For those who have been waiting all season for the Ravens to put together a complete victory against a good team, there you have it. With their 30-7 shellacking of the Kansas City Chiefs, this team didn’t shock anyone by winning. They shocked many, including myself, by not only succeeding (more or less) in every major part of their gameplan, but in getting stronger as the game went on. Though the offense seemed to sputter after their initial promising start (how often have we seen that one?), they got rolling later as the defense avoided another 4th quarter meltdown.
Joe Flacco’s critics, for one, will need to wait a week to light into him for his performance. Flacco wasn’t spectacular, but I wouldn’t call him a “game manager” either. He made precise throws to convert on third down, including a laser to Anquan Boldin that kept their opening drive alive. His check-downs to Ray Rice were on time and wise, and Rice did his part in eluding would-be tacklers. Ray Lewis has made numerous comparisons this week between this team and the Wild Card team that won the Super Bowl ten years ago, and I understand that as a motivational tool. But this team is very different than the one Trent Dilfer quarterbacked. This team has a playmaker at the position. No, Joe Flacco isn’t Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady- but he is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and he showed it today.
The Kansas City Chiefs did win the AFC’s easiest division, and they feasted on poor competition- but they were a quality team with all the playmakers necessary to give the Ravens defense fits in the fourth quarter, as Baltimore fans have seen all season. Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe, and most of all Jamaal Charles are all capable of breaking big plays, and Matt Cassel has been a magician at avoiding interceptions this season. I was convinced that this would be a very close Ravens victory along the same vein, with a moderate lead chipped away at until time expired.
But that’s not what happened this Sunday. Going on the road, Baltimore got stronger as the game went on, all the way to their bruising touchdown drive that saw Willis McGahee tear through the Kansas City line on 4th and 1 to put away the Chiefs for good. The defense left Cassel guessing all afternoon, unable to rely on a running game that wasn’t able to wear down the Ravens front seven. If the Chiefs were going to beat the Ravens, Cassel was going to have to make plays with his arm. With the Ravens controlling the football he had few opportunities to do so. Even when he did, his accuracy issues made it that much harder to get the ball to his receivers, who were physically outmatched by the Ravens secondary.
Baltimore was the more talented team, and that talent had helped pull this team through gaffes, opponent comebacks, and offensive sluggishness for stretches of this season. Today they played up to their talent and beyond, and showed the NFL why they were such a popular Super Bowl pick in the preseason. Ravens fans didn’t get a complete game out of their team all season, but seeing one in the postseason makes it well worth the wait.