The Ravens proved in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday that they are serious playoff contenders, but they continue to be haunted by a problem that has recurred the past couple of years.
The Ravens don’t have playmakers.
They don’t have players on both defense and offense who can make plays in the closing minutes of a game to secure a victory.
They are well coached. They have a strong work ethic. They believe in their head coach, they play hard and never quit, but a team has to have playmakers if it wants to win in the NFL.
Who on this Ravens roster scares you? Who on this team causes coordinators from another team to stay up late in the evening as far as game strategy? Which Ravens player made the big play late Sunday night to pull one of the biggest upsets of the season?
There wasn’t one.
On the other sideline were Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
In crunch time they made plays. On fourth-down situations they converted, including a 48-yard pass from a scrambling Mahomes to Hill with 1:17 left in regulation.
Hill had eight catches for 139 yards. Kelce had seven receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown.
“He just kept making plays,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said of Mahomes. “As much as we knew it, as much as we talked about it, he made that play on fourth-and-9. We can’t let that happen.”
Sometimes you need playmakers to match playmakers. Smith and fellow cornerback Marlon Humphrey are good cornerbacks, but they aren’t in that top echelon. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was once a great player, possibly a Hall of Famer someday, but he doesn’t take over games anymore. Tackle Brandon Williams is a good run stopper but doesn’t get much push on passing situations.
Everyone else on defense, with the exception of linebacker C.J. Mosley, is basically a complementary player which is why Kansas City went on a scoring drive of 75 yards late in regulation and then had a 58-yard scoring drive in overtime.
“Mahomes does what he’s been doing all season, which is buy time,” said Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr. “That combination [Mahomes and Hill] has been deadly all year. He found a way to snake past our defenses once again and was able to connect and prolong the game.
“You have to find ways to finish and win these tough ballgames and against good opponents on the road in unfriendly territory. We have to make our plays and find ways to get a victory moving forward.”
It’s the same situation on offense. Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown are an upgrade over the receivers from a year ago, but there isn’t a true No. 1 among the bunch. Rookie running back Gus Edwards has played well, but he is a grinder, not a home run hitter.
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson makes the running game better, but his inconsistent passing motion and poor mechanics hurt the air game. The Ravens are a limited team.
They gave a superb effort Sunday. They were aggressive on both defense and offense. Defensively, they got a lot of pressure on Mahomes, and they gave him a lot of different looks. The Chiefs burned the Ravens a couple of times with their aggressiveness, but that’s OK because the game plan worked overall.
Offensively, the Ravens stuck with the run and pounded the Chiefs in the third quarter. In the past four weeks the Ravens have gotten as much production as possible out of this offense, but there is no A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr. or Mahomes on this roster.
With or without quarterback Joe Flacco the Ravens have no stars, no playmakers.
On Sunday the Ravens proved they could play with any team in the NFL. They did that earlier in the season when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in September and lost narrowly to the New Orleans Saints in October. But once you get to the playoffs, the stars shine.
It’s usually the quarterback, receiver, running back, pass rusher or cornerback.
The Ravens don’t have that type of player. When it’s late in the game and the outcome is on the line, there have to be some players who come up big with plays. The Ravens don’t have them.
It’s been that way for years.
It’s that way again.