BALTIMORE — Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs showed the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson why they are the defending Super Bowl champions.
Mahomes led three scoring drives and the Chief never trailed in a 17-10 victory in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Mahomes and the Chiefs now will have a chance to defend their title when they face either the San Francisco 49ers or the Detroit Lions.
“We had a couple of opportunities to score down there,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We didn’t get the touchdowns. It was really a defensive struggle if you step back and look at the whole game. They were able to score the points, and we weren’t.”
Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, who started tormenting the Ravens in pregame when he tossed kicker Justin Tucker’s helmet, caught 11 passes on 11 targets for 116 yards, surpassing Jerry Rice for the most postseason catches in NFL history.
“He’s a great player for a reason,” linebacker Patrick Queen said about Kelce. “We knew he was going to be able to make plays. We just wanted to try to contain him. But Patrick was able to find him.”
The Ravens, who trailed 17-7 at the half, moved the ball in the second half but had two costly turnovers in the red zone that allowed the Chiefs to maintain their lead.
It was an extremely disappointing finish for the Ravens, who had earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs with a 13-4 record. They struggled on defense in the first half, and they struggled on offense throughout. They also struggled with their composure, drawing costly unsportsmanlike and taunting penalties.
Jackson completed 20 of 37 passes for 272 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 54 yards and had a fumble when he was hit from behind.
The defense held the Chiefs scoreless in the final two quarters, but the offense couldn’t make up the difference.
Jackson threw a 54-yard pass to wide receiver Zay Flowers, who was penalized 15 yards for taunting after the catch. Flowers then fumbled just before crossing the goal line on an 8-yard pass from Jackson that was recovered by Kansas City in the end zone.
“We’ll just try to come back next year and get it done,” Flower said. “[We’ll] come back together as a team. This is a tough one, so we have to work towards next year.”
Jackson was sacked on a third-and-1 on his own 19 with 8:53 left in the game. The Ravens elected not to punt and Jackson converted on fourth down with a 4-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr. The Ravens drove to the Kansas City 25, but Jackson was intercepted by safety Deon Bush in the end zone.
“Man, it’s a blessing,” Bush said. “It’s something that I have been preparing for this whole season. Ever since I got on the practice squad earlier in the year, it was my first time getting released this year, but I had to stay strong, stay resilient because I knew at some point, the team was going to call my name and I couldn’t let my guys down. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity and it is a blessing.”
Tucker kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:38 left to pull the Ravens within a touchdown. But Baltimore never got the ball back.
Mahomes was 30-for-39 for 241 yards with a touchdown. He was sacked twice.
The Ravens had the league’s top rushing attack in the regular season, but running backs Gus Edwards (20 yards on three carries) and Justice Hill (3 yards on three carries) struggled.
Flowers finished with 5 catches for 115 yards with a touchdown, but the offense never got in gear.
The Chiefs set the tone on their first possession of the game with a 10-play, 86-yard drive capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to Kelce, who beat safety Kyle Hamilton.
On the ensuing drive, the Ravens converted a fourth-and-1 from their own 34 on a 21-yard run by Jackson. The gamble paid off as they tied the game, 7-7, on a 30-yard pass from Jackson to Flowers. Jackson bought extra time with his scrambling before delivering a perfect throw to Flowers.
Mahomes was 10-for-10 for 100 yards in the opening quarter.
The Chiefs retook the lead on a 2-yard run by Isiah Pacheco with 10:56 left in the second quarter. The Chiefs converted four third downs against Baltimore on that drive. Pacheco finished with 68 yards on 24 carries.
Jackson had a pass deflected into the air at the line of scrimmage, but he hustled downfield and caught the ball for a 13-yard gain. That reception made Jackson the Ravens’ second-leading receiver at that point of the game. However, the drive stalled and the Ravens were forced to punt.
Kansas City’s Harrison Butker made a 52-yard field goal to give the Chiefs a 17-7 lead at the half. Kansas City had the ball for 20:39 in the first half, compared to 9:21 for the Ravens.
The teams had a couple of heated exchanges in pregame warmups, and the animosity continued during the game.
Kelce told Tucker he needed to move because Mahomes had to warm up. Kelce then tossed the balls Tucker was using and his helmet into the end zone.
Later in the warmups, Ravens cornerback Arthur Maulet slapped the helmet of a Chiefs player and was swarmed by three Kansas City players. A couple of assistant coaches had to break up the skirmish.
Notes: All three former Ravens in the Hall of Fame — Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed — were honored during the game. Baltimore native Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time — 28 medals, including 23 gold — delivered the official game ball before player introductions. Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal had a DJ session at the Ravens tailgate. Former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was shown on the scoreboard 20 minutes before the game. Several other former Ravens, including Terrell Suggs, were in attendance.