Before I get to the leftover smoked chicken wings from a Sunday bloody good Sunday of fun watching NFL football, here are my leftover thoughts on the AFC Championship Game and Kansas City’s 17-10 takeover at Baltimore.
1. Do not doubt the Kansas City Chiefs. I should have known better to pick the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Chiefs and cover the point spread. I went 0 for 2 on both swings. The future Hall of Fame combo of coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes is now 14-3 in the postseason since 2018, and no other side is close to matching that. Even when the Chiefs go through a regular season looking like a generic brand of themselves, they’re still the most dangerous team around when the sound of the clarion call tells us it’s postseason time.
1a. My mistake in going with Baltimore to win and cover? I put too much on the here and the now (Ravens) and not enough thought into the importance of a team’s championship pedigree. And that’s Kansas City. The Chiefs have been listed as an early underdog — by 1.5 points — in the Super matchup against San Francisco. Here we go again.
2. Reid and Mahomes can’t match the Super Bowl rings (six) won by the New England Patriots during the historically extensive and exceptional Bill Belichick and Tom Brady regime that excelled from 2001 through 2019. The Kansas City Coach-QB have only been together for six seasons with Mahomes as the starter. But in defeating Baltimore 17-10 for the AFC Championship, the Chiefs set up an opportunity to win their third Super Bowl during the Reid-Mahomes collaboration. As is, this will be Kansas City’s fourth Super Bowl in the last five seasons.
3. Here’s a stat that should resonate: the Belichick-Brady partnership had a postseason winning percentage of .732. The Reid-Mahomes band has a postseason success rate of .824. We’re witnessing something extraordinary from these dynastic Chiefs.
4. Sunday’s win was the result of another affiliation: Mahomes and Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Mahomes got his offense whirling and flying early on, taking a 17-7 halftime lead that flattened the energy in Baltimore’s home yard. In two touchdown drives and a third that produced a late second–quarter field goal, Mahomes completed 17 of 21 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. And on the three high-impact scoring possessions, Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce hooked up for seven passes that produced 76 yards and a perfect 13-yard TD pass to give KC a 7-0 lead. Mahomes and Kelce: still grand as ever, especially on the biggest stages when the stakes are high.
5. After the Ravens got on the board with five minutes left in the first quarter on a tying (7-7) touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson to Zay Flowers, Spagnuolo’s defense put the stranglehold on. After that TD, here’s what Baltimore did on its next seven possessions – not counting the kneel-down at the end of the first half: lost fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, lost fumble, interception. The Ravens briefly recovered to scrounge for a late field goal that cut the lead to 17-10, but Mahomes disposed of the home team by rainbowing a 32-yard completion on third down to the maligned Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Goat to hero.
6. Though the Chiefs failed to score on their five second-half possessions – before the running-out-the-clock drive – Baltimore couldn’t take advantage of the openings and make it a game. And I never thought the Chiefs were in danger of blowing their 17-7 lead. Spags’ defense was too strict, creative and menacing. Mahomes and the offense throttled down, reduced the risk factor, went conservative and turned the remaining business over to Spagnuolo’s defense.
6a. “Spags when the games get bigger, when the challenges get higher, he performs even better, and the guys executed the game plan well,” Mahomes said after the game. “Whenever they’re rolling like that, I have to kind of manage my game. That’s stuff that I’ve learned throughout the season is even if we’re not having the success that I want to have the defenses rolling and getting stops, just take the safe choice, get the ball out of my hand, don’t turn the ball over and let’s go win a football game.”
7. I’ve seen a lot of “the Kansas City defense won the game, not the quarterback” comments. Which kind of expresses a desire to downgrade the credit that goes to Mahomes. I don’t know why people feel compelled to choose one or the other when both Mahomes and Spagnuolo are teammates working to achieve a common goal: win the damn game.
I prefer to look at this another way: the defense finished what Mahomes started. And it was a true example of complementary football. And as much as the Chiefs rely on Mahomes — and why wouldn’t they? — they’ve found other ways to win games this season despite straining to score touchdowns at times. Sunday the Mahomes offense wobbled the Ravens early, made the home team go into a panic mode, and the Baltimore offense turned one dimensional. Even though the Ravens never trailed by more than 10 points and had plenty of time to make a comeback, offensive coordinator Todd Monken overreacted and got away from the game plan. By coming out of the gate, attacking, and jolting the home team’s confidence the KC offense set the tone and took control of the game. The Spagnuolo defense made sure to stay in control of the game — and that’s an understatement. This is what you want in your team, right?
8. The Ravens were the most prolific rushing team in the NFL this season. They combined Jackson’s scintillating scrambling with a heavy, standardized power-rushing attack. And the Chiefs had problems stopping the run this season; it was the only vulnerable part of the Spags defense. The top two aspects of the KC defense is pass-rush pressure and pass defense. The Chiefs are tough to beat through the air.
Once Mahomes-Kelce and the rest of the offense put the Ravens into an early hole, Monken started dialing up passes against Kansas City’s outstanding secondary. It was doomed to fail. Monken’s play-calling resulted in only SIX rushing attempts by the team’s running backs. Six! And with Jackson predictably setting up to look for deep-strike passes, Spags drew up a dizzying combination of sinister blitzes that the Ravens couldn’t process or handle. Jackson was confused and hesitant and couldn’t recognize where the pressure was coming from. The Chiefs harassed him for much of the afternoon, and made Monken look foolish for getting away from what the Ravens do best. Bawlmer had gone 35 consecutive games of rushing for 100+ yards in a game. But the Ravens’ offensive coordinator shut down his own running game. Go figure.
9. After the Ravens scored their only touchdown – and before the late drive that led to the field goal – Jackson completed 14 of 27 passes for 181 yards with three sacks, a fumble and a terrible interception. What was Monken thinking? This season KC finished second in the NFL for fewest points allowed, had the second-highest pressure rate on quarterbacks, and blitzed more frequently than all but a few NFL defenses. This is the best defense in Kansas City during Mahomes’ time as the starting QB. By abandoning the run so early, Monken put his own quarterback under constant duress and made it too easy for Spags to release the hounds.
10. Jackson is now 2-4 in his NFL postseason career. In the four losses he’s been intercepted five times, fumbled six times, and lost three fumbles for eight turnovers. Jackson deserves the league 2023 league MVP award he’ll receive in a couple of weeks. That’s a regular-season award, and this will make two MVPs for Jackson. But he hasn’t gotten it done in the postseason, period. And he’ll be scrutinized more than ever because the postseason is a critical factor in evaluating the magnitude of a QB’s career.
In a related note, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has gone 3-6 in the postseason after his team won the Super Bowl to cap the 2012 season. Against the Chiefs the Ravens were undisciplined and unsteady. The Baltimore defense played a great second half but drew too many flags. And the offense was basically a no-show. Perhaps John Harbaugh should have turned the play-calling duties over to his brother Jim, who was in attendance.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.