After the Kansas City Chiefs had won their second straight Super Bowl title and the third in the past five years late Sunday night, confirming their dynasty with a 25-22 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers, star defensive tackle Chris Jones reflected on the team’s journey. One stop, in particular, stood out.

“I think we faced the best team in the league in [the] Baltimore Ravens, hands down,” he said on the NFL Network.

It was meant to be praise. In Baltimore, it probably felt like another cold shower. The Ravens had entered the playoffs as Super Bowl favorites. They’d exited with just one win, their title dreams dashed in the AFC championship game by a feeble offensive performance against Kansas City.

There’s always next year, but the Ravens’ 2023 had all the makings of something special. As their offseason takes shape, here are three lessons they can learn from the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVIII triumph.

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Stay out of harm’s way

The biggest surprise from Sunday’s game wasn’t 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings nearly winning Most Valuable Player honors. Or Taylor Swift showing up for the game with Blake Lively and Ice Spice. Or that one Joe Biden tweet.

Nope, it was this play:

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That was the first interception Mahomes had thrown in his past seven playoff games, a stretch dating to the start of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run last season. Over 18 career postseason games, he has a career 1.2% interception rate; only C.J. Stroud (1%) fared better during the 2023 regular season among qualifying quarterbacks, and the Houston Texans were certainly not playing playoff-caliber defenses every game.

Turnovers, of course, have been Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s postseason bugaboo. Not just fumbles and interceptions, either, but plays that should’ve ended in a takeaway, too. In the Ravens’ loss to the Chiefs, Jackson was strip-sacked, threw a fourth-quarter interception, and was lucky to not have at least one or two other passes picked off.

Over his six postseason appearances, Playoff Lamar has been notably more turnover-prone than Regular-Season Lamar. Here’s how Jackson’s turnover-worthy-play rate on drop-backs has jumped in the four seasons he’s made the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus.

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YearRegular seasonPlayoffs
20184.6%2.4%
20191.9%4.1%
20203.6%4.8%
20232.5%5.3%

Playoff Mahomes, meanwhile has only improved on Regular-Season Mahomes since 2019, his first Super Bowl-winning season in Kansas City. Jackson’s kryptonite is Mahomes’ superpower.

YearRegular seasonPlayoffs
20192.5%3.5%
20203.2%0.7%
20212.8%1.3%
20222.3%0.9%
20232.9%0.5%

Put a premium on pass rushers

At the Ravens’ season-ending news conference earlier this month, general manager Eric DeCosta was asked whether the team planned to use the franchise tag on All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, a pending free agent.

“I learned a lesson this year,” DeCosta said. “Not to revisit the Lamar negotiations, but one of the great things about that negotiation was that I learned that it’s beneficial to just not talk about things. There is a value sometimes to not really showing your cards or showing your hand. So we’ll have all those decisions made at some point coming soon. We don’t have a lot of time.”

Starting next Tuesday, NFL teams have a 15-day window to use the franchise tag, which tenders a fully guaranteed one-year contract to an unrestricted free agent and keeps him off the open market. According to Spotrac, a tag for a defensive tackle would be worth a projected $20.9 million in 2024. That would give Madubuike the Ravens’ fourth-highest salary cap hit next season, behind Jackson’s ($32.4 million), left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s ($26.2 million) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s ($22.9 million).

If Madubuike can reliably approximate the impact of the Chiefs’ Jones, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the NFL’s best interior rushers, he’d more than pay off the Ravens’ investment. In the regular season, Jones finished second among defensive tackles in sacks (10.5); Madubuike finished first (13). Jones ranked fourth at the position in quarterback pressures (66), according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats; Madubuike was tied for fifth (64). In the playoffs, Jones had 12 pressures in four games, including six against San Francisco, one of which might have denied a touchdown in overtime; Madubuike had nine pressures in two postseason games.

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With outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney headed to free agency himself after a resurgent 2023, Madubuike would give the Ravens’ pass rush at least one sure thing in 2024. Considering the AFC quarterbacks who stand in their way — Mahomes, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen — DeCosta can’t afford to start over up front.

Find cheap help

After the 2021 season, Mahomes’ cap hit was due to jump from a team-friendly $7.4 million to a not-quite-market-value-but-still-extremely-costly $35.8 million. The Chiefs were coming off a devastating loss to the Bengals in the AFC championship game. Just two offseasons earlier, Kansas City had signed Mahomes to the richest deal in NFL history, and now the onus of building around that monster of a contract fell to general manager Brett Veach.

The Chiefs, thanks to their blockbuster trade of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, ended up taking 10 players in the 2022 draft. And Veach found more than enough help for Mahomes. Among his picks:

The Chiefs have splurged when needed — they re-signed Jones in September to a one-year deal worth up to a reported $25 million, ending a lengthy holdout — but their waves of young talent have kept the team competitive and cost-efficient. Center Creed Humphrey, linebacker Nick Bolton and wide receiver Rashee Rice were second-round picks. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was a fourth-rounder. Right guard Trey Smith went in the sixth. All stood out this season on rookie contracts. The biggest cap hit of the bunch was Sneed’s, at just $2.9 million.

DeCosta has found stars in the first round the past two years, landing All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton and Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum in 2022 and record-breaking wide receiver Zay Flowers in 2023. But with the Ravens projected to enter this year’s draft with eight picks total, including five in the first four rounds, the front office will need to replenish the veteran depth the team’s bound to lose in free agency.

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With Jackson’s cap hit set to rise from $22.2 million in 2023 to $32.4 million in 2024 to $43.7 million in 2025, the Ravens’ most important contract isn’t getting any cheaper. That means the Ravens’ cheaper contracts will become all the more important.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring. 

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