There was enough to be concerned about and so much to correct, but the Ravens left the cramped visiting team's locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday feeling great about themselves and where they sit in the AFC North.
Over the previous three hours, they did more than enough to lose a football game to the Kansas City Chiefs. In the first half, they couldn't stop the run and were pushed around at times at the line of scrimmage. Their offense couldn't sustain a drive early and then struggled to finish one late. They turned the ball over twice and gave up a couple of big plays by special teams.
But in the end, they dodged the type of deflating loss that they had endured several times last season, relying on their rookie kicker and the charity of their opponent. Three field goals by Justin Tucker and four Chiefs turnovers — three by beleaguered quarterback Matt Cassel — were the difference in an uneven 9-6 victory in front of announced 68,803.
Tucker converted field goals from 28, 26 and 39 yards, marking the Ravens' first win without scoring a touchdown since they beat the San Francisco 49ers, 9-7, five years ago yesterday.
“I think we did what we needed to do to win the football game, and in the National Football League, that's really what's important,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That's the main thing. I think we should celebrate that, and our guys did find a way to win. If you look at it ... we won four on the road [last year], and they were against teams that maybe we weren't supposed to win against. And the ones that we lost, they were over teams that we [were] favored against, right?
“This was one of those games that we didn't win last year, and this year we did. To me, that's the important thing and that's the big thing. Playing better? Absolutely. We have to play better, no doubt.”
Sunday's victory, coupled with the Cincinnati Bengals' loss to the Miami Dolphins, gives the Ravens (4-1) a little breathing room in the division, with a home game against the Dallas Cowboys looming Sunday. The second-place Bengals are 3-2, but the Ravens beat them in the season opener.
It also gave the Ravens their first road victory in two tries this season, and in the process reversed a script that dogged them last season in road losses to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks.
“Games like this last year, we had a hard time winning,” said running back Ray Rice who rushed 17 times for 102 yards. “But right now, with our veteran leadership, we're finding ways to win. Obviously, this one felt good. We learned from our situation.”
It was Rice — with an assist from a rare run from quarterback Joe Flacco — who put this game away. Leading 9-6 after Ryan Succop's 31-yard field goal with 4:34 to play, the Ravens got the ball and never relinquished it.
On a third-and-15 from their 15, Flacco scrambled 16 yards for the first down. With the Chiefs down to just one timeout, the Ravens ran the next three plays with Rice getting 6, 3and then 1yard on third-and-1 to pick up the first down and put away the Chiefs.
“That was just part of what we had to do to win the game,” said Flacco who was just 13-for-27 for 187 yards and an interception. “They're not always pretty around here, [but] we do what we have to do to win the football game. I've been saying that for a long time, whether that's throwing for 400 yards or having a [bad] day and throwing for 100 yards. We do what we have to do to win the game, and we were able to do that.”
They certainly had some help, as Cassel threw two interceptions and the Chiefs (1-4) fumbled twice. They now have turned the ball over a league-leading 19 times this season. But even with the help, the Ravens weren't able to shake the Chiefs until the end.
“The first half, we were flat, to be honest with you,” said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught four balls for 82 yards. “We hit a play here and there but would drop a ball or have a penalty to stall a drive. That's something we need to improve on. It's just us finishing plays. The plays were there. The layoff made us kind of anxious. Guys were out there wanting to make plays. We just didn't finish them. The defense did a great job of keeping us in the game. We made plays at certain times and let other ones go.”
It's fair to wonder what would have happened had the Chiefs not turned the ball over twice in a first half that ended 3-3 and was otherwise dominated by speedy running back Jamaal Charles, who had 125 of Kansas City's 179 first-half rushing yards.
The Ravens adjusted the positioning of their linebackers and defensive line, and the result was the Chiefs rushing for 35 yards in the second half, including 15 by Charles. The combination of Cassel and backup Brady Quinn combined to complete 12 of 18 pass attempts for 124 yards and two interceptions.
It's also fair to wonder what would have happened had Cassel, who was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury after being hit by Haloti Ngata, hadn't fumbled Ryan Lilja's snap on the Ravens' 1-yard line while trying to score on a quarterback sneak. Ed Reed recovered the ball, and the ensuing Ravens drive resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Tucker that gave the Ravens a 6-3 lead.
“That ended up being a 10-point swing,” Harbaugh said.
It's also impossible to overlook three fourth-quarter calls that went in the Ravens' favor. On their final drive, Flacco fumbled when he was sacked by Tamba Hali. The Chiefs recovered inside the Ravens' 10, but the game officials ruled that Flacco's progress had stopped before the fumble.
Then there were two offensive pass-interference calls on Kansas City. The first, on Dwayne Bowe, nullified a 25-yard gain by Dexter McCluster that would have had Kansas City in business at the Ravens' 20. The second, this one on McCluster, took away a 15-yard touchdown reception by Bowe. If the touchdown had counted, Succop's extra point would have given the Chiefs a one-point lead with 5:24 to play.
Two plays later, Succop kicked a 31-yard field goal instead, and the Ravens' lead was intact.
“I think the No. 1 thing for us coming in here was if they don't score, they don't win. That was our whole mentality,” said Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, who had a game-high 10 tackles but struggled to get off blocks and corral Charles in the first half. “The ones that count the most are never the prettiest. The ones that count the most are the ones that you have to fight through. Anybody on each side of the ball will tell you that they'll take a ‘W' before anything. For us to go home right now 4-1 is huge.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun