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Where It All Went Wrong…

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Nicholas Racette

The following represents the opinion of the student reporter and does not represent the views of Loyola University Maryland, the Greyhound, or Loyola University’s Department of Communication.

This past Sunday, the Ravens hosted their first AFC Championship in franchise history and the streets of Baltimore were feeling energized. While the challenge of perennial All-Pro Patrick Mahomes, genius Coach Andy Reid, and the superstar duo of Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift loomed large, the Ravens flock felt confident, and for good reason too. During the regular season, the Ravens posted the No. 1 scoring defense, the fourth-best scoring offense, and the No. 1 rushing offense by a large margin. Yet, as we all painfully watched, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens fell short of a Super Bowl by seven points. How did this happen? Did Jackson choke? Did Reid outsmart John Harbaugh? Or did the Ravens beat themselves? I assert the downfall of Baltimore in this game can be simplified into two parts, a lack of discipline and panicked play calling.

To start with the play calling, the Ravens abandoned their number one rushing offense almost immediately. During the first quarter, the Ravens rushed the ball for 39 yards on a mere five attempts, averaging 7.9 yards per carry on two drives. After the Chiefs went up 14-7 early in the second, the Ravens quickly turned away from their run first scheme that won them 14 regular-season games. They rushed for a lowly eight yards on three attempts and could not get much going on in the air, as two drives ended in punts and one in a Jackson fumble. All the while the Chiefs continued to lead slow methodical drives down the field, with an even balance of Isiah Pacheco runs and wince inducing Mahomes and Kelce connections, ending their first half in a field goal ready to get the ball back.  

To give credit to the Ravens’ defense, they stood relatively firm against a Kansas City offense that features heavy play action and Mahomes’ ability to prolong the play. In a statement play midway through the second, safety Kyle Hamilton stuffed Pacheco on fourth down. Unfortunately, the offense went three and out with Jackson completing only one pass… to himself.  

The Ravens’ defense was even better in the third quarter, giving up no points and only three first downs. Despite being in a complete air raid scheme at this point, the offense was able to drive into field goal range, ending in a brutal eight-yard sack to force a punt. To focus on this drive more specifically, the Ravens should have walked away with at least three points from their veteran kicker but were unable due to an early downplay call. The entire drive consisted of only one rushing attempt, which came on a scramble from a Jackson drop back.  

The play I would like to focus on comes with four minutes left in the quarter on second down with five yards to go at Kansas City’s 37-yard line. The Ravens opted to drop back and throw to Mark Andrews which was not only incomplete but brought back ten yards for a holding penalty. This down was a perfect opportunity to give the ball to one of your three capable rushers in Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, and Jackson. Not only because these three players are some of the best in the league at what they do, but because you have passed so often that the chances the defense is expecting or let alone prepared for the run are slim. Your chances of gaining a first down or breaking off an explosive chunk play are much higher, not to mention the fact you are the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL. This miscue led to the Ravens being forced to throw on third and nine, resulting in that detrimental sack. Obviously, players and coaches are going to make mistakes, but it is worth noting the margin for error in the playoffs against the Chiefs is incredibly thin. However, to consistently abandon what made you great all season in your biggest game is an unacceptable error by Harbaugh and the entire Ravens coaching staff.  

Despite all this, the Ravens were able to drive into the redzone to close the third with receiver Zay Flowers hauling in a bomb 54-yard reception on the first play of the drive. However, the rookie would shove cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to the ground and stand over him for a moment before the referees would throw a flag for taunting, bringing the gain back 15 yards. While this does not seem like a huge loss considering the huge play they had on just first down, it should go without saying that nearing the end of the AFC Championship down two scores with an unforced error like this is just unacceptable. Every yard counts, especially in games like this. Not only that, but it killed the momentum the Ravens had built to that point. When they showed the replay on televisions across the greater Baltimore area, nobody could say that was the wrong call. Flowers would fail to redeem himself in heartbreaking fashion, as he fumbled the ball in the endzone whilst diving in for a touchdown that would have made it a 3-point game to start the fourth. Without painfully delving into the ramifications of a mistake like this nearing the end of regulation, it is bad. If that blunder did not take all the steam out of the Ravens, their next drive ending in a Jackson endzone interception into triple coverage certainly did. It should not have been a surprise at this point. The offense trudged down the field to the tune of endless dropbacks lacking any of their regular season dominance.  

Ultimately, not only did the Chiefs win but they outdid the Ravens in every aspect of their game. They accomplished more first downs, fewer penalties, greater time of possession, and no turnovers to Baltimore’s 3. Most notably, the Chiefs rushed for 89 yards on 32 attempts while the Ravens rushed for 81 on half of those at 16 attempts. In 20 years, when this game is revisited regarding Mahomes’ and Jackson’s legacies, it should be remembered that both quarterbacks had great performances. The athletes played a hard game on both sides, the Ravens simply fell short this time.  

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    BetsyFeb 2, 2024 at 3:49 pm

    What a fabulous and beautifully written article Nick! Better than most of the sportcasters. on the television. Kudos to you kid!
    JULIE

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