With more eyes glued to postseason football, this Chiefs team showed the whole nation that although they still rightfully earned their berth in the postseason, they have many issues to address this coming offseason.
When it mattered most, the Chiefs fell apart against the most talented team they had played all year. All season long, Kansas City had been excellent in controlling the ball and holding onto possession, but against a ball-hawking Ravens defense, the Chiefs were coughing up turnovers all day. Five total turnovers—including four all coming in a second-half meltdown—sealed the Chiefs' fate. It's amazing to consider all of those turnovers occurring in one game, especially by a team who only turned the ball over 14 times all season.
The victim of the majority of the Chiefs' turnovers was quarterback Matt Cassel. In his first career postseason game as a starting quarterback, Cassel finished the game with his worst outing of the season. He threw three interceptions and completed only nine of his 18 attempts to teammates good for only 70 yards. The Ravens' defense entered the game with their familiar guise as a physical team, and unleashed on Cassel, sacking him three times—including two sacks on consecutive plays in the game's final minutes.
Cassel's performance was just as disappointing as the effort put forth by the Chiefs' receiving corps, with whom he was supposed to find a connection. It was a no-brainer that the Ravens' secondary would focus most of its attention on doubling-up on Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe—the regular season leader in receiving touchdowns—and turn less attention to the talent around him. It turns out that Bowe didn't catch any passes all game, leaving Dexter McCluster to be the team's most targeted, but with only four receptions on the day for a measly 17 yards.
There's no excuse for KC's inability to get the ball into the hands of their Pro Bowl wide receiver.
As expected, Bowe was effectively out of the Chiefs' offensive game plan due to double coverage, leaving the tight end to be most likely to be open in space. However, that viable option in Tony Moeaki only caught one pass on the day—the team's longest from scrimmage—a 22-yarder, which turned out to probably be the only impressive toss from Matt Cassel all day.
It doesn't help knowing that veteran receiver Kevin Curtis had more receptions than Dwayne Bowe in the game, considering that Curtis just joined the team less than a week ago as roster insurance. Curtis had one reception, and it may very well have been the only one he'll catch in a Chiefs uniform. Curtis started over another veteran, Chris Chambers, who was inactive yet again. Surprisingly enough, all three receivers—Bowe, Curtis, and Chambers—could very well not be in Kansas City for much longer. Bowe—who skipped out on making postgame comments to the media—heads into the offseason looking for a contract extension while Curtis and Chambers will likely see the door less gracefully.
With their passing game out of commission, the Chiefs turned to their powerful running game and thankfully relied more on Jamaal Charles than they did in Thomas Jones. Charles finished with 87 yards on the ground compared to Jones' 15, and proved to be more elusive against an aging Ravens run defense. On just his second rush of the day, Charles ran for a 41-yard touchdown score to give the Chiefs the 7-3 lead. No matter how impressive the quick scoring drive was the Chiefs finished the first quarter having possession of the ball for only two-and-a-half minutes.
With the running game doing most of the work, Matt Cassel played conservatively and completed four of five attempts in the first half, good for a passer rating of exactly 100. His passer rating fell off the cliff by the end of the third quarter, dropping to around 39.1—just around the time his interceptions began to pile up. It just got uglier every time he dropped back in the pocket to attempt a pass, and his efficiency dropped faster than the game-time temperature.
In the first half, the Chiefs' defense got its most intense workout while. Safety Eric Berry registered seven of his nine total tackles in the first fifteen minutes, but most of them were coming after the Ravens' receivers had already gained significant yardage. Berry proved his worth in his inaugural playoff game, standing toe-to-toe with a veteran receiving corps.
I can't blame the Chiefs' defense for this loss considering that the Ravens wore them down 390 total yards. Just like the Chiefs' previous playoff outing—a 23-8 Wild Card matchup against the Indianapolis Colts in January 2007—the defense was getting gassed from the very beginning and getting no help from the offense.
In the first half linebacker Tamba Hali brought his 'A' game.
The one guy who had the most power on defense was linebacker Tamba Hali, who forced and recovered a fumble while also tallying two quarterback sacks against Joe Flacco. Also assisting in burying Flacco were linebacker Jovan Belcher and defensive end Tyson Jackson—both rare commodities in the pass rush. Despite the abuse early in the game Flacco still finished with an impressive 265 passing yards and two touchdowns. No matter how badly he was getting knocked around from the front seven, Flacco had a field day against the Chiefs' backfield.
