Reid, Patrick Mahomes and firm are headed for his or her fourth Tremendous Bowl in six seasons not as a result of they boasted a prolific offensive assault or breathtaking fireworks show. No, they punched their ticket to Las Vegas as a result of Reid and his employees gained their chess match with John Harbaugh and his Ravens assistants and positioned their squad to drag off the grittiest victory of this budding dynasty’s historical past.
The Chiefs, lengthy identified for lighting up scoreboards with dizzying and dazzling heroics from Mahomes, didn’t even rating in Sunday’s second half. As an alternative, they drew closely on expertise and in addition leaned on essentially the most dominant protection Kansas Metropolis has fielded within the final six seasons. That protection delivered a efficiency that largely neutralized presumed NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and one of many league’s most imposing offensive assaults of the 2023 season.
However as a complete, the Ravens discovered themselves on the dropping finish after succumbing to strain early and failing to beat crippling errors late.
Nicely conscious of how the Ravens are constructed and the way they prefer to assault offensively (with a powerful run sport that ensures stability and paves the best way for an improved passing assault), the Chiefs understood the significance of a quick begin. They introduced the strain early to drive Baltimore into a fast three-and-out after which delivered as spectacular an offensive show as they’ve all postseason: a 10-play, 86-yard scoring drive, capped by a 19-yard Mahomes go to Travis Kelce. With that, the Chiefs prolonged their streak of game-opening landing drives to eight straight playoff contests.
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The Ravens did reply with a landing of their very own — a highlight-worthy Jackson escape and 30-yard strike to Zay Flowers. However the Chiefs got here proper again with a methodical 16-play, 75-yard drive that wolfed up 9:02 of clock.
Mahomes couldn’t miss, finishing 11 straight passes to start out the sport. Kelce was as unguardable as ever. And that Chiefs protection that this season morphed from serviceable to dominant stored the strain coming and delivered a strip-sack and restoration on the Baltimore 33-yard line.
And similar to that, the Ravens discovered themselves on excessive alert.
Punt, landing, fumble was not the specified tone setter for Baltimore early within the first half. The Ravens’ protection had yielded game-opening landing drives solely twice in its final 26 video games, and till Kelce’s landing catch, Baltimore’s second-year star security Kyle Hamilton had by no means surrendered a landing to a good finish as a professional.
The scoreboard could have learn 14-7, however as Baltimore discovered itself in unfamiliar territory, the deficit felt far bigger. And that’s when the Ravens dedicated their mortal sin.
Overwhelmed by the convenience with which the Chiefs had scored, they went into panic mode. On protection, they momentarily misplaced their poise whereas committing life-giving private fouls. And offensively, they bought suckered into believing they’d slipped right into a far bigger gap than they had been really in. Consequently, they deserted their bread-and-butter and tried to adapt a method of play for which they don’t seem to be constructed.
After dominating on the bottom all season lengthy, the Ravens opted for a pass-heavy assault far too early.
For the remainder of the second quarter, the Ravens ran the ball simply twice (as soon as on an off-schedule play by Jackson). For the rest of the sport, they ran the ball solely seven extra instances. The league’s main dashing crew — a unit that averaged 156.5 dashing yards per sport whereas boasting essentially the most balanced offense within the NFL — turned one-dimensional and completed with solely 81 floor yards, by no means regaining management in a really winnable sport.
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The Ravens trailed solely 17-7 at halftime. But they got here out within the second half with the identical frantic really feel and strategy as in the event that they trailed by a heftier margin. They stored gunning though their protection was protecting them within the sport and the Chiefs off the scoreboard.
“It was simply that form of a sport, I’d say,” Harbaugh mentioned of the season-low 16 dashing makes an attempt. “That’s simply the way it performed out.”
The absence of a run sport meant Baltimore’s offense by no means regained the rhythm that carried it so usually this season. And the dearth of stability eased strain on the Chiefs’ protection as a result of it allowed Kansas Metropolis’s pass-rushers to pin again their ears and are available after Jackson. In the meantime, when the quarterback wasn’t getting hit, a well-recognized downside — a scarcity of consistency within the receiving division — cropped up for the Ravens.
Time and again, Jackson dropped again to throw, however struggled to seek out an open receiver. Except for Flowers, who completed the sport with 5 catches on eight targets for 115 yards and a landing, Baltimore’s receivers struggled drastically to get any separation. Working again Justice Hill was the second-leading receiver with 4 catches, and never till the fourth quarter did Odell Beckham Jr. handle to become involved (three catches for 22 yards).
“We may’ve ran the ball,” Jackson mentioned. “However we had been simply down and simply attempting to get the ball downfield. You’ve bought to make one thing occur.”
Even whereas one-dimensional, the Ravens did have an opportunity. To open the fourth quarter, they reached the shadow of the Kansas Metropolis purpose line on a five-play, 78-yard drive highlighted by a 54-yard throw to Flowers. However that possession painfully ended with a fumble as Kansas Metropolis’s L’Jarius Sneed punched the ball from Flowers’ grasp because the receiver dove for the tip zone after an 8-yard catch.
And on the subsequent possession, after reaching the Kansas Metropolis 25, Jackson threw an interception into triple protection whereas attempting to attach with tight finish Isaiah Seemingly.
A Justin Tucker 43-yard area purpose with 2:38 left reduce the deficit to a landing, however the Ravens got here no nearer.
The Chiefs didn’t rating within the second half, however they didn’t actually need to. They did simply sufficient offensively to spell their dominant protection and run valuable minutes off the clock: 5 minutes right here, two minutes there, one other 4 there. By sport’s finish, they’d gained the time of possession battle 37:30 to 22:30.
The defeat represents a misplaced alternative for the Ravens, though the sport by no means felt as shut because the rating would possibly point out. Jackson and his teammates lamented that they managed only one landing, they usually’ll spend the offseason replaying pricey miscues. It’s unattainable to keep away from questioning if a extra affected person strategy would have higher benefitted the Ravens whereas serving to them discover a higher offensive circulate all through the sport.
“You wish to use the saying of ‘I might like to have this again or have this play again,’ however you possibly can’t get these performs again,” proper deal with Morgan Moses mentioned. “You must be taught from them and transfer ahead. And you understand, it’s not over. Anytime you’ve got a quarterback like Lamar, you’ve got the chance to play in video games like this once more.”
This one will sting for some time, nonetheless, particularly due to the way it ended.
The 2023 season was a 12 months of change and progress in Baltimore, and maybe the Ravens can construct on that. However Sunday, as they aimed for his or her final purpose, they strayed from their identification when strain reached its highest level and by no means recovered.
(High picture: Rob Carr / Getty Photos)