Things were working perfectly, so much so that the law of averages would surely conspire against the Ravens.
It did. After containing Kansas City Chiefs return dynamo Dante Hall nearly the entire game, the Ravens' special teams finally broke down and allowed him a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter yesterday to give the Chiefs a 17-10 win.
It was the third straight game Hall has returned a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown. He has returns for touchdowns in six of his past nine games.
"You knew," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You saw he has made the difference in the last two games. We contained him very well right up to the end. And that's the dangerous thing about a great player like that.
"Our coverage teams had been excellent all day long. And on the last one after having run down again, I could see it. We stacked two guys up in the same lane."
The Ravens' sloppiness could have come from an offside penalty by Adalius Thomas that forced back-to-back sprints from the kickoff team.
Hall originally was stopped for a 12-yard gain on the Ravens' first kickoff after a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis that tied the game at 10 with 5:27 to go.
"Statistics show that when you get a second chance on a penalty, bad things happen to the other team," said Hall, who entered the game leading the league in punt and kickoff average.
Thomas took the blame.
"First of all, I expect more than that out of myself than to be offside," Thomas said. "I'll go back and study tape to see what I did wrong."
On his second chance, Hall darted to his left, then headed upfield after receiving the kickoff at the 3-yard line. He raced through a diving tackle attempt by Ray Walls, the closest any Raven came to stopping him, then cut to the right past kicker Wade Richey and cruised into the end zone.
"It was close, but I really don't know what happened," Walls said. "We are just going to have to adjust from it when we watch the film."
Hall punctuated the touchdown by flinging the ball at a Ravens painted logo on a wall in the end zone, a gesture directed more at the fans than the Ravens.
"Those guys were harassing me the entire time in the end zone," Hall said. "So it was a great feeling, like, 'Take that.' "
The score proved to be the deciding factor in the game. Hall's return also preceded another special teams gaffe, this one coming on a fumbled punt by Ed Reed after the Ravens had forced a three-and-out with 2 1/2 minutes left.
Reed was substituting for Lamont Brightful, who suffered a concussion after he collided with teammate Tom Knight during a fair catch in the third quarter. Reed has a knack for making big plays, but he denied he was trying to do so in attempting to field a punt that was noticeably short.
The Ravens safety had to sprint 10 yards just to have a chance to catch it, but the ball slipped off his fingers and was recovered by Marc Boerigter at the Ravens' 39. The defense did force another punt, however.
"I misjudged it," Reed said. "It came up short, and I thought it was coming long. I lined up a little bit too deep.
"Once you get moving, it's hard to stop yourself."
In Hall's case, once he gets moving, it is hard to catch him. Hall had kickoff returns of 11 and 13 yards before the touchdown and one punt return on which he lost 4 yards.
The Ravens were doing a masterful job in jamming up the lanes.
"We did a great job but for two plays, and that will cost you in this league," Thomas said. "You can't play a team like Kansas City, and it's tied up in the fourth quarter and make the mistakes we made on special teams."