll take chances that some quarterbacks won't because he's so confident in his ability. Not only is Mahomes aggressive, his head coach is aggressive, because Reid gives Mahomes the green light to attack.
"Andy is always looking for a play – always looking for a big play," Harbaugh said. "Anything he does, pretty much all the time, the play is designed to try to score. That's what you understand about Andy. That's just the way he looks at the game. We have a lot of respect for what he does and for what they do."
The Ravens and Chiefs were on a collision course for the AFC Championship game last season, except Baltimore was upset by the Titans one round earlier. That game would have been at M&T Bank Stadium, with a packed house.
This time it's not the postseason, and the stands will be empty, but the stakes will still feel large.
"The irony of it is pretty unbelievable in terms of how few Monday night home games we've had in the past 13 years. We get one against the Chiefs, and it's kind of a big game, and fans are not going to be there," Harbaugh said. "I don't even know what to say about that. 2020, man – it's that kind of a crazy year, I guess. But we'll be excited to play still. And all that being said, it'll still be a great environment. It'll still be a lot of fun."
The Ravens may see Kansas City again in the playoffs, and if they do, they want that game to be in Baltimore – and potentially with fans. Only one team in each conference gets a first-round bye this season, and the Ravens would love to have that bye and a louder M&T Bank Stadium.
Mahomes is just 25 years old and Jackson is only 23, so this is a rivalry built to last. Both teams are good enough to make this matchup special, and Monday night will leave everyone with plenty to talk about.
"They'll be ready, we'll be ready," Harbaugh said. "It'll be a great night for football."