All of it was bad. The play calling. The execution. The inability to ever really get in sync offensively. And we’ll get to the loss of composure and the thrice loss of the football to mind-blowing turnovers that halted the best regular season run in the history of the franchise.
Like a purple earthquake, it is a civic thud that will take some time to evaluate. Just like the immediate, curt thoughts of head coach John Harbaugh, who was in no mood to dance or take any tough questions after the stunning 17-10 loss to his mentor Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs whilst on the doorstep of another Super Bowl that could clinch his Hall of Fame candidacy while his brother expects to be playing in this game next year with the Chargers in Los Angeles.
Just like it was in 2006 when Peyton Manning came into Baltimore with the Colts and extinguished a promising season. Just like it was every time Joe Flacco and an aging Ray Lewis and a thirsty Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs would fail, there is a civic pall and a gray cloud cast over the doldrums of winter and what could’ve been. If you’re going to be hard on Lamar Jackson after this one, remember that Flacco lost four years in a row in January and even threw the “go-to-the-Super-Bowl” pass and still had to be perfect to win one 11 years ago this week.
It’s not easy to win the Super Bowl. I will view this through the neutral scope of a lifer journalist: yeah, this one was hard but the better team won the football game on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.
Here’s the real story: Patrick Mahomes > Lamar Jackson. Still. At least for now. Maybe the gap has shrunk in the regular season but not in January.
The more prepared, better coached, better led and more composed team is going to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas. And the team that made massive mistakes at pivotal times and committed dumb penalty after stupid penalty followed by too many men on the field with the season on the line lost the football game.
Turns out the DVOA thing and any results against Detroit or San Francisco or anyone else in December doesn’t matter in January. As a heady 4-½ point favorite at home, many believed the Ravens were just going to roll the ball out onto the turf and Las Vegas would roll out the purple carpet. With Super Bowl pedigree and pelts, the Kansas City Chiefs had other plans and a very clear old-school plan to play head games with the emotional Ravens, who lost their heads and then lost the game.
The Chiefs chippiness made a big difference and the Ravens lost the collective mind game on the biggest day of their professional lives. They melted down and Harbaugh knew it and couldn’t even address it in his three-minute podium tap dance. It certainly feels to me like Andy Reid, along with Harbaugh mind-readers Steve Spagnuolo and Dave Taub, gave the “they’re not mentally strong” speech sometime this week and swiftly tailored a game plan to instigate the Baltimore Ravens during the pre-game warmups.
It was clear from what happened on the field before the game that the Chiefs wanted the bully role: Travis Kelce throwing Justin Tucker’s tee around in the endzone and the near brawl with Arthur Maulet and half of the Kansas City Chiefs roster got the juices flowing but the Ravens couldn’t reign it in. And certainly there was no reigning in Kelce once the game began and Taylor Swift started celebrating up in the sky box. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald had no answer for Eighty Seven running loose in the Ravens’ secondary.
The stadium was a purple pit of hell and the emotions from the fans ran hot all day. Kyle Van Noy with a headbutt. Jadeveon Clowney coming in tardy. The Travis Jones forearm shiver to the head of Mahomes channeled Deacon Jones. (It was dirty.) And then the incredibly untimely Flowers fumble 12 inches from the endzone and then bloodying his own hand with a self-inflicted punch of aggression. And then the patented Lamar Jackson helmet toss that screams “we are losing and I’m mad.” (I’ve always thought this was Pop Warner behavior. I still do.)
This isn’t smart living. This wasn’t smart football.
Champions manage their emotions.
Joe Flacco was dealt buckets of feces for a decade by the fanbase for not pounding the turf and barking at the referees or chewing out teammates who ran the wrong route when he got credited with an interception. He discussed it with me last week and said he was “never a cry baby.”
Now, Lamar will be 2-4 in January postseason games with three home losses (all as favorites) in his first five full seasons as the Ravens starting quarterback. Joe Flacco will forever be 10-5 with a Super Bowl ring AND two awful, devastating AFC Championship Game losses – one pretty much his fault as a young, rookie quarterback throwing a nasty late pick to a future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu with James Harrison (the best pass rusher in the sport at the time) breathing down his neck.
Even Mahomes and Tom Brady lose playoff games. They just never lose their cool.
But the Ravens easily could’ve won this game with a little more composure and a few fewer unforced errors like the Zay Flowers fumble and the Lamar Jackson interception.
The end comes hard and abruptly. Towels over the heads. Odell Beckham consoling Flowers.
Lamar looking deathly on the bench. Players running out the back door while Chad Steele holds the door open for them by banning people like me from being there.
The pressure of being expected to win is large and mostly unprecedented around here. Lamar’s legacy looms large in every conversation until he plays better football in January. And the Baltimore Ravens will only go as far as he will take them. Time will tell but with the salary cap and his large number and role in that, he will almost surely have a diminished roster in the near future.
On Sunday, he had a bad fumble, an awful interception and his offensive coordinator Todd Monken had no answer for what Spagnuolo was unleashing with the same kinds of disguises that might get Macdonald a head coaching job this week. Those halftime adjustments made against Houston didn’t come against Kansas City.
And Patrick Mahomes is headed back to his fourth Super Bowl.
Lamar took the podium and answered the questions. He knows one touchdown wasn’t enough. I’m not worried about him. He’s great enough to win a Super Bowl. We all should acknowledge this but we can all acknowledge and name plenty of excellent quarterbacks who couldn’t win a ring. And he’ll have to play better in the next AFC Championship Game if he wants to be a champion. Or, of course, if that ever happens again.
This was a large, open window at home for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens as a healthy favorite with home cooking. And it didn’t get done.
And now the Ravens will be breaking up a large section of the band with coaches and free agents and money and veterans under performing vs. their salary.
The offseason has begun.
The Baltimore Ravens won the regular season power rankings and lost the AFC Championship Game at home.
There will be no parade this year.
There will only be questions. Forever – or until they win a Super Bowl with Lamar Jackson.