The bench behind the Chiefs’ sideline had filled with players, the starting defense lamenting how it had allowed the Ravens an opening-drive touchdown. Baltimore had already kicked the extra point by the time many of them sat down to prepare a handful of adjustments.
And then, in an instant, they heard coaches shouting for them to return to the field. Aided by a Chiefs penalty, the Ravens had opted to wipe out their own extra point.
They wanted to go for two.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” Chiefs linebacker Damien Wilson said. “When you got Justin Tucker as your kicker, he’s a good kicker, so you expect they’ll use him. But they saw something in their game plan that they wanted to exploit.”
They tried it often — with varying degrees of success.
The Ravens twice went for two-point conversions rather than kicking the extra point, neither of them conventional choices, even if some of the analytics favor the decisions. And they left the offense on the field on fourth down four times — none of them exactly by-the-book decisions.
“It’s like you’re playing Madden with those guys,” defensive lineman Chris Jones quipped. “Fourth and 12, they’re going for it.”
It irked the Chiefs defense in a 33-28 victory Sunday, with one player telling The Star, “They disrespected us.”
As Chiefs coach Andy Reid pointed out, the Ravens were third in the NFL in fourth-down attempts last season. But that number was just 22, or 1.4 per game, some of which were presumably prompted by keep-the-game-alive situations.
They were calculated decisions. As such, it would seem to convey what Baltimore, a top contender in the AFC, thinks about the difficulty of beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. You must outscore Patrick Mahomes. You must keep your offense on the field.
You must take risks.
“The point was to score as many points as we could,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Every one of those was clear analytical decisions to go for two. We had a mindset that we would come in and score as many points as we could. That is what we tried to do.
“... We are going to keep playing that way, for the record. When you write your articles, just understand that. We will disagree with your criticism. You know we are going after it. That is the way we are going to play all year.”
Asked a follow-up, Harbaugh replied, in part, “We don’t play scared.”
But the Mahomes-led offense is the unstated factor. The Chiefs have not been held to fewer than 26 points in one of his starts.
Field goals, in other words, aren’t enough to beat him. And punts certainly won’t do the trick.
The Ravens threw conventional wisdom out the window. They adjusted. They played to outscore Mahomes and the Chiefs.
And they made that stance known almost immediately. In the opening drive, sitting in field-goal range, Baltimore left Tucker on the sideline and instead converted a fourth-and-3 attempt. It led to the game’s first touchdown. But, as mentioned, they went for the 2-point conversion after the Chiefs were called for a penalty on the extra point.
On the next drive, the Ravens kept at it. Twice they attempted fourth-down plays on their own half of the field, one of them from their own 34-yard line. The second one failed, and the Chiefs took over possession beyond midfield.
And late in the game, Harbaugh opted to go for 2 rather than kicking an extra point that would have made the deficit 10 points — a move that only makes mathematical sense if you’re expecting that opponent to score once more. The Chiefs stuffed that 2-point attempt, too.
“They were really aggressive. Really aggressive,” Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “They have aggressive play-callers over there. And they got a bunch of good athletes — the quarterback, running backs, receivers — so if I was calling the plays, I’d probably go for it on fourth, too.
“They went for it. We made plays on 2-point conversions, and that helped us win.”