With the 2023 season coming to a disappointing end as the Ravens fell 17-10 to Kansas City in the first AFC championship game played in Baltimore in 53 years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. We’ll never know how the finish might have played out without Zay Flowers fumbling before the goal line on the opening play of the fourth quarter, but that critical turnover was the result of a terrific play made by Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Kansas City ultimately made more championship plays.
2. The talented Flowers will learn from this experience, but his backbreaking fumble and taunting penalty moments earlier were prime examples of the lack of composure exhibited by the Ravens at too many points throughout the game. The stark contrast between these teams in championship game experience was on full display.
3. That lack of composure extended to Todd Monken and John Harbaugh as the offense was way too reluctant to try to run and play with heavy personnel against a Chiefs defense that struggles against the ground game. The Ravens panicked and played into the hands of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
4. That said, discussion about completely abandoning their identity is somewhat overstated considering the Ravens ranked seventh in the NFL in game-neutral early-down passing rate. While it’s ironic that Greg Roman’s influence could have helped Sunday, this hadn’t been that same run-first offense until taking commanding leads, which Baltimore did often.
5. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce were easily the best players on the field in the first half. After halftime, Mahomes simply refused to make a mistake and finally delivered the dagger on the long pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to seal it. His composure was so impressive.
6. Lamar Jackson playing his worst game since November was extremely disappointing, especially after the brilliance exhibited on the first-quarter touchdown pass to Flowers, who was initially open underneath before Jackson’s magician-like escape from pressure and deep heave. It felt like this game would be a shootout at that moment.
7. Speaking of spectacular plays, I still don’t know how Mahomes delivered that throw to Kelce as he was being hit on third-and-5 early in the second quarter. Kansas City going 4-for-4 on third downs on that second touchdown drive was deflating for both the defense and a raucous crowd.
8. The strip-sack of Jackson that followed was more a result of a very deep drop and holding the ball too long than a major indictment of Ronnie Stanley. That was one of several scramble opportunities Jackson didn’t take as there was open space in front of the line of scrimmage.
9. Fortunately, the defense got a fourth-down stop after that and held Kansas City to three points the rest of the way, giving the Ravens offense every opportunity to come back. Lost in the disappointment of this loss was the tremendous play of Kyle Hamilton, who was easily Baltimore’s best player.
10. After that sudden-change stop, the offense had two potentially pivotal drives to conclude the half with the second one starting at the Baltimore 41 after a lousy punt. The Ravens ran a total of eight plays for 25 yards, 13 coming on Jackson’s catch of his own deflected pass. Brutal.
11. Though Kelce was baiting Baltimore all day, a two-time Super Bowl winner shouldn’t fall for it. Kyle Van Noy was a great addition, but his unnecessary roughness penalty was the difference between the Chiefs playing it safe backed up and trying to score to end the half, which they did.
12. It’s wild to think back to Christmas and how lousy Kansas City and San Francisco had to be feeling after ugly home losses while the Ravens made an emphatic statement as the NFL’s best team. There’s no sugarcoating what a squandered opportunity this was. You only get so many.