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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a bold power move that propelled them within one step of claiming the AFC North title and strengthened their bid for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens conquered the legendary mystique of Arrowhead Stadium.
Between an aggressive defense that battered and confused quarterback Trent Green while containing rugged running back Larry Johnson to silence a usually potent attack along with an offense that displayed a rare touch of explosiveness while grinding out yards on the ground, the Ravens manufactured a 20-10 victory Sunday over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Ravens (10-3) accomplished what no other NFL team had done in a decade, beating the Chiefs at home in December to snap an 18-game home winning streak this month that was the leagueâ€™s longest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The last team to win here in December was the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 15, 1996.
The Ravens manhandled the Chiefs so thoroughly that a typically loyal, raucous crowd turned against the home team with loud boos and other displays of disapproval. It was the Ravensâ€™ first victory ever against Kansas City after three previous losses.
â€œThatâ€™s the most satisfying thing because all athletes dream of coming into a hostile environment where you get booed and cussed out and, at the end of the day, shut them up,â€ linebacker Bart Scott said with a laugh. â€œTo take all those people talking stuff and we get the last laugh, we get to say the final word, thatâ€™s huge.
â€œIâ€™m disappointed in the barbecue here. I thought this was a barbecue state. My mama makes way better sauce.â€
Now, the Ravens can clinch their second division title next weekend with a victory over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. They maintained a two-game division lead over the Cincinnati Bengals, who beat the Oakland Raiders.
That position in the standings was created largely because of a defense that sacked Green five times, including defensive end Terrell Suggsâ€™ sack, forced fumble and recovery in one sequence, with safety Ed Reed intercepting Green twice.
â€œIt meant a lot to me, especially since Iâ€™ve never beaten the Kansas City Chiefs,â€ Suggs said. â€œIt felt like people were kind of writing us off already, but we love that. We love being the underdog. We donâ€™t want anything given to us.â€
The Chiefs did hand the Ravens the initial momentum on the opening drive of the game when kicker Lawrence Tynes pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left. The Ravens wound up opening a 13-0 advantage.
Kicker Matt Stover connected on his 400th career field goal from 41 yards out in the first quarter, and he converted a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter set up by Reed intercepting a pass Green forced into traffic that cornerback Chris McAlister deflected.
Meanwhile, the Ravens contained Johnson, the NFLâ€™s second-leading rusher to 120 yards on 23 carries with no touchdowns. Besides the All-Pro runnerâ€™s 47-yard scamper up the left sidelines in the first quarter, he gained 73 yards on his other 22 carries.
"Ray Lewis and I were playing hide-and-go-seek with each other," Johnson said. "They’re a confident defense and you expect them to have a swagger about them to do anything they want and get away with it."
After Suggs drew a personal foul when he tossed Johnson out of bounds and mocked him with a two-handed ‘Dynasty’ symbol, Reed picked off another mis-timed Green pass into heavy traffic three plays later at the Ravensâ€™ 6-yard line.
â€œCrowd the ball, that was our No. 1 priority that he doesnâ€™t get into the end zone,â€ Reed said. â€œLarry Johnson is a beast because he plays hard-nosed football and everyone wants a guy like that on their team.
â€œOur thing was to get to him, just everybody around him, and if he breaks one, he breaks one. When he did break one, they came back and threw an interception.â€
The Ravensâ€™ offense generated their longest play of the season, and the deepest pass of quarterback Steve McNairâ€™s career on an 87-yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton in the third quarter.
The Chiefsâ€™ secondary had grown accustomed to checking Clayton on short curl routes, so he executed a double-move that got safety Greg Wesley to bite hard.
With McNair freezing the rest of the defense with a play-action fake and stepping out of the pocket to deliver a lobbed spiral 40 yards downfield, all Clayton had to do was run under the football and sprint into the end zone. He was at least five yards behind cornerback Ty Law when he caught the ball.
â€œWith a guy that wide open, you pray from the time it leaves your hand that you donâ€™t overthrow him,â€ McNair said. It was the longest play of Claytonâ€™s two-year career.
â€œThey just saw that play before,â€ Clayton said. â€œIt was the same move, the same depth and I just took off.â€
Kansas City would eventually get on the scoreboard with a 49-yard Tynes field goal in the third quarter to close the gap to 13-3.
Ultimately, three first-half turnovers were too much to overcome along with Green completing just 15 of 27 passes for 178 yards and a 57.3 passer rating.
â€œItâ€™s hard to recover when you turn the ball over that many times,â€ Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said.
In a sharp contrast to Green, McNair was sharp and efficient as he completed 21 of 27 passes for 283 yards and no interceptions for a 122.7 passer rating.
"Coming off a rest like that, you’ve got to take advantage of it," said McNair, who hasnâ€™t thrown an interception in four games for the longest streak of his career. "I wanted my arm to be fresh, and it was."
The strongest statement delivered by the offense came in the fourth quarter when McNair kept alive a 16-play, 86-yard drive that lasted a staggering 9 minutes and 13 seconds. He found rookie wide receiver Demetrius Williams 33 yards downfield on 3rd-and-6 at the Ravensâ€™ 18-yard line.
â€œWe kind of told ourselves that we were going to score, we were determined to move the chains and finish what we started,â€ McNair said. â€œItâ€™s about trust. The offense is steady. It can be explosive if we just stop kidding ourselves. If we do the right things with the right technique and make the right read and the right moves, things will be perfect.â€
Running back Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 81 yards on 24 carries, capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run as he busted into the end zone off right guard.
â€œMcNair told us, â€˜Letâ€™s get this ball moving,â€™â€ Lewis said. â€œThat means, letâ€™s buckle up, letâ€™s put the saddle on my back and letâ€™s ride.â€
Although Green threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Dante Hall with 1:20 remaining, the outcome had already been decided and the Ravens were well on their way toward claiming a win in their first visit to Arrowhead Stadium.
â€œWeâ€™re unflappable,â€ Scott said.
As the Ravens headed into the visitorsâ€™ locker room, what was left of an announced crowd of 77,232 booed the Chiefs or headed to the parking lot with their heads down.
A team that didnâ€™t win a road game last season is now 5-2 away from Baltimore, and Sunday losses by the Colts and New England Patriots improved the Ravens’ chances of earning home-field advantage.
â€œWeâ€™re playing good football on the road right now,â€ middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. â€œWe’re not thinking about last year. Weâ€™re blocking out all distractions.
"We heard about the 10-year thing, but what weight does that carry when the ball is snapped? Weâ€™re playing good football, but we havenâ€™t played our best football yet.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland