Almost exactly two hours after the Ravens’ game Sunday ended, there it was, another moral victory, wanted or not.
The Ravens had fallen to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime, 27-24, at Arrowhead Stadium. But they twice came within one defensive stop of a victory against the AFC’s top team, a Super Bowl favorite. They were one pass defense of a miraculous, only-in-Arrowhead-Stadium throw away from their fourth straight victory.
The Ravens had allowed Chiefs wunderkind Patrick Mahomes to pass for nearly 400 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation. But they also hit him 15 times, made his life difficult enough during a frigid afternoon that ended amid controversy around 4:30 p.m. local time.
The Ravens had dropped back into a tie for the sixth and final spot in the AFC’s playoff picture, holding on just barely by virtue of a tiebreaker. But then, at 6:30 p.m., the Pittsburgh Steelers lost, too, and the Ravens were still a half-game back of the lead in the AFC North and the No. 4 seed, their hopes of a home playoff game far from extinguished.
It was a tough loss, yes. An opportunity wasted, of course. But ...
“I don’t think we’re discouraged at all,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “Nobody in this locker room should walk out with their heads down.”
“We got three more games we have to win,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Just proved we could obviously hang with any offense, any team.”
“As bad as we wanted this win, coming away, this team knows we can play with anyone and beat anyone,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It just hurts because we felt like we played better than them. We feel like we should’ve came away with a win, but we didn’t.”
The Ravens’ second overtime game of the season could’ve ended in regulation. At one point, it should’ve ended in ecstasy. Then it should’ve ended with remorse.
But nothing about Sunday was predictable. In the Ravens’ Week 5 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Michael Crabtree’s hands were the unforeseen variable, the unstable element that produced overtime. Here in Week 14, there were ball-security problems, too, but also special teams woes and Mahomes magic.
With over 90 seconds remaining in regulation, the Ravens led 24-17 and the Chiefs’ NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner faced a fourth-and-9 from their 40-yard line. Ravens outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith burst into the pocket, pressuring Mahomes from his left. Then defensive tackle Brandon Williams got free and gave chase, too. Kansas City’s win probability was under 10 percent, according to ESPN.
As Mahomes ran to the right sideline and looked downfield, he spotted wide receiver Tyreek Hill. There was a sliver of separation from Mosley and Smith in the middle of the field. He chucked it to the far hash mark inside the Ravens’ 35-yard line, a throw like something out of “backyard football,” Carr said. Somehow, it fell into Hill’s hands.
“It felt like it was in the air for, like, 10, 15 seconds,” Mosley said. “Just made a play.”
It was the Chiefs’ most impressive fourth-down conversion of the game but not their most important. Later in the drive, on fourth-and-3 from the Ravens’ 5-yard line, Mahomes found running back Damien Williams open on a pick play for the tying score with 57 seconds remaining.
The Ravens’ next two drives ended with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, hitherto undefeated as a starter, in a heap. Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston’s strip-sack of Jackson as the Ravens looked for a go-ahead score in regulation, and then subsequent recovery of the fumble, went unrewarded after Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
When Kansas City opened overtime with a field goal, Jackson faced maybe his most important drive as starter. But he could not finish what he had started. Outside linebackers Dee Ford and Houston combined for a crushing sack on second-and-18 that knocked Jackson out for the next two plays, the Ravens’ last. Third-string quarterback Robert Griffin III’s first attempt was nearly intercepted. His second, a tough one to wide receiver Willie Snead IV near the line to gain, had the Ravens sideline in disbelief. Why, players asked afterward, was there no flag thrown for pass interference on cornerback Kendall Fuller?
“You’d like to see come out in the end with a victory, because that’s what they tally up when it’s all said and done,” coach John Harbaugh said. “All the other stuff that’s kind of to the eye that you look at, you have to respect that. You have to honor that. That’s what these guys are about. I just can’t say enough about our players and coaches along those lines. They are disappointed about the fact that they didn’t win the game, but that doesn’t change any of the other stuff.”
Numbers could not console the Ravens, but some did impress. Jackson (13-for-24 for 147 passing yards and no interceptions), whose ankle injury is not significant, had his first career game with two passing touchdowns and led the team in rushing yards (71). On special teams, Cyrus Jones (Gilman) had his second game-changing punt return in three weeks.
Defensively, Mahomes finished 35-for-53 for 377 passing yards and two touchdowns, but the Ravens emerged with their first interception since Week 5 and held him to his lowest passer rating since early October. The Chiefs entered the game averaging 7.0 yards per play, tops in the NFL; they managed just 5.3 Sunday.
But there was nothing to be gained from the 112 yards in penalties the Ravens were assessed, or outside linebacker Terrell Suggs’ crucial overrun of Mahomes’ overtime fumble, or Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s calling the Ravens “a really good football team.”
For many, there was only the result, as cold and hard as the winter the Ravens stepped out into Sunday night: a loss in a season that could end in three weeks’ time. “We ain't got time to die,” Smith said, and there was no sustenance in defeat.
“We didn’t come here for no moral victory,” Suggs said. “We didn’t come here to do well against a 10-2 team, now 11-2. No, we came to win. No, we didn’t come here for no moral victory.”