There isn’t a way to sugarcoat what happened on Sunday Night Football: the Kansas City Chiefs defense played impossibly bad, costing them a key conference win. Led by quarterback Lamar Jackson — who started slow and got better as the game carried on — the Baltimore Ravens outgained the Chiefs 481 to 405 yards.
Jackson earned the win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. His first in four tries, it has been the one that eluded him. The Chiefs defense could do nothing to stop the run, from Jackson to (with injuries) their fourth-string running back Ty’Son Williams — or even their fifth or sixth-string. The pass rush was non-existent — and though the Chiefs weren’t gashed through the air, they gave up chunk yardage at key spots.
The Ravens deserve proper credit. They did not allow the game to fall the way of quicksand. They scored points after each Chiefs’ touchdown in the first half, exploiting defensive lineman Chris Jones in the run game early — and then seemingly picking on rookie linebacker Nick Bolton in coverage later. Jackson added his own version of the “jump-pass” to his résumé with the touchdown to Marquise Brown, who ran away untouched because on account of coverage that was utterly, completely blown.
The Ravens allowed two touchdowns to start the second half — but then they buckled down, causing Patrick Mahomes to throw his first-ever September interception.
NBC Sports analyst Cris Collinsworth noted that the Chiefs came in with a plan to ease Frank Clark in for his first start after a hamstring injury. He did not make much of an impact. Neither did Jones, who made important plays down the stretch in Week 1.
The Chiefs have confirmed that their defensive point of focus in the offseason was to improve in the red zone, where they struggled last year. So far, so bad. Opposing teams are a perfect 8 for 8 on the year. Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale developed a game plan specifically for the Chiefs, going away from his characteristic heavy blitzes and Cover-0 looks (at one point, the NBC broadcast noted the Ravens blitzed three times out of the first 17 dropbacks). They adapted — and did enough in their revised plan to win.
If there was a lone — very lone — bright side to the defense, it was Tyrann Mathieu’s immediate impact upon return to the lineup. We wondered coming into the game whether Mathieu would be 100%. Well, 100, 95, 90 — or whatever he was — the instincts were there. Mathieu picked off Jackson on the third play of the game, taking advantage of a Sammy Watkins slip and overthrow to get the Chiefs out to a 7-0 lead. Though the first interception led to a pick-six, the second interception was more impressive in my eyes, as he and the Chiefs appeared to bait Jackson into thinking he was out of the picture before he drifted back to snatch the ball out of the air.
It hardly mattered, as Jackson rebounded from the early adversity to put together a winning performance — including going for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield to ice the game.
Meanwhile, Mahomes had another excellent performance. Other than the ugly interception, he threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns. In past rapid reactions, I’ve referred to the quarterback as the magic eraser — a player who can fix anything.
But on Sunday night, the utter defensive inefficiency — and a costly fumble, the first of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s career — was simply too much to overcome.
The Travis Kelce section
15 or 20 years from now, when most of the details — including the poor defensive performance — of this early-season Sunday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens are long forgotten, one moment of the evening won’t be forgotten at all: the best play of Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce’s career.
The play displayed everything that defines Kelce — the 260-pounder who moves like he is 210. After securing the ball, the tight end turned around the defense and then bobbed and weaved for the Chiefs’ go-ahead score. Maybe it is fair to consider Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez the greatest tight end in history — but Kelce is entrenched in that conversation, and at 31, he has shown no sign of slowing down.
Kelce led the Chiefs with seven receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.
The Chiefs return to Arrowhead Stadium next week to play the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers. There are 15 games to go — and plenty of time to right the ship.