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NFL playoffs: What We Learned from Chiefs' win over Ravens in AFC Championship Game

1) Steve Spagnuolo schemes up a gem. No team provided an answer for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense for most of the last two months, leading most everyone to believe they'd continue their march with another spectacular showing in the AFC Championship Game. That message failed to reach the Chiefs defensive coordinator, who stuck to his signature, pressure-heavy style and instructed his defense to attack Jackson. Kansas City blitzed Jackson 20 times and posted a pressure rate of 37, sending rushers to fill every escape lane for Jackson and shutting down Baltimore's vaunted offensive attack. The results were beautiful: four sacks, 3 of 11 on third-down conversions, 10 total points allowed and a dominant showing in time of possession in favor of the Chiefs (37:30 to 22:30). Instead Jackson slicing through Kansas City's defense, the quarterback seemed lost for most of the game, none more so than when he tossed a pass into triple coverage and had it picked off in the end zone. The Chiefs simply don't win this game without the incredible performance from their stellar defense, one folks didn't discuss enough entering the weekend, and certainly won't gloss over again in the next two weeks in Super Bowl LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers. 

2) Travis Kelce: Master of the moment. Baltimore's defense appeared to be positioned to shut down Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's inconsistent offense, but nobody accounted for Kelce's postseason excellence. He was the Chiefs' offense in the first half, catching all nine of his targets for 96 targets and a fantastic touchdown to take an early lead. When Mahomes and the Chiefs needed a big play to keep their early drives going, Kelce came through on multiple occasions, making a few acrobatic catches to move the chains and finding soft spots in Baltimore's zone coverage. He won his much-discussed matchups with safety Kyle Hamilton and wasn't afraid to lead the Chiefs with his antagonistic demeanor, never shying from talking trash (to the point that Kyle Van Noy was flagged for a personal foul while jawing with Kelce) and backing up his words with his play. It was only right Kelce was the last player to speak on the celebratory podium after the game, one in which few gave his Chiefs more than a fighting chance. Kelce reveled in proving them wrong.

3) Todd Monken, Lamar Jackson flop on massive stage. Baltimore's offense put away Houston a week ago by pounding the Texans into submission via an unrelenting ground game, but on Sunday, it was almost as if offensive coordinator Todd Monken left the running portion of his playbook at home. Outside of Jackson's eight runs (which included scrambles), Baltimore ran the ball just eight times for 27 yards, abandoning the element despite trailing by no more than 10 points throughout this game. Even in obvious running situations, Monken opted to pass, often inexplicably so. Monken's unbalanced approach put far too much of the onus on Jackson's shoulders against a defense designed with the intent to harass him, and the results forced plenty of Ravens fans to shield their eyes. When Jackson missed a few downfield throws, their groans could be heard across the contiguous United States. And when Jackson dropped to pass in an increasingly desperate fourth quarter, Kansas City could comfortably dedicate eight defenders to blanket every target with the understanding it needn't fear the run. Jackson had a bad day, yes, but his offensive coordinator did him zero favors. Monken has a lot of explaining to do after this one.

4) Ravens let down their defense. Baltimore's defense surrendered an opening-drive touchdown against an offense directed by a renowned designer of scripts in Andy Reid, but otherwise, the Ravens did more than enough to win on the defensive side. They stood tall in a sudden-change situation following a Jackson fumble deep in Ravens territory, and limited the Chiefs to a field goal on another drive that seemed destined to finish in the end zone. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald recovered from a rough first half by adjusting at halftime, and his unit gave up just 98 yards and allowed the Chiefs to convert just 3 of 8 third-down attempts in the second half, buying Jackson and Co. plenty of opportunities to counter when possessing the ball. Baltimore's offense, though, simply didn't hold up its end of the bargain. It was a massively disappointing sight for those who expected Jackson to author another heroic performance and finally reach the Super Bowl, and instead watched Monken's offense fail them.

5) Championship pedigree powers Chiefs to victory. The Chiefs entered M&T Bank Stadium as the underdogs, but with a clear attitude. The defending Super Bowl champions weren't about to lay down at the feet of the NFL's hottest team, not even in their building, and Kelce made that clear with his now-viral disposal of Justin Tucker 's helmet during pre-game warmups. That attitude carried over into the game, in which Kansas City made a statement that it was still the king of the NFL with an opening drive score, and proved its place throughout the rest of the game, avoiding the crushing mistakes -- both mental and physical -- that doomed the Ravens and ensuring it wouldn't be dethroned by an upstart. The trophy presentation afterward felt a bit muted, perhaps because of the venue, but came to a fitting end when Kelce took the mic and recited the well-known Beastie Boys lyrics: "You gotta fight, for your right, to party!" Chiefs fans are partying again in large part because their franchise has been here before and knew how to get the job done.

NFL Research: With 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, Travis Kelce ranks first in playoff receptions, is tied for first in 100-plus-yard receiving games in the postseason, and trails only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in receiving yards (1,810) and receiving touchdowns (19) in the playoffs.

Next Gen stat of the game: Travis Kelce caught plus-3.5 receptions over expected Sunday, his most in a game since Week 13 of the 2018 season. Kelce caught all three of his targets for 39 yards and a touchdown in matchups against Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton.

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