From the Ravens learning how far they really are from being the best team in the NFL to the jury still being out on a reconstructed defense, here are five things we learned from the Ravens' 34-20 thrashing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes on Monday night:
The Ravens learned how far they really are from being the best team in the NFL.
It was easy to come out of last season thinking the Ravens were almost as good as the Chiefs. They were more dominant than the Super Bowl champions in the regular season, and their playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, in which every pivotal play seemed to go against them, could be written off as a fluke. If Lamar Jackson wasn’t on par with Patrick Mahomes in the race for quarterback preeminence, he was in hot pursuit.
Many analysts, including this one, picked the Ravens to surpass the Chiefs on Monday night and at the end of the season.
Well, throw that out the window, because the Chiefs humiliated their would-be rivals in the most anticipated game of this young season. Andy Reid and his coaching staff seemed to anticipate every Ravens move on both sides of the ball. With each throw, Mahomes reminded us he’s the most mesmerizing passer yet born to this sport. Jackson is a magnificent player, but he’s looked like a frazzled up-and-comer in his three losses against the true maestro.
We talked about all the little matchups that would be fascinating in this supposed battle of the titans, and the Chiefs won almost every one of them. Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce repeatedly found open spaces while Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (three catches on eight targets) dropped passes. Chiefs wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman beat defensive backs over the top while Ravens deep threat Marquise Brown (two catches for 13 yards) went silent. Kansas City’s offensive line kept Mahomes unsacked and largely untroubled while Chiefs defensive star Chris Jones dropped Jackson twice in the first half.
As the game got away from them, the Ravens rushed into uncharacteristic mistakes. They threw short of the marker on third down, overcommitted on defense and failed to connect on plays that have come easily to them over the past two seasons. When they did have a chance to blunt Kansas City’s momentum, they coughed it away with a dropped pass or a false start.
The Ravens pulled within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs smacked them back down like an annoying kid brother, constructing a 13-play touchdown drive that ended with a Mahomes pass to tackle Eric Fisher.
It’s a mistake to overreact to one game, especially when it happens in the first quarter of the season. But the Ravens knew this was a test of where they stand in the NFL hierarchy, and they failed it, plain and simple. This result, along with their playoff defeats, will hang over them until they write a different story against the NFL’s best.
The Chiefs showed there’s only one unstoppable offense in the battle for AFC supremacy.
The Ravens looked like elephants on an ice rink as they played a step behind the Chiefs for the entire first half. Give credit to Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for preying on every weakness of Don “Wink” Martindale’s pressure-based schemes. Give credit to Mahomes for exploiting every mistake and finding every gap. He toyed with the league’s top scoring defense on third down, converting 10 of 13.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said his team was not caught off guard by Kansas City’s ample bag of screens and misdirection plays. “We expected it,” he said. “We just didn’t handle it very well.”
He blamed himself as much as anyone, saying he needed to learn from the defeat.
On the Ravens' first defensive possession, cornerback Marcus Peters gave too much cushion to Hill and then missed a tackle to allow a 33-yard gain that set up Kansas City on the Ravens' 3-yard line. Two plays later, outside linebacker Matthew Judon failed to set any kind of edge as Mahomes trotted into the end zone untouched to put the Chiefs up 6-3.
The Ravens began their second drive with a 14-yard Jackson run off left end, but the officials wiped that out with a questionable tripping call on tight end Nick Boyle. The Ravens did nothing from there and handed the ball right back to Mahomes.
He punished the Ravens' aggression, converting on third down with a screen pass against the Baltimore blitz and finding Kelce in an open patch of ground abandoned by overreacting rookie linebacker Patrick Queen. Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins beat Peters one-on-one to convert on third-and-9 as the Baltimore defensive front failed to put any pressure on Mahomes, who then finished his vivisection with a nifty shovel pass to Anthony Sherman for touchdown No. 2.
