The Kansas City Chiefs walked into M&T Bank Stadium as the reigning AFC Champions. They walked out of there still holding the title belt.
A lot had been said about the Baltimore Ravens having a historically great defense, while also boasting presumed NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. While it was a close game — and a slugfest through all four quarters — right from the very beginning, it was easy to differentiate the champs from the challengers.
Here are five things we learned in Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship.
1. This one was for Norma
As the old saying reminds us, “Behind every great man is a great woman.”
But in the case of the late Norma Hunt, I would amend it to, “Beside every great man is a great woman.”
Throughout the franchise’s history, there was only one first lady of football. She was first beside her husband Lamar — and then first beside her son Clark when he took over the team after his father’s death.
Norma was at Lamar’s side when the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV. She was there in the lean years when Kansas City couldn’t buy a playoff victory. She was there a year ago, watching the Chiefs hoist their third Lombardi Trophy.
She died on June 3 at the age of 85. Super Bowl LVIII will be the first without her; she was the only woman to attend every one of the first 57.
All season, the Chiefs’ players have worn a patch in her honor. What better way to honor everything she has meant to this city than to bring home the trophy that bears her husband's name?
This one was for you, Mrs. Hunt.
2. Championship DNA
The Chiefs executed a perfect game plan in Baltimore. By playing aggressively on his first drive, they shut Jackson down. Then they controlled the ball, methodically moving up and down the field, eating as much clock as possible. They were committed to the run — even when it wasn’t working. They played to their strengths — and trusted their defense to get the job done.
Consider the greatest coaches in history — including Phil Jackson, Joe Torre, Pat Summit and Vince Lombardi.
They all have one thing in common: the ability to imbue their players with complete self-confidence in the biggest moments. The brightness of the lights, the size of the stage and the talent of the opposition are all unimportant. Under these coaches, no moment is ever too big.
And now, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid joins their ranks.
It’s more than just game-planning and being prepared. It’s also convincing every one of the team’s players that there’s just one thing that can keep them from their shared goal: themselves. It’s building an expectation to be the best.
The Ravens pulled out all of the stops, trying to hype themselves into the task of beating the defending champs. The Chiefs simply came out and played like themselves — and when you are the champions, there is nothing better than that.
3. Kelce is still Kelce
There have been naysayers. There have been doubters. There were people who said that tight end Travis Kelce cared more about being famous than playing football.
But this week, Kelce said that he has never wanted an AFC title more than this one. On Sunday evening, he proved that — and also proved why he is still the greatest tight end to ever play the game.
Kelce had one clutch play after another — including what might be the toughest touchdown catch of his career. Early in the first quarter, quarterback Patrick Mahomes found Kelce in the corner of the end zone. Kelce made the catch while falling backward with Baltimore safety Kyle Hamilton draped all over him.
It was the sort of statement play that we’ve come to expect from Kelce over his amazing career. The message was clear. “I’m still HIM,” it said, “so know your role and shut your mouth, ya jabroni!”
4. This defensive line is gritty
This defensive line is banged up. Defensive end Charles Omenihu left the game with an injured knee. Chris Jones was in and out of the lineup after getting his knee dinged up. Derrick Nnadi missed this game with an injury.
Even so, the Chiefs still found a way to battle in the trenches — and win enough reps to contain Jackson and the Baltimore offense.
When you’re looking at reasons why the Chiefs won, start by watching how the defensive line played in the trenches. While it wasn’t perfect, it was gritty enough to get the job done — and sometimes, that’s better.
5. No-fly zone
Even though Jackson is among the league’s most electric players with the ball in his hands, the Ravens decided to use his arm instead of his legs. They tried to beat the Chiefs through the air.
A lot has been made about Jackson’s improved passing this season — but until Sunday afternoon, he hadn’t faced a secondary like Kansas City’s.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did a great job of mixing up coverages to confuse the Baltimore offense. But defenders like Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed were the true heroes of the game, essentially erasing every receiver not named Zay Flowers from the Ravens’ offensive gameplan.