How the Kansas City Chiefs Ruined My Life
BALTIMORE, Maryland – It’s always a heartbreaker, isn’t it? I’ll never know the pain of being a Jets fan, condemned to the inescapable hell that is New Jersey football. But the Ravens have a propensity to crumble in an inventive and dramatic new way every year. Read how the Kansas City Chiefs ruined my life below.
Not Zay’s Day
The last two Ravens playoff efforts have been repelled at the goal line. That isn’t a metaphor. Both games were decided by one yard. One very cruel yard.
I don’t blame Zay Flowers for fumbling on his dive toward the endzone in the fourth quarter. It took an extremely improbable, perfectly timed punch by L’Jarius Sneed to dislodge the football before Flowers broke the plane. Simulate that moment 100 times and Sneed might make that play once.
Flowers was undisciplined in his taunting penalty, and unlucky in his fumble, but blaming the rookie is lazy and asinine. He scored the first touchdown in heroic fashion, led the team in receiving yards, and was a hair’s breadth from vaulting Baltimore back into the game. Flowers had a grin on his face all season, on Sunday he learned a painful lesson that football isn’t always fun.
Who’s Fault Is It Anyway?
It was supposed to be Lamar Jackson’s moment. Baltimore was more talented than Kansas City, they were at home, and there was this indescribable sense that this was a critical point in Jackson’s career arc.
Many factors went into Baltimore’s measly 10-point performance, but Mahomes was clearly the better quarterback on the field, while Jackson looked rattled. Jackson’s interception, thrown from K.C.’s 25 with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter, was atrocious.
He was antsy in the pocket and visibly frustrated with the offense’s sputtering. But who deserves the blame? Just about everybody.
Monken In the Middle
Let’s start with Todd Monken. The offensive coordinator has borne the brunt of the criticism for the unit’s struggles.
When you’re coordinating the best rushing attack in football, one that propelled you beyond the Divisional Round, it might be a good idea to give your running backs more than six carries. Now the Chiefs ran their fair share of heavy boxes, but Baltimore has a good enough run game to run against such looks, as illustrated by the play below.
Despite being down only 10 points, Monken started calling the game like Baltimore was in a deep hole. He abandoned the run game, allowing the Chiefs to get into lighter personnel groupings with no repercussions.
Kansas City ran groupings with four or fewer defensive backs 42.1 percent of the time in the first half, and only 11.1 percent of the time in the second. Monken faced light personnel groupings 12 times, called runs on seven of them, and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
It’s egregious to walk away from that type of production knowing how difficult it would be to throw against such looks. To make matters worse, Monken called long-developing plays that put Jackson at risk behind an offensive line incapable of protecting him. When will this team realize that Isaiah Likely is their best tight end and the ideal player to beat the blitz?
If you know you’ve got pressure coming, and man coverage behind it, just give the ball to the man who breaks a tackle at the third-highest rate in the league (at any position). It wasn’t Monken’s fault that so many of Lamar’s passes got batted down, nor was it his fault that Zay Flowers fumbled over the goal line, but this game plan will leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths heading into the offseason.
Outdueled By Mahomes
Lamar Jackson is not free of blame. Against the Chiefs, he looked like the indecisive player that struggled in the first half against Houston.
Unlike Mahomes, who happily took his check-downs, Lamar refused to settle for short throws. And on the plays he did, his passes were too late, or too high, limiting his receivers’ ability to make plays after the catch. He took a crucial sack that knocked the Ravens out of field goal range and had a total bonehead interception that felt like the game’s dagger.
As discussed, the play calling could have been much better, his receivers struggled to separate, and he was pressured on 17 of 41 drop backs, but no excuses are enough. This team was elite, Lamar had plenty of chances and failed to take over the way Mahomes did. He wasn’t bad, but to beat Mahomes you’ve got to be your best, and on Sunday, Jackson wasn’t.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Football isn’t won on paper, but no Lamar Jackson led team will likely ever be as good as this one. The Ravens have already lost Mike Macdonald and former defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson to promotions.
Teams will have a full season of film on Todd Monken’s offense. Jackson’s salary will become more difficult to work around. It’s such a brutal loss, but so was Billy Cundif’s missed kick in the 2011 Conference Championship.
And everybody knows what the team did the season after that. Here’s hoping Baltimore can find some of that magic next year, and finally fulfill Lamar Jackson’s draft night prophecy.