The Ravens took a page from the Chiefs' playbook on offense and decided to unleash their own tight end, and this was exactly what killed Kansas City's defense. Todd Heap cut open the Chiefs' secondary for 108 yards on only ten catches while wide receiver Anquan Boldin and running back Ray Rice scored their respective touchdowns. Boldin and his receiving counterpart T. J. Houshmandzadeh both registered gains of over 25 yards against a weak Chiefs secondary. The most vulnerable in trying to stop Ravens receivers were both linebacker Mike Vrabel and safety Jon McGraw, who both proved that they're entering the twilight of their respective careers.
The Ravens were most successful on third down situations, converting nine of their 17 attempts on the day. Despite an impressive showing by local Chiefs fans in attendance, their raucous noise couldn't help throw the Ravens off in executing a flawless game plan. In years past, the "Arrowhead advantage" was based almost solely upon opponents falling victim to false starts and failed conversions on third downs, but history failed to repeat itself on Sunday.
The Chiefs made a few of their own gambles to go alongside the Ravens' shots at rolling the dice, most notably a rushing attempt on 4th-and-1 on Baltimore's 33 yard line early in the third quarter. Trailing 10-7, the play would have been successful had Jamaal Charles ran up the gut for a sure-fire first down, but a punt to get out of Baltimore's territory would have been just as safe. However, the play resulted in Charles losing four yards while trying to run to the right.
To sum it up, it was the worst call on offense the Chiefs had attempted all year, and that forgoes all the previous attempts and failures on fourth down from early in the season. It surely doesn't help head coach Todd Haley any in shaking his label of being risky on fourth down, and doesn't shed any more positive light on offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who will be leaving the team in the offseason for the University of Florida.
Why didn't Charlie Weis design more plays for his $35 million running back?
Weis may have very well packed his bags for Florida after this one play, because the Chiefs' offense did just that, themselves. Kansas City finished the game having controlled the ball for only 18 minutes—their worst time of possession all year. When standing toe-to-toe with one of their toughest opponents on defense, the Chiefs got an open-hand slap in the face in return.
The offensive futility didn't settle well while seeing the Ravens thrive in their own game plan. Perhaps the most painful play allowed by the Chiefs' defense came on the Raven's only attempt on fourth down. Baltimore stood at Kansas City's 25-yard line early in the fourth quarter, leading 23-7, and were longing for a knockout punch. Their running back Willis McGahee didn't just get the one yard good for a new set of downs, but wound up trotting the full 25 yards into the end zone for the death-blow. Now with the game at 30-7, the hands-full of Chiefs fans still in attendance began to file out of the stadium having endured yet another postseason heartbreak.
An announced attendance of 72,190 saw the Chiefs' first home playoff game in seven seasons, just around 900 more attendees than the Chiefs' regular season opener against the San Diego Chargers last September. An overcast January afternoon can be just as detracting to a fan base as a sloppy and wet September night—the conditions for that opening game—but this playoff attendance proves that there are still holes in the Arrowhead crowd, both literally and figuratively.
It may take a lot of effort to regain confidence in this Chiefs franchise for many fans, and a lopsided loss like this will only set some back a few steps. Despite winning ten games on the season, there's still plenty of work to be done. This project at the New Arrowhead Stadium is still in the works, and a playoff game against one of the most experienced squads in the NFL should do wonders not only for this team but also Kansas City, in general. It had been far too long for Chiefs fans to witness a winning team, and no matter how forgettable this game was, it will become a mere footstep for a team still searching for its identity, and for a fan base longing for redemption.
The Chiefs' loss against the Ravens on Sunday marks their franchise's seventh consecutive loss in the postseason, which sets an NFL record. You can easily make the argument that the Chiefs teams that lost the previous six games all had different players, coaching schemes, and opponents, but you can't take back the fact that the Chiefs still have the same fan base.
This same fan base has now endured nothing but the same heartbreak once a new January rolls around, and this same fan base always has that same, painful eight-month wait until a new season begins.
No matter how remarkable this past season was for the Chiefs, there will always be that longing to keep the momentum going. Sooner or later, this playoff losing streak is going to end and Chiefs fans will once again hold their heads high in January. But painful losses like this one to the Ravens will cause us to sit and ponder those 6,202 days that have passed since we last felt that pride, and it only gets more unbearable with each passing season.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Had the Chiefs scored on their first possession in the second half maybe the game changes?