Ravens’ defense smothers Chiefs
Baltimore rolls, earns 3d date with Steelers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — No matter how striking the similarities, no matter how much the Kansas City Chiefs seemed to mirror the New England Patriots in their philosophy and composition of their front office, coaching staff, and roster, there was no mistaking one fact.
“Kansas City is not New England,’’ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “They’re two entirely different teams. Kansas City is building along those lines, but New England is built along those lines. They’re a finished product.’’
Yesterday, the Ravens demonstrated just how far the Chiefs were from being “a finished product’’ — at least when it came to the playoffs — by silencing a crowd of 72,190 at Arrowhead Stadium, regarded as one of the loudest venues in the NFL, with a 30-7 beatdown of the Chiefs in an AFC wild-card matchup.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 25 of 34 passes for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Flacco connected with Ray Rice on a 9-yard score with 19 seconds left in the second quarter that gave Baltimore a 10-7 halftime lead.
After Billy Cundiff converted a pair of 29-yard field goals, Flacco found Anquan Boldin with a 4-yard strike in the third quarter that expanded the Ravens’ lead to 23-7.
Baltimore’s inspired defense allowed just 161 yards and one touchdown — on a 41-yard first-quarter run by Jamaal Charles, second in the NFL in rushing — while forcing five turnovers, including three interceptions of quarterback Matt Cassel.
Afterward, the Ravens gave the game ball to safety Ed Reed, who played two days after a traumatic family ordeal. Friday, Reed’s brother, Brian, was declared missing after he jumped into the Mississippi River while evading a Louisiana deputy sheriff. His body has not been recovered, and the search was called off Saturday.
“Who’s a better teammate than Ed Reed?’’ said linebacker Terrell Suggs. “He didn’t have to play today, but he chose to play. We just wanted him to go out there and have fun with [his] football brothers. Definitely it was an emotional win for him, and for the rest of us, too. We really wanted to play for him and to give him some peace.’’
When asked how his teammates rallied around him, Reed clutched the game ball as he made his way out of the visitors’ locker room. He managed a weak smile and said, “It’s a family environment here and that’s what kept me going.’’
“I think what Ed’s family is going through is a big part of this victory,’’ Harbaugh said. “That’s what will be remembered by our players. We’re a family, and the Reed family is part of the Raven family. And the Raven family is part of the Reed family. That’s the way it works with our team, our organization.
“For Ed to do what he did under the circumstances and to play the way he played, to lead the way he led, that’s just an incredible thing.’’
While the setback brought a disappointing end to the Chiefs’ season, one that featured an AFC West title, the victory propelled the Ravens, who improved to 5-1 in the wild-card round, to a road game against a familiar foe. They’ll face their AFC North rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Saturday’s divisional round at Heinz Field.
It set up a tantalizing Rivalry Weekend in which foes from the AFC North and AFC East (Patriots and Jets) go toe to toe against each other in the divisional round for the right to advance to the AFC Championship.
“For us to be playing the Steelers and for the Patriots to be playing the Jets, it’s kind of poetic justice,’’ Harbaugh said. “It’s probably the way it should be.’’
“I think everybody wanted to see these matchups, because both teams split in the regular season,’’ Suggs said. “So, this is Armageddon for all four teams. There can be only one winner in the end, so what better teams than these four?’’
Asked about whether he would’ve preferred to face Tom Brady sooner rather than later, Suggs, who never has hidden his dislike for the Patriots QB, replied, “I’ll take ’em how they come.’’
Then, referring to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Suggs added, “I’ve got a bigger foe right now. I think Ben’s beaten us seven times in a row and he’s definitely my biggest problem right now.’’
Yesterday, it appeared Cassel might pose a problem. But Brady’s former understudy managed just 70 passing yards (hitting on 9 of 18 attempts), threw the three interceptions, and was sacked three times. It came on the heels of another disappointing performance (11 of 33, 115 yards, 2 interceptions) in a 31-10 home loss to the Raiders in the regular-season finale.
“This one hurts,’’ Cassel said. “It really does sting because I felt coming in that we had an opportunity to win. We had a great week of practice. It really came down to the second half and it came down to turnovers. We all know in playoff football you can’t turn the ball over and it starts with me. I forced a few balls in there and it did not turn out well. Our hats go off to the Ravens. They’re obviously a good team.’’
Because of that, the Ravens remain one of four teams still in the hunt for the AFC championship.
“On defense, we just kept saying, ‘Weather the storm,’ and ‘Keep playing football,’ ’’ said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. “Any time you put a total team effort [together] like that, it’s good. It’s a good team win. But this is not where we’re trying to stop at. We understand what the big prize is. Next week is somebody we know very well — or they know us very well. So here we go again.’’
That, no doubt, is the shared sentiment in Foxborough.