Ravens’ defense batters Chiefs in 30-7 win

Ravens' defense batters Chiefs in 30-7 win

John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin (81) catches a touchdown pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) during the third quarter. The Ravens defeated the Chiefs, 30-7, during an AFC wild-card game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Sunday, January 9, 2011.

Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun (MCT)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Baltimore Ravens rode the emotions of a determined defense and the strong arm of Joe Flacco to a 30-7 win over the overmatched Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game Sunday.

In a playoff weekend that began with upsets, the Ravens slammed the young Chiefs by forcing five turnovers and getting two touchdown passes from Flacco.

The Ravens’ fourth road playoff win in three seasons advances the AFC’s No. 5 seed to the divisional round against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens will play the second-seeded Steelers on Saturday at Heinz Field, where the Ravens beat them earlier this season.

“It seems like it’s poetic justice. I’m sure (the Steelers will) bring their ‘A’ game and we’ll try to bring our ‘A’ game and we’ll see what happens. We respect them and we know what kind of game it’s going to be. But we do enjoy playing them,” said coach John Harbaugh.

It was an emotionally charged game for the Ravens and safety Ed Reed, whose brother went missing in Louisiana last week. The Ravens took control of the game by intercepting Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel three times and forcing two fumbles.

“What Ed and the Reed family are going through is a big part of this victory. I think that’s what will be remembered by our players. We’re a family and the Reed family is part of the Raven family. That’s the way it works with our organization,” coach John Harbaugh said.

The momentum from the Ravens’ defense started to snowball in the third quarter, when Dawan Landry picked off Matt Cassel. The Ravens’ third forced turnover of the quarter led to a devastating blow by Flacco.

“You cut a team once and they’ll keep fighting. You got to keep cutting them. We’ve had some teams beat in the fourth quarter and they’ve come back, either winning the game or scaring the hell out of our fans. We’re trying to learn from our mistakes and kept their heads under water,” linebacker Terrrell Suggs said.

In a season when the Ravens have struggled to finish off teams, Flacco did exactly that when he threw a 4-yard touchdown to a leaping Boldin in the back of the end zone for a 23-7 lead. Flacco’s second touchdown pass of the game arched over two jumping Chiefs linebackers and into the hands of Boldin, who scored for the first time in five games.

Willis McGahee finished off the game with 25-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

It was an interesting start for the more playoff-experienced Ravens, who scored on their first and last possessions of the first half. Everything else was a little shaky.

The Ravens took the opening kickoff right down the field with Flacco exposing the middle of the Chiefs’ coverage. He hit Anquan Boldin for a 27-yard connection and found Todd Heap for a 12-yard gain to the goal line.

But the Ravens were unable to punch the ball in despite having three shots from the Kansas City 1-yard line. Flacco fumbled the snap on first down, and Willis McGahee got stuffed on second down. The Ravens had to settle for a short field goal after Chiefs safety Eric Berry deflected a third-down pass to Heap in the end zone.

The first half began to shift when Flacco had the ball stripped from behind by Tamba Hali, who beat left tackle Michael Oher off the edge. Two plays after Flacco’s fifth fumble lost this season, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles sprinted past the entire Ravens defense for a 41-yard touchdown.

The longest touchdown run allowed by the Ravens in their playoff history put them behind 7-3 late in the first quarter.

The Ravens’ best drive of the first half came at the end of it, thanks to Flacco’s arm and feet. Flacco ran three times for 24 yards (a season high in any one game for him, much less one drive) and completed three passes to Heap for 46 yards to get the Ravens in the red zone.

An offensive line, which had allowed three sacks in the first half, gave Flacco enough time to look to his right and left before finding an uncovered Ray Rice over the middle. Rice caught the ball at the 5-yard line, used a head fake and went into the end zone untouched.

Rice’s 9-yard touchdown catch — the first touchdown reception by a running back in Ravens postseason history — finished off the 11-play, 80-yard drive and moved them back ahead, 13-7, with 19 seconds before halftime.

On the first drive of the second half, the Ravens defense stopped Kansas City on fourth-and-1, when nose tackle Kelly Gregg hit Charles in the backfield before the rest of the Ravens swarmed on top of him. The Ravens then capitalized to extend their lead to 13-7 in the third quarter on a Billy Cundiff 29-yard field goal. The scoring drive was helped by a 15-yard personal foul on Hali, who took a shot at Flacco’s knees.

The Ravens defense stepped up again on the next series when Ray Lewis forced wide receiver Dexter McCluster to fumble. Taking over at the Chiefs’ 17, the Ravens couldn’t convert in the red zone for the second time in the third quarter. Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal increased the Ravens’ advantage to 16-7.

Ravens safety Dawan Landry intercepted Cassel’s pass at the Chiefs’ 21, and on the next possession Flacco through a short pass over the middle to Boldin, who ran it in for a 4-yard touchdown, with 32 seconds remaining in the quarter.

The Ravens controlled the clock for nearly 14 minutes in the fourth quarter, assembling a 15-play 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown after McGahee’s 25-yard run.

“It’s a lot of fun to come on the road and into places like this and be confident in yourself and be confident in your teammates that you’re going to get the job done. That’s really how we feel. We don’t have any doubt that we’re going to come in here and win the football game. And that’s what it showed today,” Flacco said.

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(c) 2011, The Baltimore Sun.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.