By Nate Taylor, Jeff Zrebiec and Larry Holder
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce provided enough offense, and their defensive teammates slowed down Lamar Jackson enough as the Kansas City Chiefs knocked off the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Chiefs, the reigning NFL champions, will make their fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last five seasons after Sunday’s win. They’ll face the winner of Sunday’s NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions in Super Bowl LVIII in two weeks in Las Vegas.
Mahomes went 30-of-39 passing (opening with 11 consecutive completions) for 241 yards with one touchdown resulting in a 100.5 passer rating. Kelce added 11 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. In the first half, Kelce passed Jerry Rice to claim the all-time postseason receptions record.
Mahomes and Kelce capped off Kansas City’s first possession when the two connected on a 19-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead. Tailback Isiah Pacheco punched in a 2-yard TD run on the Chiefs’ second possession to go up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Harrison Butker nailed a 52-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half to extend Kansas City’s lead to 17-7.
Mahomes, Kelce toss Tucker’s equipment ahead of Ravens-Chiefs
Baltimore’s offense only showed life in one first-half possession making it 7-7 when Jackson hit Zay Flowers on a 30-yard deep ball for a touchdown. Other than the TD connection, the offense stumbled most of the game, including critical fourth-quarter turnovers involving Flowers and Jackson.
Four plays after Flowers hauled in a 54-yard reception, the Ravens rookie receiver opened the fourth quarter by fumbling the ball into the end zone after the Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed knocked it out at the Chiefs’ 1-yard line. Kansas City’s Trent McDuffie recovered the ball for a touchback. Then with 6:54 left in the game, Jackson threw an interception in the end zone to the Chiefs’ Deon Bush as tight end Isaiah Likely was covered by two Kansas City defenders.
Justin Tucker hit a 43-yard field goal with 2:34 remaining in the game, but the Ravens couldn’t complete a comeback.
Jackson, the favorite to win the 2023 NFL MVP, went 20-of-37 passing for 272 yards and one TD against one interception resulting in an 75.5 passer rating. The offense as a whole only tallied 110 yards in the first half.
Punched out at the goal line 😱
— NFL (@NFL) January 28, 2024
Chiefs defense made it happen
Together, the Chiefs’ defenders hit Jackson over and over and over again. Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator, called blitz after blitz after blitz. And in the second half, the Chiefs’ secondary produced two outcome-swinging turnovers. Spagnuolo’s players accomplished two tasks to disrupt the Ravens’ potent offense: They oftentimes pressured Jackson and corralled him when he tried to escape the pocket by scrambling.
Four different defenders — defensive ends Charles Omenihu and George Karlaftis, defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton and safety Justin Reid — sacked Jackson, who was hit seven times. Even when Spagnuolo blitzed, the Ravens struggled to connect on deep passes because McDuffie recorded two pass breakups.
In the fourth quarter, Sneed made a touchdown-saving forced fumble near the goal line, punching the ball out of Flowers’ hands, the ball being recovered by McDuffie. On the next drive, Bush, who entered the game after starter Mike Edwards was taken out of the game for a few minutes to be evaluated for a concussion, intercepted Jackson’s deep pass in the end zone. As they’ve done all season, the Chiefs’ defenders performed better as the game progressed, allowing just three points in the game’s final 45 minutes. — Nate Taylor, Chiefs beat writer
Jackson struggled, but other Ravens did as well
Jackson had a few miraculous plays and he didn’t get a whole lot of help, but his performance Sunday is only going to refresh all the questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs. Aside from a few moments of brilliance, like his spin out of a sack and 30-yard touchdown pass to Flowers and his 13-yard reception of his own deflected pass, Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken had no answers for Spagnuolo’s defense. Jackson misfired on a few passes and seemed to struggle to see the field and see where the rush was coming from. Jackson will likely be awarded his second MVP trophy before the Super Bowl. However, the questions about his playoff struggles were reignited Sunday. He made one poor decision after another over the final three quarters. He wasn’t alone either. — Jeff Zrebiec, Ravens beat writer
Experience played a role
The Chiefs were playing in their sixth straight AFC Championship Game. The Ravens were playing in their first AFC title game since early 2013. The difference in experience showed. While the Ravens turned the ball over twice, including Flowers’ fumble as he was trying to dive into the end zone early in the fourth quarter with Baltimore trailing by 10, the Chiefs didn’t have a single turnover. While the Chiefs were flagged for just three penalties for 30 yards, the Ravens had five 15-yard penalties alone and a total of 95 yards in penalties. This was a total meltdown for the Ravens, who wilted on the big stage. — Zrebiec
(Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)