The defensive woes will rightfully be the story of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 36-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens; that side of the ball’s performance may be as bad as we’ve ever seen from the unit under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
However, the offense has had to overcome a defensive performance like that before — and it looked to be in a position to do it again. As they marched through Ravens’ territory with roughly 90 seconds on the clock and a chance to win the game with any score, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled on a second-down rush. Baltimore recovered, and the game was over four plays later.
Head coach Andy Reid has been around long enough to know how crucial giveaways can be.
“Turnovers, they kill you in this league,” Reid told reporters after the game. “We had two of them down the stretch in crucial times. We have to do better, we have to learn from that... Guys played hard, it’s just the other group took advantage of the turnovers.”
It was the first fumble in Edwards-Helaire’s NFL career, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. As he approached the line of scrimmage, Ravens defensive lineman Odafe Oweh reached out to punch the ball out as left guard Joe Thuney blocked him. A swarm of Baltimore defenders was right there to jump on it.
“From the naked eye, It looked like he didn’t quite have it all tucked in there,” Reid recalled. “I don’t know if there was an exchange problem or what happened, but the ball turned a little bit, and the guy got his hand on it. I’m not worried about him fumbling, other than this one, we have to fix it, but that’s not what he is. He’s not a fumbler.”
Quarterback and team leader Patrick Mahomes told reporters after the game what his message would be to the second-year back after a disheartening turnover.
“We’ll need him the entire season. ‘Don’t let one play define you,’” Mahomes lectured. “It’s a long season, obviously we lost, it’s a good football team that we played at their place, but it’s a long season — and if we want to be great, if we want to have a chance to make another run, he’s going to be an important part of it.”
Mahomes had a crucial, game-changing turnover of his own. On third-and-12 from just inside Baltimore territory with a 35-24 lead to protect, Mahomes scrambled to find an open receiver. He eventually began to be brought down but attempted a desperation throw to tight end Travis Kelce before he could be sacked. The throw floated, was inaccurate, and was intercepted by a Baltimore defender.
The Ravens would take advantage of the excellent field position from the turnover by scoring a touchdown, narrowing the score to 35-30. It was an objectively lousy play by Mahomes, and he admitted as much while explaining what he should have done instead.
“I should’ve just thrown it to [Demarcus Robinson] in the flat,” Mahomes admitted. “I saw D-Rob in the flat, then I saw Travis came back to me, the dude grabbed my leg, I thought I could get my other foot down, he kind of spun me, and it was just a dumb interception. Probably one of the worst interceptions I’ve ever had.”
We’ve seen Mahomes make a miraculous play in that situation before — so it’s hard to be frustrated with him trying to make another one of those plays. However, they were able to either extend their lead to 14 points with a field goal — or punt and make Baltimore drive a long way to score.
Unsurprisingly, Mahomes was aware of how he mishandled that particular situation.
“The interception was not only dumb in the sense that it was a bad throw, not even close to the receiver, but it was dumb at that point in the game,” Mahomes reflected. “Even if I just throw the flat and he doesn’t get a first down, we have the chance to decide if we’re going to try and kick a field goal or punt and kind of pin them back.”
The two turnovers were nearly impossible to overcome — especially because of the defense’s lackluster performance. The last-minute fumble could have been redeemed with a defensive stop due to the Chiefs having all three timeouts remaining. The unit held Baltimore’s offense on their first three plays, but couldn’t stop quarterback Lamar Jackson from powering through the line on a short fourth down.
The ineptitude of the defense is what most will remember from this game — but as Reid mentioned, the offense was in a position to win despite the bad night from the other side of the ball.
“It’s a team effort,” Reid declared. “You got guys in position, you have to make the tackle, and you have to make the play. We have to do a better job at getting off blocks — but again, all that said, you have the ball, you’re driving down, on that last series which should’ve been the last series, and we fumbled. We knew they were a good run team, the guys pushed through and we had ourselves in a position to win the game — and we didn’t win it. We have to learn from this, and do better.”
Not only did the offense fumble an opportunity to win the game, but they were also shut out from the scoreboard for the last 22 game minutes of the contest. Their last three possessions ended with either a turnover or a punt. The bad drives didn’t give the defense time to recover from their previous possession; it’s fair to assume the unit was worn out from defending such an effective rushing attack.
While the defense is obviously at fault for allowing 36 points to an injury-riddled offense, the Chiefs’ offense deserves blame for not putting away the game when the opportunities presented themselves.