Five thoughts on the Ravens' 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Maybe the Ravens have won more important games in terms of standings and playoffs since Lamar Jackson became their quarterback, but I'm not sure they've won one that felt better. They had a ton going against them between their many injuries, their season-opening loss and taking on a tough opponent on a short week, and adding to that, they dug an early hole and played from behind almost all night. But they dug deep, really deep, as they overcame a double-digit deficit and proved to themselves and everyone else that, yes, they're good enough, dynamic enough, to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Jackson outdueled his nemesis with a performance that won't soon be forgotten because of the sheer will he displayed as he relentlessly made play after play to carry the Ravens along, keep them close and put them ahead late. "I always have faith in him to make a play," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. It's a huge win from a practical standpoint because it kept the Ravens from falling to 0-2 for the first time in six years, but more importantly, they played at a level that not many teams can match – a level that can carry them a long way.
Although it was a night when Jackson made so many big plays that you almost lost count, the VERY biggest play for the Ravens came from Odafe Oweh, the rookie linebacker. Down by a point, the Chiefs were on the move in the final minutes, in range to kick a field goal that would probably win the game and drive a dagger into the Ravens. You could almost see it coming, feel it coming – the "heartbreakingly great effort that fell just short" plotline. The Ravens weren't exactly down to a prayer, but they needed someone to make a play, and it didn't seem one was coming. Then Oweh made one. He ripped the ball from Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, then fell on it, giving the Ravens possession with 76 seconds to play. Mahomes never took another snap. "It's the kind of play we envisioned him making when we drafted him," Harbaugh said. Oweh has only played in two regular-season NFL games so far, but he has stood out in both with his combination of size, speed and instincts. It really helps a team when a rookie becomes a difference-maker, and Oweh, it seems, is just that.
It's hard to believe in hindsight, but Jackson's night started disastrously. On his first pass attempt, he overthrew Marquise Brown, who had split two defenders and was open deep downfield. Jackson's next pass became a pick-six for the Chiefs. Before the first quarter ended, he had thrown another interception on an ill-advised toss into coverage on the Kansas City goal line. Rough. But things improved markedly from there for Jackson and his entire unit. The Ravens were dominant on offense, period. Their reconfigured O-line blew open holes for runners and kept the Chiefs from harassing Jackson. Their backs ran hard and gained yardage in chunks. Brown had a big night with six catches for 113 yards. Jackson was close to unstoppable. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman kept the Chiefs guessing with his play calls, enabling the Ravens to build a 10-minute edge in time of possession and keep Mahomes off the field. As the game wore on, the Chiefs had fewer and fewer answers. Although it took guts for Harbaugh to go for in on fourth-and-1 at his 43 in the final minute rather than give the ball back to Mahomes, there was never a doubt that he'd be aggressive and take the chance. With the way Jackson was rolling, showing such confidence after his slow start, one yard was easy pickings.
After losing to the Chiefs three times in three years, the Ravens changed their defensive approach. Instead of relentlessly blitzing, a strategy Mahomes picked apart, they barely blitzed at all, played zone coverage and stacked their secondary to keep Mahomes from connecting with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. No one is going to suggest the Ravens had the upper hand, as Mahomes still passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns, but some good things happened. Hill was a non-factor with just three catches for 14 yards. Although Kelce still had a big game, the blanketing of Hill forced the Chiefs to look to other sources of big plays. They found some, but only a few scores came easily, which is a victory against an offense so potent. And most importantly, the Baltimore defense was feisty enough to make several stops and force the two late turnovers. Mahomes made the Ravens pay virtually every time they went with the old strategy and blitzed him. So they just didn't.
Short takes: Patrick Mekari had never started an NFL game at right tackle before Sunday night. Most analysts would tell you he isn't big enough to play the position in the pros. But he more than held his own, a huge plus on a night when the Ravens' tackle play was under scrutiny after a rough Week 1. On the same subject, Alejandro Villanueva was far better at left tackle in this game than he was at right tackle in Week 1 … There's no longer much doubt that Ty'Son Williams is the starting running back after he rushed for 77 yards and totaled 93 yards on 15 touches. He is officially a find … The Ravens had to reach into their depth at safety after DeShon Elliott went out with a concussion. Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone were on the field with the game on the line. That's how young players develop … Jackson pushed his career rushing total over 3,000 yards, and no quarterback has ever done it so quickly. These superlatives almost seem routine now, but they aren't … The Ravens certainly benefitted from the support of an energetic crowd that only got louder as the night wore on. How nice to see the home-field advantage back in play.