KANSAS CITY, MO. — The Ravens emptied out of a losing locker room Sunday for the first time this season, their mood as mixed as the afternoon’s dirty laundry. There was hope in the near-comeback from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs and pride in coach John Harbaugh’s persistent aggressiveness. There was confusion over defensive breakdowns and silence from some Ravens who did not care to explain what had gone wrong in the 33-28 loss.
Only so much could be known for certain just minutes after the final whistle. The film would reveal who had busted what coverages, why certain passes had failed, where it had all gone wrong in Arrowhead Stadium.
But of at least one thing, Earl Thomas III was certain. The safety who had started the Ravens’ week of preparation with a headline-making pledge — that he would eliminate “all the big plays” — and had ended it having to explain the woes of a defense that allowed over 500 yards for just the 10th time in franchise history was confident there would be a sequel. Just when, he could not say.
“We’re going to see them again,” he said. “And this tape is going to be everything to me.”
When the Ravens rewind the tape on their most difficult 60 minutes of this young season, they will probably not like what they see. Some of the failings will be new to this team; some of them will not.
The Ravens (2-1) did not expect to make Patrick Mahomes look like Ryan Fitzpatrick in his much-hyped duel with Lamar Jackson (22-for-43 for 267 yards). They would’ve settled for a Kyler Murray impersonation. Instead, the quarterback they faced in Week 3 was unlike any they had faced in Week 1 or 2 or will face in the season’s remaining three-plus months. He looked like the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player.
The defense thought it had a plan. Last season, Mahomes finished with 377 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a nail-biting 27-24 win against the visiting Ravens — and looked rather mortal. The Chiefs’ supercharged offense needed an overtime possession to cross 400 yards of total offense. They finished with just 5.3 yards per play.
On Sunday, it did not matter that speedy star receiver Tyreek Hill or starting running back Damien Williams, both injured, were missing from the huddle. When Kansas City went to the line of scrimmage, Mahomes’ aim was true, his arm was strong, and his running backs found rushing holes over and over (26 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown).
After punting on the game’s opening possession, the Chiefs (3-0) reached the end zone on three straight drives and scored points on four straight. They punted only twice all game. Mahomes finished 27-for-37 for 374 yards and three touchdowns, the second straight quarterback to light up the Ravens’ pass defense. Kansas City finished with 503 yards of total offense, the 10th most the Ravens have allowed in franchise history, and averaged 7.9 yards per play.
“Defensively, I thought there were a couple of plays I wish we could have back. A couple of penalties I wish we could have back as well,” said safety Tony Jefferson, whose pass-interference penalty wiped out a third-quarter interception by Brandon Carr.
“But at the end of the day, we’ve got to play better, play more sound, play more fundamentally sound. It’s Week 3, so get back to the drawing board 2-1, and I still think we’re in great shape. I still have faith in everybody in our locker room, and we just go from there."
What the Ravens could have is a failure to communicate. In Week 2, crowd noise inside M&T Bank Stadium was at least partly responsible for defensive breakdowns during Murray’s 349-yard performance. On Sunday, against a Chiefs offense that dizzies opponents with presnap motions and misdirection, the Ravens were too often not on the same page.
Take Kansas City rookie receiver Mecole Hardman’s 83-yard catch-and-run, which extended the Chiefs’ lead to 20-6 late in the second quarter. It wasn’t deafeningly loud until he was in the end zone. The Ravens still had bungled the play.
Said Harbaugh: “The one touchdown was just played wrong by a certain player. That happens.”
And cornerback Anthony Averett: “We figured out what it was. … I was supposed to split those three [receivers], and the safety didn’t get over right away, and it was just something fast. It was something that we just have to be faster to recognize.”
And Jefferson: “I'll take the blame. That's on me. I'll work on that this week even more so. There's really no excuse. Just got to do better, play better and fix it."
And Thomas: “I think it was communication. We got to chalk that up to communication. We never let that happen, and we relax for one moment, and boom — they hit us.”
In a way, the Chiefs' 23-6 lead at halftime and 30-13 advantage entering the fourth quarter proved that the Ravens needed to find paths to the end zone, however possible, that Harbaugh’s aggressive strategy had merit. But the process was not pretty.
On the Ravens’ first fourth-down success, they needed Jackson to scramble his way past the sticks in the red zone. On their last, Jackson threw a 25-yard prayer that wide receiver Seth Roberts high-pointed near the goal line. Both conversions yielded immediate touchdowns. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones compared the aggressive strategy with something from a video game — “It’s like you’re playing ‘Madden’ with those guys” — and in that respect, the Ravens are fortunate to have Jackson.
But they needed more from their second-year rising star, or at least more from the offense around him. Jackson entered halftime 8-for-19 for 75 passing yards, and just one wide receiver, Snead, had caught a pass. When Jackson missed, it was often on overthrows. “Just throw a better ball,” he said of the cause of his inaccuracy.
It did not help that tight end Mark Andrews (three catches for 15 yards), Jackson’s favorite target, was limited by a foot injury. But the offensive line’s play was “tremendous,” Harbaugh said, and he typically had more than enough time to do something productive. Not until the fourth quarter did the Ravens’ early-season offense, the one that had engendered so much hope in Baltimore, fully materialize.
Over the game’s final 15 minutes, the Ravens outscored the Chiefs 17-3. Running back Mark Ingram II finished with 103 yards and three touchdowns. The offense had 452 total yards. They still ended up needing to stop Kansas City on third-and-9 with under two minutes remaining. They couldn’t.
And so for the second time in less than a year, they trudged off the Arrowhead Stadium field defeated, at once close to the AFC runners-up and still far from where they imagined they’d end the day. Less than a week away was a home date with the Cleveland Browns, who would see everything the Ravens had done, the good and the bad.
“There’s no question in my mind that we can accomplish our goals,” Thomas said. “We still can get right where we want to get to it. And the fight, that’s in us. That’s who we are.”