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NFL

The Ravens Out-Footballed Those Suckers

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It must be exhausting trying to beat the Chiefs, like trying to keep pace with a world-class sprinter who is always just a moment away from really hitting their stride and leaving whoever is behind them gasping in the dirt. It looked like that’s how things were going to play out for the Baltimore Ravens last night, right up until the point they figured out how to get a bulldozer on the track and drive it in the other direction.

The Ravens trailed the Chiefs 21-17 at the end of the first half, and losing by just four points at that moment in the game felt like something of a moral victory. Baltimore had spotted the Chiefs an immediate 7-0 lead thanks to Lamar Jackson throwing a pick-six on his first drive of the game, and had turned the ball over again just two possessions later. As the second half began, the Chiefs seemed set to repeat a familiar pattern: letting a good team hang around with them awhile before ripping off a few quick, devastating scoring drives in a row and racking up a sudden two- or three-touchdown lead. Lots of teams have thought themselves right there, ready to topple Patrick Mahomes’s and Andy Reid’s beautiful machine, only to look up a second later and see the ball sailing 60 yards through the air into the hands of a wide-open Tyreek Hill.

The Chiefs opened the second half seemingly ready to act out that familiar script. A 40-yard touchdown to Byron Pringle made it 28-17, and even when Baltimore answered back with a TD of their own via Jackson’s incredible jump pass, the Chiefs had Travis Kelce ready to run through Baltimore’s entire defense for a 46-yard score.

After the Ravens punted on their next possession, a long touchdown pass from Mahomes to Hill that would finally put the game out of reach felt inevitable. But then the Ravens managed to get some pressure on Mahomes, who flung a pass into coverage while being brought down, and oh hey, would you look at that, the Ravens had forced a turnover. A quick score and failed two-point conversion made it 35-30, at which point Baltimore’s defense swelled up once again to force Kansas City to punt.

Beating the Chiefs requires not just taking the lead at some point, but doing so in a way that leaves Mahomes as few opportunities as possible to come back and reclaim it. With that in mind, the Ravens turned in a 14-play, 68-yard masterpiece that not only put them up 36-35, but gobbled up eight minutes of clock. The Ravens only passed three times on that drive, spending the rest of it hitting the Chiefs’ defense with a variety of jumbo packages and pulling guards and read-options, all of which left the Chiefs either flat on their backs or scrambling to figure out just who the hell had to the ball and where the hell it was going.

We all love it when the guys on the football field throw the ball really far and run really fast, but I don’t think the game has a more entertaining sight to offer than when the Ravens’ intricate run scheme whirrs to life. Of course it’s fun to watch Jackson zip around the field, but it’s also all the feints and misdirections that make the Baltimore’s running game such a thing to behold. There were multiple plays last night on which the Ravens threw such a strange blocking scheme at the Chiefs that it left a Chiefs lineman totally unblocked and just kind of shuffling his feet in place, waiting for someone to block him or pawing at a running back who did not have the ball.

Baltimore’s work wasn’t quite done after that long scoring drive, as Mahomes still had three minutes left to erase a one-point deficit. Baltimore needed one more big defensive play, and they got it from Odafe Oweh, who forced a fumble that the Ravens recovered with with just over a minute left to play. Things still looked a little bit dicey when the Ravens couldn’t get the game-ending first down on three plays, but that just set stage for one final highlight: John Harbaugh asking Jackson if he wanted to go for it on fourth down, and Jackson getting the job done with a two-yard run.

So that’s all it takes to beat the Chiefs. Just three huge defensive stands at ideal points of the game, one of the most impressive and methodical scoring drives you’ll see all season, and the guts to go for it on fourth-and-1 with a minute left to play. Why don’t teams just do this more often?