The Ravens' 27-24 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs last night at M&T Bank Stadium delivered a nationwide statement that the defending AFC North champions were far from prime-time players.
"It came down to they were more physical than us in just about every facet of the game," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "And that's unique for us. We're not going to win too many games when we're not playing our physical game."
Kansas City running back Priest Holmes ran for 125 yards - the first back to crack 100 yards in nine games against the Ravens - and paced the Chiefs on their marathon drives. The Ravens surrendered scoring drives of 10, nine, 14, 12 and 13 plays as they were continually shoved off the ball by a manhandling Kansas City offensive line.
Holmes' 1-yard dive - following a Will Shields block on Lewis - staked the Chiefs to a 27-17 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
After a 1-yard touchdown by Jamal Lewis cut the Ravens' deficit to 27-24 midway through the final quarter, the Ravens had two more tries to come back in the last six minutes but failed to move beyond their 40-yard line.
The Ravens' last hope - a long pass from Kyle Boller to Kevin Johnson on fourth down - tipped off Johnson's hands and out of his grasp.
The Ravens kept the game close with trickery (a 57-yard touchdown pass to Randy Hymes off a flea flicker), a big special teams play (a 58-yard punt return by B.J. Sams for a score) and a fourth-quarter drive marked by two defensive penalties inside the 8-yard line.
Asked about Sams, Billick said, "He kept it a lot closer than probably [the Ravens'] play really deserved in a 27-24 loss."
One of the reasons the Ravens lacked any punch was their inability to establish the run.
Against the NFL's fourth-worst rush defense, running back Jamal Lewis managed just 73 yards on 15 carries. His longest run was his first of the game.
Lewis, who is expected to enter a guilty plea Thursday to avoid a federal drug trial, said his pedestrian numbers were more a result of play-calling than being distracted.
"We didn't take advantage of their weakness, which is to pound the ball and run it down their throat," Lewis said. "We didn't do that."
The Ravens (2-2), whose seven-game home winning streak ended, fell a game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
What was more disheartening for the Ravens was how they stumbled in their only Monday Night Football appearance of the season. Their usually stout defense allowed Kansas City to convert on eight of 16 third downs and allowed the Chiefs to cross midfield on seven of 11 drives.
"We need to stay focused," Ray Lewis said. "Not every game is going to be a shutout. We will have days like this, but we need to move on."
The Ravens scored on their opening drive for the third straight game, as Matt Stover's 50-yard field goal, his longest in two years, gave them a 3-0 lead.
Kansas City replied on its first drive, as tight end Jason Dunn slipped past safety Will Demps and caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Trent Green. It was the first points allowed by the Ravens in the first quarter this season and the first touchdown in 16 possessions allowed by their defense.
Two defensive penalties - pass interference on Chris McAlister and unnecessary roughness on Terrell Suggs - accounted for 24 of the 53 yards on the Chiefs' next scoring drive, which was capped late in the first quarter by Lawrence Tynes' 42-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead.
The Ravens' offense had fallen into a lull with back-to-back series without a first down before resorting to some trickery.
Jamal Lewis took a pitch right, drawing the entire defense to his side, and then lateraled it back to Boller, who tossed it 60 yards in the air to a wide-open Hymes.
After getting tripped up inside the 10-yard line, Hymes tumbled into the end zone to complete the 57-yard play. The longest pass of the Ravens' season tied the game at 10 early in the second quarter.
The quick score was answered by the longest drive against the Ravens since their inaugural season (1996) in terms of time. The Chiefs marched 79 yards on 14 plays, using 8:08. Holmes closed it out by hurdling 4 yards into the end zone to give Kansas City a 17-10 lead with 3:42 left in the second quarter.
But Sams ran back a punt 58 yards untouched for a touchdown a little more than two minutes later. That gave the Ravens a 17-17 tie despite being outgained 212-105 and dominated in time of possession (21:40 to 8:20).
The second half offered no answers for the Chiefs' offense.
Kansas City pulled out to a 27-17 advantage by scoring on its first two drives in deliberate fashion. The 12- and 13-play drives combined to take more than 12 minutes off the clock.
"We were fortunate to do it in Raven-esque fashion," Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks said. "People have been talking and putting us down, but we're making a turnaround."
Said Ravens safety Ed Reed: "We'll regroup from here. We'll definitely, definitely come back."
Rookie B.J. Sams accounted for 188 yards and one touchdown on five returns in the first half last night against Kansas City.
Return, Quarter, Yards
Kickoff, First, 25
Kickoff, First, 20
Kickoff, First, 44
Kickoff, Second, 41
Punt, Second, 58*
* - Touchdown
Controlling the game
The Chiefs used a methodical, ball-control offense to upset the Ravens. Kansas City had four scoring drives of 10 or more plays and held the ball for an average of 6:03 on their five scoring drives.
Drive began, Plays, Net yards, Time of poss., Key play, Result
Chiefs' 40, 10, 60, 4:56, Trent Green 19-yard pass to Johnnie Morton on third-and-nine at the Ravens' 31, TD, Chiefs lead 7-3
Chiefs' 24, 9, 53, 4:53, Green 13-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez on second-and-14 at the Ravens' 47, FG, Chiefs lead 10-3
Chiefs' 21, 14, 79, 8:08, Green 13-yard run on third-and-nine at the Ravens' 17, TD, Chiefs lead 17-10
Chiefs' 20, 12, 60, 6:41, Green 16-yard pass to Chris Horn on third-and-10 at K.C. 20, FG, Chiefs lead 20-17
Chiefs' 20, 13, 80, 5:36, Green 20-yard pass to Morton on third-and-10 at K.C. 20, TD, Chiefs lead 27-17