Baltimore Ravens

The Chiefs are the Ravens’ ‘kryptonite.’ History shows that won’t last forever.

It began, innocently enough, with a thriller.

The Ravens, in Lamar Jackson’s fourth game as starting quarterback, went up a touchdown on the Kansas City Chiefs with four minutes left in regulation. Though they could not keep their fingers in the dam against the Chiefs’ dazzling young quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, the 27-24 overtime loss seemed to set up a brilliant rivalry to come.


The Ravens played the Chiefs again in 2019 and 2020, with the eyes of the NFL turning each time to the matchup of Mahomes and Jackson, of Chiefs coach Andy Reid and his former assistant, John Harbaugh. Instead of a deepening battle for AFC supremacy, however, fans witnessed an increasingly one-sided demonstration of the Chiefs’ superiority. Last year, Mahomes treated the Ravens’ blitzes like a Pee Wee attack, doing what he pleased as the Chiefs built a 27-10 lead by halftime.

With the teams slated to meet in prime-time again Sunday night, it’s fair to ask if Ravens-Chiefs can even be called a rivalry. The Ravens are reeling, with injuries to key players piling up and serious questions about their blocking and pass defense coming off a Week 1 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs, meanwhile, look as unstoppable as ever, with Mahomes firing a missile to Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce every time a game gets tense. They’re no longer a peer to the Ravens; they’re a nemesis.


Jackson described them as the Ravens’ “kryptonite” after that 34-20 thrashing on “Monday Night Football” last year.

“The Chiefs have definitely had our number the past couple of years,” Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “And I guess the way you go about changing it is just addressing it how it is, looking at it head on and going into the game just trying to beat them.”

The Chiefs aren’t the first AFC opponent to act as a perpetual storm cloud on the Ravens’ horizon. Since their early years in Baltimore, they’ve battled through multiyear dramas against opponents that started with the upper hand. Often, when the Ravens turned the tide in those rivalries, their victories foreshadowed greater success in the postseason.

In the first years after the franchise moved from Cleveland, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eight times between 1996 and 1999 they beat the Ravens, sometimes by a lot, sometimes via late-game mishap. When Tony Banks finally led Baltimore to a 39-36 victory in the second game of the 2000 season, it felt like a milestone.

“I think there’s a level of shock and a level of excitement,” Banks said after he threw five touchdown passes to slay the Jaguars. “It’s like we won the Super Bowl.”

Four-and-a-half months later, they won the real thing.

Just as those early Ravens were starting to fly under coach Brian Billick, the Tennessee Titans and running back Eddie George emerged as another bruising barrier. They beat the Ravens four out of five times from 1998 through the teams’ first meeting in 2000. The Ravens turned the table by one point in the second regular-season matchup and won the playoff rubber match with a blocked-field-goal return and a 50-yard interception return by Ray Lewis. They beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl three weeks later.

In the years after that defining triumph, Lewis and the Ravens encountered another foil in Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Manning seemed to relish dissecting the league’s most feared defense, and the defeats tasted particularly bitter for Baltimore fans who’d watched the Colts flee the city 20 years earlier. The Ravens lost to Manning’s crew every year from 2004 to 2009, with the nadir coming when they succumbed at home without allowing a touchdown in the 2006 playoffs. They didn’t break their losing streak against the Colts until 2011, when Dan Orlovsky was playing quarterback. They didn’t get back at Manning until the 2012 playoffs, when Joe Flacco connected with his famous 70-yard heave to Jacoby Jones in Denver.


At the beginning of Harbaugh’s tenure as Ravens coach, the Pittsburgh Steelers barred the door to ultimate success. They beat the Ravens three times in 2008, including in the AFC championship game. Though the Ravens split their regular season matchups with Pittsburgh the next two seasons, the Steelers sent them out of the playoffs again in 2010. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not play in either game the Ravens won, adding to the sense they could not beat the Steelers’ A squad.

“We didn’t put them away. We didn’t put them away,” linebacker Terrell Suggs repeated after the second playoff defeat. “We need to take a long look at ourselves.”

A true nemesis can have that effect on the psyche. The Ravens did not gain a clear upper hand on the Steelers until 2011. They went to the AFC championship game that year and won their second Super Bowl the next. The trials by fire against the Steelers played an integral part in their evolution.

“This Steelers-Ravens game is for men,” Harbaugh proclaimed after Flacco hit Torrey Smith in the end zone at Heinz Field to secure a season sweep in 2011. “You’ve got to shine bright to win this game.”

The Ravens and Chiefs have yet to meet in the playoffs since Mahomes and Jackson arrived, so it’s difficult to put their recent series on the same level as those past matchups with the Steelers, Colts and Titans. But the quarterbacks attract national attention to their showdowns, so the Chiefs’ supremacy has become a subplot in the Ravens’ narrative of can’t-win-the-big-one frustration.

Players said they can only view each matchup as a fresh chance to solve the problems presented by the AFC’s best. An upset of the Chiefs could set the Ravens’ season on a new path after weeks of bad news.


“So, I think it’s a great opportunity for us, for this club to really go out there Sunday night and show that we belong on the field with them,” Humphrey said. “I don’t know if we’ve played them every year since I’ve been here — I think it has been every year — and they’ve kind of been up on us. So, it’s a great opportunity for us, [and] I’m really excited.”

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins played on the other side of the matchup until he joined the Ravens this season. He said the Chiefs put a bull's-eye on the Ravens as a significant opponent.

“Every year, you’ll kind of be in training camp, and you’ll look at who you’re playing the first two, three games, and the first thing that we looked at [was] the Ravens; Lamar Jackson — how can we stop him?” he said. “How can we stop Wink’s [defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s] defense, the blitzes, and stuff like that?”

Despite Kansas City’s success, he and his teammates did not believe they were in the Ravens’ heads.

“I just think we had a great game plan,” Watkins said. “We came out, executed the plays well. Andy Reid [and] the coaching staff put together a great game plan that we lived by, and we just played well.”

NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who will help call Sunday night’s game, also questioned the notion that the Chiefs own the Ravens.


“The Chiefs have been beating everybody, so by that standard, they will have had everybody’s number for awhile,” he said. “I guess the question is: can the Ravens beat these guys? And my answer would be they absolutely can beat Kansas City. They absolutely can because they match up well running the football. They’ve always run the ball well. But you’ve got to be so good and so consistent and not make mistakes, and that’s hard, because they’re going to answer everything you do.”

Week 2


Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM