Developing a plan to beat the Kansas City Chiefs isn’t easy, which the Baltimore Ravens found out Sunday. But I can tell you how to lose to the Chiefs: commit inexcusable penalties, don’t force turnovers and fail to score more than 10 points.
The Ravens did all three, and they lost their shot at the Super Bowl because of it.
Here’s how the Ravens’ position groups graded out in their 17-10 loss to the Chiefs in the AFC championship game.
Lamar Jackson’s game has drawn (often unfair) skepticism since he entered the league. As well as he played during the regular season and the team’s divisional-round game against the Texans, Jackson struggled in the biggest game of his career. His fumble issue, which lay dormant for the second half of the season, reared its ugly head in the second quarter. Jackson completed 20 of 37 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and one horrendous interception in the fourth quarter. Jackson is the league’s MVP, but Patrick Mahomes is the best player in football.
This grade is less reflective of how Baltimore’s running backs performed and more about how little they were used. At halftime, Gus Edwards had just one carry for 15 yards. Justice Hill had three totes for 3 yards. Just as they did against the Texans, the Ravens waited a long time to establish the run. Facing a better opponent, it cost them.
The line followed the same script as last week: rough first half, better second half. Ronnie Stanley got beat by Charles Omenihu on a strip sack in the second quarter. George Karlaftis blew by Morgan Moses for a sack in the fourth quarter. In all, Jackson was sacked four times for 17 yards, and the Ravens ran for just 81 yards.
The Ravens’ weapons were supposed to be better this season. The additions of Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor were supposed to give Jackson the most reliable set of targets he’d ever had in Baltimore. And, while this group of wideouts did enough during the regular season to get Jackson to almost 3,700 passing yards, it fell short against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Beckham didn’t catch his first pass until the fourth quarter. Rashod Bateman caught one pass for 2 yards. Agholor caught one pass for 39 yards. Flowers was the only receiver to make his presence known, catching five balls for 115 yards, but even he committed a taunting penalty and fumbled at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Mark Andrews did not make a difference in his return, and Jackson’s chemistry with Isaiah Likely fizzled.
The defense that led the NFL in sacks during the regular season could barely lay a finger on Mahomes in the first half. Mahomes began the game by completing his first 11 passes. Kyle Van Noy drew an idiotic unnecessary roughness penalty late in the first half on a drive that led to a Kansas City field goal, and Jadeveon Clowney gave the Chiefs a first down on a roughing-the-passer call in the fourth quarter.
Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen were forced to cover a lot of ground, and they allowed plenty of easy completions over the middle. Mahomes’ cast of less-than-stellar pass catchers — Justin Watson, Noah Gray, plus running back Isiah Pacheco — picked up easy yardage. Mahomes is nearly impossible to stop when he takes off, but Baltimore still allowed him to pick up 18 yards on the ground (before kneel-downs). Smith’s purposeful offsides on Kansas City’s final drive resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty that moved the Chiefs 15 yards up the field.
Being matched against Travis Kelce is no easy assignment. Still, the Ravens could not find an answer for the tight end in coverage. Kelce finished with 11 receptions for 116 yards including 96 yards by halftime. Rookie wideout Rashee Rice caught eight balls for 48 yards. Critically, the defense did not force any interceptions from Mahomes.
After a disastrous game against the Texans, the Ravens’ special teams acquitted themselves fine on Sunday. Jordan Stout booted five nondescript punts. Devin Duvernay returned a fourth-quarter punt 21 yards. Justin Tucker made a field goal from 43 yards, and his only extra point attempt was good.
For all the positive attention coordinators Mike Macdonald and Todd Monken have drawn this season, they did not shine Sunday. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a master of scheming receivers open, and he consistently exploited holes in Baltimore’s defense. Monken’s game plan was herky-jerky and relied too heavily on the pass. To make matters worse, the Ravens committed several idiotic penalties.
Referee Shawn Smith’s voice
Worse than Todd Monken’s after a particularly sloppy practice.
Grade: F (for froggy)