Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s passing struggles and a key second-half turnover doomed the Ravens to a 17-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game on Sunday, stopping them one step short of the franchise’s first Super Bowl trip since 2012.
The Ravens were kept out of the end zone over the game’s final 49-plus minutes, wasting a strong effort from their defense, which held Kansas City scoreless in the second half. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes went 29-for-38 for 209 yards and a touchdown, relying often on tight end Travis Kelce (11 catches, 116 yards and one touchdown).
Jackson finished 20-for-37 for 272 yards and a touchdown, but he could not build on a breakthrough playoff win in the divisional round. With the Ravens trailing 17-7 midway through the fourth quarter, he threw an interception into triple coverage. On the Ravens’ previous drive, wide receiver Zay Flowers had the ball punched out just before the goal line, and the Chiefs recovered the fumble.
The loss ended the championship dreams of the Ravens, who’d entered the playoffs looking like one of the NFL’s best teams in recent years. And it ended against Mahomes and Kansas City, who reestablished themselves as the AFC’s unquestioned powers.
The first half belonged to Mahomes, who completed his first 11 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. After a Ravens three-and-out to open the game, the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player led the Chiefs on a 10-play, 86-yard scoring drive, capped by a pinpoint 19-yard pass to Kelce despite tight coverage from safety Kyle Hamilton.
Jackson answered with his own highlight-reel throw. After eluding a would-be sack from defensive end George Karlaftis, he waited and waited for Flowers to get open downfield, finally firing after over seven seconds. The first-round pick, who’d separated from linebacker Nick Bolton, ran under Jackson’s pass for a 30-yard touchdown catch.
Kansas City silenced the Ravens’ raucous crowd on the next drive. Running back Isiah Pacheco finished off a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown march with a 2-yard run, the first time the Ravens had allowed an opponent to score touchdowns on their two opening drives.
The Chiefs entered halftime with a 17-7 lead — the second-most points the Ravens had allowed all season — but it could’ve been worse. A potential Kansas City scoring drive ended with a fourth-and-1 stop, and wide receiver Rashee Rice had a catch-and-run touchdown nullified just before halftime by a holding penalty.
More questions than answers for the MVP
Over 60 offensively challenged minutes Sunday afternoon, Patrick Mahomes did not set an especially high bar for Lamar Jackson to clear. The Chiefs’ superstar was elite for stretches but a mere mortal in the second half.
That meant the Ravens did not need Jackson to win the MVP again. They just needed him to be decent. And, for stretches, he certainly was. But all the “Is he good enough?” questions that have been asked of Jackson over his career, fairly or unfairly, will resurface with new venom this offseason. Because of this stinker of a game. Because of a couple of truly bad throws.
Jackson did not lose this game all by himself, not in the least. But this was a prime opportunity for the Ravens’ superstar to shine brightly. Instead, for every mad scramble or chunk play he cooked up, there were a handful of plays that made you wonder, “What the heck is going on?” And now he has another year of playoff narratives to face down.
— Jonas Shaffer, Ravens reporter
Outplayed and outsmarted
A Mike Macdonald-Andy Reid duel was expected. And the Patrick Mahomes v. Ravens defense matchup was everything you could hope for. Baltimore’s defense played its heart out and deserved better. The surprising part — and the difference in this game — was the way the offense was outmatched.
The Ravens have many weapons, yet several were nonfactors. Odell Beckham Jr., who was brought here for his postseason experience, wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. Rashod Bateman, who’s found his stride over the course of the season, had just three targets. While the running backs had some big plays, they played a much smaller role than usual with the team rushing only 16 times — and half of them were by Jackson. And even without the offense firing on all cylinders, the Ravens had a chance. But stupid mistakes and dumb penalties killed their chance at the Super Bowl.
— Giana Han, Ravens reporter
Ravens’ offense fumbles its chance
If you go against Patrick Mahomes enough times, you’re going to get scored on. Baltimore’s vaunted defense started poorly but bowed up especially in the second half. The other side of the ball simply failed to do its part. The Ravens’ slogan this season was “don’t blink,” but that’s what the offense did on the most critical drives of the season.
Despite dealing with blitzes last week and finding halftime adjustments, the Ravens looked overwhelmed by the obvious strategy of the Chiefs to do the same thing. Though they were the NFL’s No. 1 rushing team, the Ravens did not establish the run early, then had to throw when they got further behind.
Lamar Jackson took time to get settled, Zay Flowers hurt the offense with a taunting penalty and a fumble, and other veteran playmakers — Odell Beckham Jr., Mark Andrews, Nelson Agholor — were virtual nonfactors until it was too late. The offense took strides this season, and so did Jackson, but we were expecting more in the biggest game of the year.
— Kyle Goon, columnist
A wasted opportunity
Well, now Lamar Jackson has gotten to the AFC championship and … played exactly the way his detractors claim he plays. Which of course isn’t remotely true.
Was it the pressure of the moment? A really smart defensive game plan by the Chiefs? Or did Jackson just finally have an off game after being consistent for so long? We should take time to figure that out, but because this is instant analysis we’ll start here: Todd Monken’s approach wasn’t great. It neither established the run nor provided enough surprising looks in the pass game.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, did what the Chiefs do. Andy Reid has spent a generation being one of the better play-callers in the NFL; that doesn’t mean he relies on fads. He tweaks, sure, but his genius comes from figuring out how a defense — even one as good at morphing and adjusting as Mike Macdonald’s — can be exploited. He finds ways to take a player who is clearly the primary threat and therefore the defense’s focus and … get him open anyway.
It doesn’t feel great to boil a big game, and the end of this special season, down to something this simple but: The Chiefs had Mahomes and Kelce, and it was enough. The Ravens lacked an elite player to pair with Jackson, and their mishmash of parts faltered in the biggest game in M&T Bank Stadium history.
— Chris Korman, editor