The Chiefs also beat the Ravens with the sheer brilliance of their skill players. On their third touchdown drive, Mahomes faked a jump pass to throw off two blitzing defenders and then fired a third-down completion to his right while scrambling to his left. A few plays later, he dropped an exquisite touchdown pass over Hill’s shoulder to beat tight coverage by Peters.
That stuff is going to happen against Kansas City. But when you’re outschemed and outmaneuvered one-on-one, you’re stuck in a football nightmare.
The jury remains out on the Ravens' reconstructed defense.
After the Ravens lost to the Titans in the playoffs, they resolved to add power along their defensive front and speed to their middle layer. Their highest-profile offseason additions, from trade acquisition Calais Campbell to first-round pick Queen, were supposed to supplement a star-studded secondary.
Those new elements did them little good against the Chiefs, who kept defensive ends Campbell and Derek Wolfe off Mahomes and punished Queen’s rookie mistakes. The 21-year-old middle linebacker, touted as an heir to the legacies of Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley, spent an important fourth-quarter drive on the sideline as the Ravens turned to L.J. Fort and Chris Board.
The Ravens expect Queen to become a three-down linebacker who excels in coverage. But we’re watching his growing pains, understandable given that he did not become a full-time starter at LSU until a few games into last season.
The Ravens have to be more disappointed that Campbell, Wolfe and Judon have combined for just one sack through three games. Sacks are not the be-all and end-all, but they hoped to generate more consistent pressure on non-blitz downs, and that has not happened.
The Ravens rejuvenated their defense on the fly in 2019. After the Chiefs diced them up, they have another project on their hands.
In a game with few bright spots, Devin Duvernay unveiled his big-play potential.
Remember Harbaugh’s visible elation when the Ravens drafted Duvernay in the third round this spring? We saw why on Monday when the rookie out of Texas dragged the Ravens momentarily back into the game with an electrifying 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
A reasonably fast returner would likely have been pushed out of bounds around the 35-yard-line given the angles of the play. But Duvernay simply erased those angles with his acceleration to the sideline. He was gone before the last line of defenders seemed to grasp what was happening.
The Ravens have yet to incorporate Duvernay heavily in their passing game. He played just 17 offensive snaps over the first two weeks, and Jackson only found him on a pair of underneath throws against the Chiefs. But his burst on that kickoff return hinted at the damage he could do on vertical routes and runs after short catches.
Expect more highlights.
Now, the Ravens know how far they have to go.
Think back to Week 4 last season and the 40-25 homefield thrashing the Ravens suffered at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. That loss dropped them to 2-2 and left serious questions about their defense and about Jackson’s ability to play from behind.
We know what happened from there; they tweaked their roster, settled into their offensive identity and did not lose again in the regular season.
As the Ravens rolled through November and December, veterans pointed back to the week after the Browns loss and the frank discussions they held about where the team stood.
“We kind of grew a lot from that moment,” running back Mark Ingram II said late in the season. “We were 2-2, and we pretty much said that our season could go one of two ways: We can change it and we can have success, or we can fold and fail. So, we came together, and we just went back to the drawing board.”
If the Ravens are looking for a mission statement coming out of their loss to the Chiefs, that’s a pretty good one.
“I think the good thing about playing a team like that, that’s just hitting on all cylinders right now, is they can show you where you’re weak,” veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “You don’t want to sit and sulk. For our team, we’ve got a lot of young guys, so the first thing you’ve got to do is, tomorrow, get back and watch the film, see what happened. Don’t be sensitive when you see stuff that happened to you on the plays. Let’s fix it, because we have a game in six days.”
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Harbaugh said he didn’t see a clear comparison to Week 4 of 2019, because every season is different. The crisis — and that might be overstating it in the cold shadow of defeat — isn’t the same this time around. The Ravens know they’re better than most teams in the NFL; they’ve proved as much over the last 12 months. But they’re not sharp enough, possession to possession, to keep up with the best team and best player in the league. They need to spend the next 3½ months perfecting everything they do in anticipation of a possible rematch.
The target is set. The quest to reach it begins with honest self-assessment.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
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Line: Ravens by 13 ½