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Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs

"We’ve said it before, but don’t think I’ve ever been happier when we’ve said it: It’s not perfect [and] it’s not pretty," said Harbaugh after the win.

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens gave themselves a signature win to build on with their 36-35 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are five things we learned from Sunday night’s game:

The Ravens have their signature win on which to build a 2021 season.

Lamar Jackson somersaulted into the end zone and hurled the ball into the sky. He knew this was no ordinary Week 2 touchdown. He was the one who dubbed the Chiefs the Ravens’ “kryptonite,” even if he only said it once at a particularly low moment last year.

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So he knew how much it meant to take the lead on the defending AFC champions after fighting back from two early interceptions and an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.

After rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh stifled the Chiefs’ attempt at a go-ahead drive by stripping Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jackson faced another defining moment. The Ravens needed 1 yard on fourth down to clinch the game. Coach John Harbaugh asked his quarterback if he wanted to go for it.

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“Maybe I wanted to be sure myself,” Harbaugh said afterward.

“Hell yeah,” Jackson shouted, embracing the boldness of the occasion. Everyone in a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium could guess No. 8 would keep the ball himself, and no Chief could do a thing to stop him from gaining those deciding yards.

On his fourth attempt in four years, Jackson finally finished off the team that had always stomped on his cape. With 239 passing yards, 107 rushing yards and a string of clutch plays, he added a pantheon game to his collection (only his straight-from-the-tunnel comeback in Cleveland last year can compare if we’re talking regular season).

In the exultant minutes that followed, it did not matter that the Ravens had 15 players on injured reserve or that they let their season opener slip away in overtime. They had just done “something that will be remembered for the rest of our lives,” as Harbaugh put it.

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Is that hyperbole when we’re talking about one regular-season victory in a 17-game schedule that’s littered with obstacles for an injury-depleted roster? Perhaps. But the Ravens beat a team no one thought they could hang with on this night. They did it by imposing their bruising style and counterpunching against the league’s greatest talent, Patrick Mahomes, who played a casually magnificent game in his own right.

The 2021 Ravens no longer have to wonder what they’re made of. They showed us. They showed themselves.

The Ravens stood up to the Chiefs by beating their defense for 60 minutes.

The Cleveland Browns gave us a blueprint when they built a lead on the Chiefs with power football in Week 1. Surely, the Ravens wanted to play this way against Kansas City last year, but they could not after falling behind so quickly.

Give them credit for sticking to their guns this time despite a disastrous first drive. On the second play of the game, Jackson overshot Marquise Brown on a potential 73-yard touchdown. He threw a pick-six on the very next play after wide receiver Sammy Watkins slipped.

The Ravens answered with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground. This set the tone for a 60-minute demonstration of offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s mastery of run designs. The Ravens, playing with a backfield they patched together 10 days ago, rolled up 251 rushing yards on 41 carries. Jackson was unstoppable as usual with his freakish ability to change directions at full speed. But let’s not forget that Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman, none of whom was expected to gain a yard for the Ravens when training camp commenced, combined for 142 on 24 carries.

On some plays, the Ravens deceived with their blocking schemes. On others, they ran the Chiefs over with concentrated bulk.

You can’t play from behind against the Chiefs; that’s the accepted wisdom. Jackson’s two first-quarter interceptions put the Ravens in a hole from which they seemed unlikely to emerge. It wasn’t as if Mahomes let up. After he led the Chiefs on a touchdown drive midway through the third quarter, they had 35 points, one more than they scored when they blew out the Ravens last year.

But the Ravens trusted their core identity, and this time, they controlled the clock and the flow of the game in the fourth quarter. They beat the Chiefs not by becoming a different team but by becoming a better version of themselves.

"Do you want to go for it?’ I’m like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ I said it again, like [in] Seattle two years ago," said Jackson when asked about going for it on 4th down.

This was also a victory for the Ravens’ offensive line.

As Jackson celebrated with Harbaugh after the game, he made sure to remind his coach who deserved a heaping portion of credit for the Ravens’ offensive breakout. “Coach, the O-line,” he said.

