Ravens rally behind QB Lamar Jackson, force late fumble to finally beat Chiefs, 36-35

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BALTIMORE — As quarterback Lamar Jackson was led away from the middle of a jubilant scrum inside M&T Bank Stadium late Sunday night, coach John Harbaugh found him, a smile as wide as the Chesapeake Bay.

It had been a long night in Baltimore, a frustrating night, an ecstatic night. They could not be blamed if they needed someone to keep their legs from wobbling like Jell-O or their hearts from beating like a drum. They embraced, coach and quarterback together, long enough for the scale of their accomplishment to sink in.

On the scoreboard above, it read: Ravens 36, Chiefs 35. For three frustrating years, the Ravens had been at the mercy of Kansas City and its own transcendent quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Jackson himself acknowledged that the Chiefs were his “kryptonite.” Not only was he 0-3 against the perpetual Super Bowl favorites, but he’d also been stifled in the last two games.

The comeback he led Sunday might’ve been the best of his regular-season career. He finished 18-for-26 for 239 yards and a touchdown and added 16 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including the decisive score. The Ravens led for just 3:14 all game, but that was all they needed in a “Sunday Night Football” game for the ages.

It was fitting that Jackson gave the Ravens their first lead all game. At the end of a 14-play, 63-yard drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock, Jackson took a zone-read keeper off the right tackle. No one bothered to account for the game’s most dangerous runner. Rather than walk in the 1 yard he needed, he somersaulted. Then he chucked the ball high into the sky, rising with the deafening decibel level inside M&T Bank Stadium.

It was a slight advantage, 36-35, but the Ravens needed more. A failed 2-point-conversion attempt made the game winnable with a field goal. The Chiefs needed just two plays to get inside the Ravens’ 40. After the third, the Chiefs were at the 32, already within field-goal range for kicker Harrison Butker.

Then rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh reached his hand in and punched the ball loose from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Then he pounced on the decisive turnover.

The game hung on a conversation between Jackson and Harbaugh. After Jackson found wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third down, the Ravens could’ve punted with a yard to gain. Instead, they went for it.

Harbaugh asked Jackson whether he wanted to go. Jackson said he did, and he took a quarterback sneak into the heart of the Chiefs defense. He came out on the other end with a first down. The game was theirs.

It was not an easy night. Mahomes finished 24-for-31 for 343 yards and three touchdowns and an interception.

When training camp opened, the Ravens had the personnel to keep the Chiefs at bay. Then Jimmy Smith, one of the NFL’s higher-rated cornerbacks when healthy last season, sprained his ankle and had a slow recovery. Then cornerback Marcus Peters, one of the NFL’s best ball hawks, tore his ACL in early September. Then cornerback Chris Westry suffered a meniscus injury in the season-opening loss.

Just when the Ravens’ injury list couldn’t get any more daunting, safety DeShon Elliott came up looking woozy after a second-quarter collision. He was examined for a concussion and did not return. A third-quarter neck strain for defensive tackle Brandon Williams robbed the defense of another starter.

The Ravens needed help tackling as much as they do a clean bill of health, maybe even more. The defense finished second to last in 2020 with 134 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Reference, behind only the Raiders (143). Little changed Sunday. On wide receiver Byron Pringle’s 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter, he broke an open-field tackle from rookie defensive back Brandon Stephens, Elliott’s replacement, turned the corner against cornerback Anthony Averett and beat everyone to the pylon.

The worst was yet to come for the Ravens. On tight end Travis Kelce’s 46-yard catch-and-run score, which extended the Chiefs’ lead to 35-24, cornerback Tavon Young got stiff-armed, Stephens couldn’t wrap up Kelce, Averett whiffed on a dive, cornerback Marlon Humphrey offered only a glancing blow, and defensive tackle Justin Ellis’ last-ditch wrap-up dragged Kelce into the end zone.

Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale had said before the game that “10 and 87 is who we have to stop,” referring to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Kelce, respectively. The Ravens blotted out Hill, who finished with three catches for 14 yards. Kelce was a tougher ask; he finished with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.

“The others, you’ve just got to hold on to,” Martindale said Thursday. “And if they make a play, then so be it.”

The pregame ceremonies were authentically Baltimore, with a musical nod to the late Michael K. Williams, who starred as Omar Little on “The Wire,” and a squirrel dance from Ravens legend Ray Lewis. Then the game started with the residual craziness of the Ravens’ season opener, an only-in-Vegas kind of night that ended with a Raiders comeback and overtime win.

Jackson’s first three snaps presaged the wild three-plus hours to come: a short run after breaking the huddle with less than 10 seconds remaining, a missed downfield shot to a streaking Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and a pick-six by safety Tyrann Mathieu after Watkins slipped on a comeback route. The Chiefs led without Mahomes having touched the ball.

The Ravens answered by battering Kansas City the only way they know how: on the ground. Jackson passed just once on a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but still had to watch the ball hang in the air before it crossed the plane. After running back Ty’Son Williams rumbled to Kansas City’s 1 on a 9-yard carry, cornerback Mike Hughes jarred it loose before the goal line. The ball popped out to wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who caught it gracefully and fell forward for his first career offensive touchdown.

Mahomes didn’t need an invitation to strike back. The Chiefs covered 92 yards in eight plays, the last a 33-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson, who left Humphrey in the dust down the seam. Mahomes hit eight of his first nine passes; his lone incompletion came on an intentional-grounding penalty after a snap over his head left him with no other recourse.

After the Ravens’ second touchdown — a 5-yard rumble by running back Latavius Murray that evened the score at 14 — Mahomes followed the same easy-bake recipe. He strafed the Ravens’ intermediate areas with passes to Kelce and fellow tight end Blake Bell, while Edwards-Helaire kept the run defense honest. Running back Darrel Williams’ 2-yard touchdown run capped a drive that looked as easy as most of those in last year’s meeting did.

The trouble for the Ravens was taking advantage of the Chiefs defense’s missteps. After leading an impressive drive to the Chiefs’ 24 late in the first quarter, Jackson squandered points with three passes he would’ve wanted back. He slammed his helmet after the third, a third-and-long throw to Brown that Mathieu, one of three Chiefs defenders in coverage, picked off easily. It was Jackson’s second straight game with two turnovers, coming just a short week of rest after a two-fumble night in Las Vegas.

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