Baltimore Flips the Script and Beats Kansas City

For three consecutive years, the schedule put Kansas City against Baltimore, a matchup broadcasters salivated over because of the teams’ explosive young quarterbacks.

Three times, the Ravens lost, and last season quarterback Lamar Jackson called Kansas City “our Kryptonite.” On Sunday night, that pattern ended.

On fourth-and-one with just over a minute left, Jackson did what he had done so well all game. He collected a snap, churned his legs and plowed forward for a first down, sealing a 36-35 win.

It culminated a game in which he made early mistakes that Monday morning critics easily could have faulted. He threw two interceptions on throws that could have made the game’s outcome more decisive. But he and the team fought through those blunders, testament to the entire squad’s perseverance, he said.

“Our team’s strong,” Jackson said in a postgame news conference. “We’re together. We just have to keep building and keep stacking and keep staying focused.”

The Ravens this off-season spent draft capital and free agency dollars to diversify their offense from its scrunched, run-first approach. Defenses for years allowed it to succeed in the regular season, but somehow contained it in the postseason. Since Jackson became the starter in 2018, the Ravens have never reached the conference championship game.

New additions, like the veteran receiver Sammy Watkins, formerly of Kansas City, and the first-round draft pick Rashod Bateman offered clues that the Ravens hoped to be more balanced and threaten opponents in areas of the field other than over the middle.

But the team struggled to gain continuity as Jackson missed valuable training camp repetitions after contracting the coronavirus. The Ravens also lead the league with 15 players on the injured reserve list, highlighted by their top three running backs on the depth chart, Bateman and cornerback Marcus Peters.

Behind a reshuffled offensive line and with a hastily-constructed corps of running backs shunned by their old teams, Jackson rushed for 107 yards on 16 carries for two scores, and also threw for 239 yards and a touchdown. That was enough to allow his team to survive a game in which it did not lead until three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I have complete confidence in Lamar Jackson to make every play,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “I will just never, never not have faith in him to make a play in any situation.”

On the game’s first drive, Jackson misfired on a pass to receiver Marquise Brown, who slithered behind Kansas City’s secondary. On the next play, Jackson threw an interception to safety Tyrann Mathieu, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. He threw another interception later in the quarter to Mathieu while the Ravens were in scoring position and trailed by 14-7.

Often criticized, fairly or unfairly, for his inconsistency as a pocket passer, Jackson easily could have lost confidence. But he said the moments motivated him.

“My guys had my back, “Jackson said. “I was like, ‘All right, I have to play now.’ That’s over with and that’s what we did.”

Both Jackson and Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes started their young careers by winning Most Valuable Player awards, fueled by their off-script playing styles that dominated highlight reels. Jackson’s margin for error, though, is far smaller than Mahomes. His offense lacks the firepower of Kansas City, which has tight end Travis Kelce and the speedy receiver Tyreek Hill and has continually mounted second-half comebacks efficiently.

But Baltimore’s defense stiffened on Sunday night. Mahomes threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns, but the Ravens’ secondary blanketed Hill, whom Mahomes targeted only four times. Kelce still posted 109 yards, nearly half coming from a 46-yard scamper when he wove through potential tacklers.

In the third quarter, with Kansas City up, 35-24, Mahomes evaded a pass rush as he stepped up in the pocket, but soon collided with a defender. As he fell, he flung the ball to Kelce, but cornerback Tavon Young jumped in front and intercepted it. Baltimore scored a touchdown five plays later. Coach Andy Reid said he would have preferred Mahomes to take a sack in that situation, but he had seen him escape similar circumstances.

“You don’t want him to throw those, but he’s made some plays doing that,” Reid said. “In that case, he’d probably like to have that one back.”

Kansas City’s defense allowed Baltimore to rush for 251 yards, a performance Reid credited to defenders not getting off blocks and tackling poorly. Near the end of the fourth quarter, they allowed Jackson to orchestrate a 14-play drive that ended in Jackson rushing for a one-yard touchdown.

With the score 36-35, Kansas City’s offense had an opportunity to enter field goal range, but running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled, giving the Ravens the ball. Jackson converted the fourth-down attempt to preserve the win.

After losing in overtime to the Las Vegas Raiders last Monday, the Ravens now face a favorable schedule for the next month, with two of their next three opponents being the rebuilding Detroit Lions and the Indianapolis Colts, whose quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a potentially serious ankle injury against the Los Angeles Rams. But for now, Jackson and his teammates are happy to have overcome their Kryptonite, regardless of how it was done.

“Whether you win or lose, whether it’s on the quarterback or not on the quarterback, it’s always ‘Lamar this, Lamar that,’” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “It’s really big for him. I’m happy for him to get that zero, oh and whatever, off his plate, and really happy as a unit.”

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