“The O-line played great,” Harbaugh affirmed. “They all played great.”

No one faced more criticism than the Ravens’ tackles after the Raiders swarmed Jackson in Week 1. Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva appeared defenseless against the outside speed of Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby, leaving us to wonder how bad things might get against Chiefs star Chris Jones. The news got worse when Stanley did not practice last week, raising questions about his long-term status for the season.

So give the first game ball to Villanueva, who looked like a different player filling in for Stanley at left tackle, the position he played for six years in Pittsburgh. Even when he was matched one-on-one with Jones, Villanueva kept Jackson clean. Jones did not have a solo tackle or pressure all night.

Elsewhere, the Ravens got creative, rotating rookie Ben Cleveland in at left guard (where he might have seized the starting job from Ben Powers in one night) and using Trystan Colon as a sixth lineman in heavy sets. They employed frequent pulls to deceive the Kansas City front seven. Center Bradley Bozeman, right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Patrick Mekari routinely powered their way to the second level as run blockers. Even tight end Mark Andrews got in on the fun with a few ferocious blocks.

Harbaugh said we’ll know more about Stanley’s prognosis within a week or so, but we saw that for the short term at least, the Ravens can function with Villanueva as Jackson’s chief protector. That has to be a huge relief for the coaching staff.

Odafe Oweh is wildly ahead of schedule.

Remember when we talked about Oweh as a high-risk developmental prospect because of his scant pass-rush production at Penn State? That seems pretty silly now that he’s played two NFL games and made a significant impact in both of them.

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Oweh made the two most important defensive plays of the game, drilling Mahomes on a delayed rush to set up an interception by Tavon Young in the third quarter and punching the ball out of Edwards-Helaire’s grip on the Chiefs’ last drive. These were not flukes. The Ravens trust the rookie to be on the field in every situation, and he makes the offense feel him with his rare speed and unquenchable thirst for the ball.

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The second component is as important as the first. We heard all about Oweh’s remarkable athletic traits, and he lives up to the hype on that count. He’s strong enough to hold his ground against a 320-pound tackle and fast enough to cover Travis Kelce in a pinch. But his desire to be great, to find his way into every play, is equally apparent. Call it motor or heart or whatever you want. The guy approaches his job with purpose, and he’s already one of the most important defenders on the roster.

Harbaugh did not seem surprised in the least at Oweh’s contributions. “That was the kind of play we envisioned him making when we drafted him,” he said.

The Ravens’ sudden lack of secondary depth will make them vulnerable against top quarterbacks.

The Ravens changed their approach after Mahomes slaughtered them on blitzes last season. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale called just one blitz on 17 drop-backs in the first half.

The plan worked modestly well in that the Chiefs actually failed to move past the 50-yard line on two consecutive drives in the first half. But Mahomes was still devastatingly efficient, completing 24 of 31 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns on a night when his top deep threat, Tyreek Hill, caught just three passes. The Chiefs averaged 8.3 yards per play overall.

The Ravens undermined themselves at times. They missed four tackles on a 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Kelce that put the Chiefs up 35-24 in the third quarter. Earlier in the same drive, Marlon Humphrey was flagged for an obvious defensive holding call on third down. In the first quarter, Humphrey let Demarcus Robinson get behind him for a 33-yard touchdown.

We saw the cracks in a secondary that was playing without Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry and that lost starting safety DeShon Elliott to a concussion late in the second quarter. We thought pass coverage would be the strength of the team. Instead, we’ve watched Derek Carr and Mahomes combine for 778 passing yards over the first two weeks.

In an ideal world, the Ravens could have used Humphrey and Smith to match up with Kelce, who might be the deadliest receiving tight end in NFL history. In this world, they often checked him with second-year linebacker Malik Harrison, who had little chance to succeed.

There were bright spots. Cornerback Anthony Averett covered well, and Humphrey lived up to his lofty standards for most of the night. The Ravens did not break in the fourth quarter as they did in Las Vegas. But after two shootouts in two weeks, fans will hold their breath the next time this defense faces a top quarterback.

Week 3

RAVENS@LIONS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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