A 27-24 overtime loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs did not knock the Ravens from the postseason picture. In fact, it had the opposite effect on some. Safety Eric Weddle went as far as to say afterward that the game proved the team was a Super Bowl contender.
But if the Ravens’ season ends at Week 17 for the fourth straight year, if they come up one win short of the playoffs, there is already a top candidate to replace Tyler Boyd’s fourth-and-12 completion one year ago as this offseason’s nightmare fuel.
There are few NFL quarterbacks who can conceive of, much less complete, the kind of 48-yard pass that Patrick Mahomes threw to wide receiver Tyreek Hill on Sunday. And there are few moments worse for a defense to allow it than fourth-and-9 with under 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
But the Ravens did not lose their three-game winning streak and a chance at a signature victory in Arrowhead Stadium on that play alone. There were certainly none more critical, but it was a game rife with might-have-beens. Here are six the Ravens would have liked to have back.
6. Third quarter, 11:46 remaining, Ravens ball, fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 39-yard line
Trailing 17-10, needing to go about 18 inches, the Ravens got weird with their jumbo package. That was perhaps to their detriment.
All 11 offensive players lined up either in the backfield or along the offensive line. Flanking left tackle Ronnie Stanley was slot wide receiver Willie Snead IV. To the right of right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. were reserve guard-center Bradley Bozeman and tight end Nick Boyle.
The play appeared to be a simple dive for running back Gus Edwards, positioned behind Lamar Jackson in the Ravens’ pistol formation. But things went wrong quickly. Left guard James Hurst whiffed on a block. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was a half-step late getting to the second level. And, most crucially, Bozeman couldn’t stop Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey from crashing down and getting to Edwards behind the line of scrimmage.
Ravens safety Chuck Clark nullified Kansas City’s good field positioning with an interception a few plays later, but the fourth-down failure loomed at the end of regulation. The Ravens needed a field goal to avoid overtime. Had they plowed ahead on fourth-and-short, they were just yards away from kicker Justin Tucker’s range.
5. Fourth quarter, 44 seconds remaining, Ravens ball, second-and-10 at Ravens' 36-yard line
The Ravens offensive line, generally speaking, was fine for most of Sunday. But it saved some of its worst for last: back-to-back holding penalties on the game’s final drive, and a sack that knocked Jackson out of the game.
But the line was lucky to get even those plays in. Outside linebacker Justin Houston’s strip-sack of Jackson on the Ravens’ potential game-winning drive in the final minute of regulation was a presnap failure that, were it not for kicker Harrison Butker’s missed 43-yard field-goal attempt, should’ve ended the game.
There were many potentially guilty parties. Running back Ty Montgomery didn’t pick up Houston darting through the hole between the Ravens’ left tackle and left guard spots. Ronnie Stanley blocked Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen, the outermost pass rusher, instead of Houston, rushing inside of him. Jackson and center Matt Skura, who help make presnap protection calls, didn’t account for the overload rush on Jackson’s blind side.
4. Second quarter, 4:11 remaining, Chiefs ball, third-and-19 at the Ravens' 40-yard line
It takes a village to raise a child, and an unprepared defense to give up a third-and-very-long.
Mahomes did not hesitate to snap the ball after his receivers got set, and when he did, only the four Ravens rushing Mahomes looked prepared, or at least in position. Elsewhere, there were heads turned, fingers pointed and receivers still uncovered.
Hill easily beat an out-of-position Marlon Humphrey on a deep crossing route for the 21-yard gain. Running back Damien Williams, who leaked out of the backfield uncovered until Tavon Young recognized he was open, cleared the cornerback out of Hill’s path after the catch. And safety Eric Weddle decided not to wrap up Hill after hitting him short of the line to gain.
Three plays later, Kansas City was in the end zone and leading 14-10.
3. Overtime, 1:39 remaining, Ravens ball, fourth-and-22 at the Ravens' 41-yard line
After the loss, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked whether there was contact on the last play of the game, a pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Snead that, had it been caught, might have been enough for a game-extending first down.
“I think you guys should write what you see,” he said. “You want us to get up there and criticize the officiating. I saw the officiating all day. I know what it was, so write what you see. You don’t get fined for it.”
Upon further review, Harbaugh would have been right to criticize the noncall. Replays of the play showed Baltimore native and Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller, in tight coverage, interfering with Snead’s upper right arm and going through his back before the pass arrived.
Under NFL rules, any act that includes "playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball" or "grabbing an opponent’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass" is considered pass interference.
With a first-down catch or a spot foul, the Ravens would have moved inside the Chiefs’ 40 with about 90 seconds remaining. Instead, the game ended.
2. Overtime, 6:25 remaining, Chiefs ball, first-and-10 at the Ravens' 12-yard line
Perhaps the biggest oddity from Sunday’s game, or the greatest testament to Mahomes’ otherworldly talents, is that the Ravens forced just one turnover with an unyielding pass rush that produced 15 quarterback hits.
In the third quarter, there was Clark’s interception of a gift-wrapped overthrow from Mahomes, who wound up just as outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith grabbed him around his waist. And in overtime, after the Ravens flushed Mahomes from the pocket, there should’ve been a fumble recovery by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
How close did he come to keeping the Chiefs’ decisive drive scoreless? After defensive end Brent Urban overran Mahomes’ lost ball, Suggs was able to get at least a few fingers on it. But when his momentum took him to the ground, the fumble was out of arm’s reach. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher fell on the ball just before Suggs could make one last lunge for it.
1. Fourth quarter, 1:29 remaining, Chiefs ball, fourth-and-9 at the Chiefs' 40-yard line
The Ravens had the right call on the play of the game. With Kansas City seemingly expecting an all-out blitz, only wide receivers Hill and Demarcus Robinson released downfield immediately. Wide receiver Chris Conley and tight end Travis Kelce stayed in for chip blocks. That was just fine with a Ravens defense sending only four pass rushers and dropping back into a Cover 2 zone scheme.
When Smith beat Fisher around the edge and forced Mahomes to scramble to his right, he effectively halved the field. As Mahomes sprinted to the right sideline, Robinson and Conley were too far away to target. Kelce was double-covered near the first-down marker.
Mahomes had to hope that Hill would continue to pull away from linebacker C.J. Mosley; that Weddle wouldn’t bail on his unoccupied zone to move more centrally; that he could throw a ball across his body 43.6 yards through the air, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and have it hit a fast-moving target in the numbers.
Mahomes kept the faith. And the Chiefs somehow kept the game alive.
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