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Mike Preston: Ravens’ big win over Chiefs is a major step forward for Lamar Jackson and Co. | COMMENTARY

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday Night 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Maybe at the end of the 2021 season, the Ravens will look back at their first two games as the turning point.

A lot of people like to focus on one game or one moment, but the Ravens could end up with two. A week ago, they lost in overtime to the Las Vegas Raiders in a game they could have won. On Sunday night, they beat a team that played in the past two Super Bowls and entered this season as one of the favorites to win it all.

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If the Ravens had lost and fell to 0-2, they would have been in a deep hole as far as playoff aspirations are concerned. Few teams ever recover; in fact, only 8% of 0-2 teams have reached the playoffs since 1990. But their 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night was a major step forward for a team that has made strides in each of the past three seasons.

This wasn’t the Cincinnati Bengals the Ravens beat. These were the Chiefs, a team that had defeated the Ravens four straight times. That’s significant. In the past three postseasons, the Ravens lost a wild-card game and then a divisional-round game before finally beating the Tennessee Titans on the road in the wild-card round. The Ravens eventually lost to the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round last season.

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Their improvement has been gradual and steady. And now with a win against Kansas City, there’s hope.

Just because the Ravens won Sunday doesn’t mean anyone in Baltimore should start making hotel reservations and booking flights for the Super Bowl in Inglewood, California, but it does mean they are still serious contenders despite having a league-high 15 players on injured reserve.

The win wasn’t pretty, as the Chiefs rolled up 405 total yards against a Ravens defense that couldn’t tackle, but the Ravens were operating on a short week and coming off a tough loss to the Raiders. Without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marcus Peters and their top three running backs, they had plenty of excuses for losing to Kansas City.

But they won.

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More importantly, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson beat his Chiefs counterpart, Patrick Mahomes. Jackson will never be as good as Mahomes, because he doesn’t have the arm strength. But on Sunday night, he willed his team to victory against his nemesis in a big game.

That’s huge.

Earlier this week, Jackson tried to downplay his matchup against his fellow NFL Most Valuable Player winner, but we all know differently. Competitors live for these moments. It’s how they’re wired.

A week ago, Jackson was the goat. He fumbled twice, the last one leading to the Raiders’ game-winning touchdown in overtime. He had more miserable moments Sunday with two interceptions, including an ugly one into triple coverage in the first half.

But Jackson took over in the second half. He finally won a big game against a good team in crunch time. That’s what everyone in this franchise has been waiting for.

It’s great to win against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers or knock off Tennessee or the New England Patriots, but the road to the Super Bowl goes through Kansas City.

The Ravens had some ugly moments against the Chiefs. They allowed touchdown receptions of 33, 40 and 46 yards. They blew timeouts early in the third quarter, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman looked like he was going to get away from the running game too early again.

But the Ravens played power football against the Chiefs and took gambles when they needed to. It’s really the only way to knock off Kansas City, because the Chiefs have such an explosive offense. Cleveland had a chance to beat Kansas City in Week 1, but the Browns made some bonehead plays late in the game because they lacked playmakers.

It’s tough when a team loses the season opener. For a week, the Ravens had to carry around the anxieties of an offseason of work that was derailed against the Raiders. If they lost Sunday, they would have had to dwell on their failures again for a second straight week.

Instead, they won.

And hope is alive again.

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