Perhaps the worst part of the 30-7 beating K.C. took at the hands of Baltimore wasn't so much the loss itself, but the fact that by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Chiefs barely looked like they belonged on the same field with the Ravens.
A dominating third quarter by Baltimore turned what had been a three-point game at halftime into a lopsided affair that likely snuffed out the hopes of even the most diehard Chiefs fan. But even though the score didn't get away from the Chiefs until after the half, it was a series of critical mistakes in the second quarter where you could see the game begin to slip through their fingers.
After Jamaal Charles' electric touchdown run that put the Chiefs up 7-3, the defense held the Ravens to just one first down before forcing them to punt. K.C. got the ball back, the lead was theirs, and all the momentum was squarely on the Chiefs' side of the field.
Incredibly, they began to move through the vaunted Baltimore defense like a hot knife through butter. It was like a playoff dream come true – the Chiefs' were running the ball right down the Ravens' throat. Charles picked up eleven yards, then eight, then nine on three consecutive runs.
An eight-yard pass to Thomas Jones continued the drive as the Chiefs marched effortlessly into Baltimore territory. They had the ball 1st and 10, the Ravens were reeling, and the Chiefs were closing in on, at the very least, a field goal attempt that would have put them up 10-3.
But it wasn't to be.
Charles, who at this point was averaging a ridiculous 14.6 yards a carry, picked up four more yards and then coughed up the ball. The only criticism of Charles' game is his penchant for putting the ball on the turf, and his biggest weakness jumped up to bite him at the worst possible time.
Of the ten fumbles Charles has had in his career, all but two of them have been recovered by the other team. That would be the case here too, with the Ravens leaping on top of the ball.
For the first nineteen minutes of the game, Charles had been an unstoppable force, putting on the kind of performance that would have been remembered for years. After the fumble, however, he would gain just nine more yards on the ground.
But the Chiefs' defense – which would ultimately be on the field for over 40 minutes – refused to let the Ravens capitalize on the turnover. They forced Baltimore to go three and out, as Tamba Hali notched his second sack of the game on Ravens' QB Joe Flacco.
The Chiefs had the ball back and, once again, they made their way into Baltimore territory. A 22-yard pass to Tony Moeaki got things started, and three plays later the Chiefs found themselves facing third and three on Baltimore's 47 yard line.
Then came critical mistake #2, however, as a false start penalty by left tackle Branden Albert backed them up five yards. Now facing third and eight, Matt Cassel threw to Dexter McCluster, who only picked up four yards before being drilled by Ravens' safety Ed Reed.
Without the penalty, that play would have moved the chains. Instead, K.C. was forced to punt, and they still weren't done inflicting damage on themselves.
A terrific kick by Dustin Colquitt appeared to pin the Ravens on their own goal line, but the two Chiefs in position to down the ball bumped into one another and ended up causing a touchback. The mistake gave Baltimore twenty yards in field position, which they would go on to take full advantage of.
With slightly under six minutes to play before halftime, the Ravens mounted just their second scoring drive of the game. They took over five minutes off the clock before taking the lead for good with a touchdown.
The Chiefs went into the locker room down 10-7, but it only got worse for them from there.
We hear coaches, players, and analysts alike constantly talking about the need to avoid turnovers and penalties. In the playoffs, the importance of that rule becomes even more magnified.
The Chiefs had the lead, the momentum, and a rabid Arrowhead crowd firmly in their corner. But they just couldn't avoid those costly mistakes.
Observers around the country will note the final score, point out the Chiefs' woeful offensive stats, and probably conclude that K.C. never had much of a chance. But if the Chiefs hadn't shot themselves in the foot throughout the second quarter, who knows what might have happened?
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
What one play defined the Chiefs loss on Sunday?
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