Ravens tackle Orlando Brown on playing beside rookie Tyre Phillips on the offensive line.
The week before the prime-time clash many dubbed the “Game of the Year” when the NFL released its 2020 schedule in May, the Ravens (2-0) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) won their Week 2 games in a manner that has recently come to define the respective teams.
Against the Houston Texans, the Ravens jumped to a 10-point halftime lead and then used their grueling run game to coast to a 33-16 win. Minutes after the Ravens won, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker made a game-winning, 58-yard field goal in overtime, capping an 11-point comeback over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Both teams enter Monday night with the longest active regular-season winning streaks in the league but they couldn’t come under more different circumstances. The Ravens' last five regular-season wins have come by double-digit margins. Four of the Chiefs’ last five victories, including the playoffs, have been comeback efforts from double-digit deficits.
So, as is the case in clashes between powerhouses, something must give.
The Ravens were the league’s highest-scoring offense in 2019 and during a 12-game winning streak, many of their victories would follow a cyclic process: The offense, which scored more first-quarter points than any team, would jump to a fast start, forcing teams to pass, where the defense could then rely on its strength, the secondary.
Meanwhile, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, has won an NFL-record six straight games where he has trailed by double digits, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
As a member of the Denver Broncos in 2018, defensive end Derek Wolfe saw firsthand how Mahomes can orchestrate a come-from-behind victory. In a Week 4 game on “Monday Night Football,” Mahomes brought the Chiefs back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win on the road, 27-23.
"He’s like a point guard playing quarterback. … He’s a great competitor, and he hates to lose. So, those games where he starts out a little slow, it gives him a little fire to push a little harder,” Wolfe said.
Three straight double-digit comebacks were the highlight of a championship run for the Chiefs last season, including a comeback from down 24-0 against Houston in the divisional round. When you have an “Olympic track team” full of playmakers led by a quarterback with a bit of “[Michael] Jordan” in him, as defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale put it, it’s hard to be out of many games.
“One of the big things is they’re kind of fearless,” coach John Harbaugh said Thursday. “When they get down, they just go for it, and they’ve got the players to do it. Patrick Mahomes, he’s a great playmaker. He has great pocket presence; he moves around a lot in the pocket. He’ll get the ball out quick on time, as quick as anybody in the league, and then he’ll extend as long as much as anybody in the league, too.”
For as many runaway victories as the Ravens accumulated last season, the next step in the team’s development might not just be proving it can beat the Chiefs, but playing like them, too. The Ravens have lost just three times in the regular season since quarterback Lamar Jackson took over as the starter. But last season’s 28-12 loss in the divisional round to the Tennessee Titans brought back questions of whether Jackson can excel if not buttressed by a strong running game.
“I think the misconception of our offense is that we’re only a run-first team,” tight end Mark Andrews said after the team’s Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns. “We’ve shown time and time again that we can throw the ball. We used the run game to throw off that. We’re going to be dangerous in the passing game. You’ve seen it last year, you’re going to see it this year. We’re going to continue to grow in that area, and we’ve got to continue to grow in the run game. We’ve got to be the best at that both.”
In two games this season, the Ravens offense has shown signs that it can be the best version of itself since Jackson took over. Jackson has said that reading defenses has come with more ease for him, and if his improvements as a downfield passer continue, the offense might be getting even closer to reaching its potential.
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“You can’t be a one-trick pony,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Friday. “If people want to stop the run, they can just all-out blitz you and just try to fog you with numbers. So you’ve got to be able to see how the game is going and react accordingly.”