Pressbox/by Joe Platania — Even though the Ravens’ season is almost over, there was plenty that felt brand new.
For one thing, the Ravens were, for the first time, playing a regular-season game under head coach John Harbaugh before which they were eliminated from the playoff chase. The players also donned gold pants with their purple tops, which they had never done before.
But some new sensations felt even worse, including losing five home games within a single season, as well as enduring a season of double-digit losses (4-10) for the fifth time in team history and the first time since 2007. In Baltimore’s 20th season, it was the Ravens’ worst home performance since 1997, when they lost four games and tied one at Memorial Stadium.
Those dubious distinctions came courtesy of the Ravens’ 34-14 loss to the visiting Kansas City Chiefs before 70,791 fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Chiefs (9-5) — who have an average victory margin of 20 points — were able to win an eighth straight game, keeping pace with the New York Jets in the wild-card race by taking advantage of a Ravens team that was giving its youngest and most inexperienced prospects some valuable field time before the offseason begins.
The Ravens relied on consistent receiver Kamar Aiken (128 yards, career-high eight catches, touchdown), who has now caught at least five passes for seven straight weeks.
Aiken ended the first half by leaping for a 48-yard Hail Mary from Jimmy Clausen (26-for-45, 281 yards, two TD, two INT) to bring the Ravens to within 24-14 at halftime.
“Personally, my whole thing is to win games,” Aiken said. “I’d rather have just ten yards with a win rather than get 100 yards and lose.”
Clausen, who started for a second straight week in place of injured Matt Schaub, acquitted himself well, staying calm and finding multiple targets.
Tight end Maxx Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk caught five passes each and wideout Jeremy Butler grabbed three passes for 60 yards.
“It came down to the fact that Jimmy gave us the best chance to win because of where Matt was at,” said head coach John Harbaugh after his 50th career regular-season loss. “I would say (Schaub) was probably 60 to 65 to 75 percent, somewhere in that range, he told me.”
The team recorded a season-high 10 tackles for a loss, spread out among seven different players, and recorded three sacks — two by rookie Za’Darius Smith, his first since Oct. 1 at Pittsburgh — for the first time since the loss to Jacksonville Nov. 15.
But a Kansas City offense that had been held to 164 first-half yards and only 26 in the third frame finally salted the game away in the final period. A 14-play, 81-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes ended in a 32-yard field goal and gave the Chiefs a 27-14 lead with 6:45 remaining.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters then picked off Clausen on consecutive drives, returning the first one 90 yards for a touchdown. The Chiefs went on to keep the Ravens out of the end zone in the fourth quarter, the fifth straight week they have done that to an opponent.
Quarterback Alex Smith (21-for-25, 171 yards, TD) efficiently directed a 10-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to jump out to a 7-0 lead.
Charcandrick West (76 yards, 16 carries, TD), subbing for injured starter Jamaal Charles (injured reserve, knee), raced down the left sideline for a 38-yard touchdown on third-and-1 to cap off the drive.
West’s run was the second-longest allowed by the Ravens all year, and cornerback Jimmy Smith appeared to injure his hamstring while chasing him. He would not return to the game.
The drive got some earlier help from the mistake-prone Ravens.
On a third-and-11 run, Smith appeared to be stopped short of the first down but defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was called for his third personal foul of the season when he shoved the quarterback out of bounds.
It marked the 37th time this year the Ravens had allowed a first down via penalty, tying a team record set in 2005.
Clausen came right back to tie the game after a 30-yard pass to Aiken helped set up a 1-yard play-action touchdown to Juszczyk.
But the Ravens once again proved to be their own worst enemy.
Baltimore came into the game with the league’s second-worst turnover ratio (minus-12), and the Chiefs had the second-best (plus-12). Those tendencies merged when Javorius “Buck” Allen was stripped by Derrick Johnson for his second fumble in as many weeks.
Safety Tyvon Branch returned the ball 73 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, putting the Chiefs ahead, 14-7.
Allen was subsequently benched in favor of newly reacquired Terrence Magee and local product Terrance West (35 yards, seven carries). But Harbaugh said the punishment would not carry over to the next game.
“It probably won’t carry over,” the coach said. “But you play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble.”
The Ravens’ afternoon descended from there, burning an early timeout and getting called for a delay penalty before being forced to punt. Sam Koch faked and ran out of punt formation for seven yards, but was one yard short of the first-down marker as the Chiefs took over at the Ravens 24-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Smith found Jeremy Maclin (50 yards, seven catches, TD) over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown, a 21-7 lead, and effective control of the game.
Late in the first half, Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos booted a 53-yard field goal to not only extend the lead to 24-7 — the most first-half points the Ravens have allowed all season — but also tie Justin Tucker for the league lead in made field goals (28).
“They didn’t make a mistake,” Harbaugh said of the Chiefs. “… That’s why they are winning football games.”
It was a day when newness shone in the form of gold pants, worn by players that produced the same old result.
Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.
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