Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald stresses fast starts.
But, in the AFC championship Sunday, a 17-10 loss to the Chiefs, the opening drive revealed only one thing: that the Chiefs were daring the Ravens to stop Travis Kelce.
Although Baltimore eventually found an answer for the star tight end, it was ultimately too late.
The Ravens gave up an 18-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes to Kelce to start Kansas City’s first drive and a 19-yard touchdown pass to end the drive.
Safety Kyle Hamilton, an emerging star who was tasked with helping to slow Kelce, accepted responsibility after the game.
“I gave up the touchdown to start the game and feel like it shocked everybody in the whatever,” Hamilton said.
The Ravens’ defense eventually pulled together, quieting the Chiefs, but the 17 points they gave up to start the game proved insurmountable with Baltimore’s offense struggling. Kelce finished with 11 catches on 11 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. He also had one 5-yard rush. It was his third-best performance of the season.
Kelce’s play, of course, delighted his girlfriend, Taylor Swift, who sat with Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, among others, in a luxury suite at M&T Bank Stadium. Earlier this season, Swift was blamed for being a “distraction” to Kelce.
On Sunday, she found him on the field as he celebrated another trip to the Super Bowl.
Kelce was a big contributor to each of the Chiefs’ three scoring drives — and generally served as a fallback option whenever Mahomes needed to make a play.
On the Chiefs’ second drive, Mahomes connected with Kelce for 6 yards and a first down. Then he hit him for 10 yards and a third-down conversion. Mahomes and running back Isiah Pacheco finished it out for their second touchdown in a row.
In the final two minutes of the first half, Kelce caught two passes — one for 21 yards and one for 9 — to move the Chiefs into field goal position. He also drew an unnecessary roughness penalty from outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy after sharing words with the Ravens’ defense, especially linebacker Roquan Smith.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Kelce brought extra juice to this game.
“Listen, Travis is always fired up,” Reid said. “[...] I appreciate his attitude always. He’s just added a little bit to it.”
Kelce began stirring it up before the game even started, pointedly tossing Justin Tucker’s helmet during warmups because he thought the Ravens’ kicker was infringing on Mahomes’ space.
The Ravens answered in the second half, keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone and holding Kelce to 25 yards.
“I thought me, personally, I responded well to it,” Hamilton said. “But as a defense, as a whole, we kind of schemed it up where he couldn’t break the game open. And I feel like we did a good job of it, keeping him contained.”
But Kelce still did enough to give the Chiefs a lead the Ravens couldn’t answer, despite the second-half shutout. According to rbsdm.com, Kelce’s catches accounted for 13.5 expected points added (EPA).
“He’s a future Hall of Famer,” Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce said. “He knows where to be, and [Mahomes and Kelce] were just on point.”