KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ray Lewis knows a championship defense when he sees one. Now the Kansas City Chiefs do, too.
Lewis and Baltimore’s tough and savvy defense overwhelmed the young Chiefs on Sunday, sacking Matt Cassel three times and forcing five turnovers in a 30-7 victory in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Chiefs (10-7), who won the AFC West with a six-game improvement and took pride in not beating themselves, managed just 25 yards in the second half.
“To set records is one thing,” said Lewis, who forced a fumble and had a sack in the second-half dismantling of the Chiefs. “To come out and play the way we’ve played in the third quarter all year and the last two weeks, just giving up seven points to opponents, that’s championship-caliber football.”
Baltimore (13-4) broke open a close game with a touchdown and two field goals off turnovers in the second half. Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes, Billy Cundiff kicked three field goals and Willis McGahee closed out the scoring with a 25-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens will head to Pittsburgh on Saturday, renewing one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. They split their season series with the Steelers, with each team winning on the other’s home field.
Kansas City finishes the season saddled with an NFL-record seventh straight playoff loss, dating back 17 years.
“Our defense played phenomenal,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “They came out in the second half and gutted that offense. It was impressive. It’s impressive to be a part of this.”
On a raw, windy afternoon, with temperatures hovering in the low 20s, Flacco and Cundiff took advantage of three interceptions by Cassel and fumbles by Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles to pull away. Pro Bowlers Lewis and safety Ed Reed led the charge.
“You just come in and make up your mind when things start going your way they start going your way,” Lewis said. “We knew that this was a very tough place to come play. They have a very talented ballclub. We were able to show them and that’s kind of how we are built. We are built for 60 minutes.”
In an emotional postgame locker room, the Ravens gave the game ball to Reed. On Friday morning, his family said they believe a young man who jumped into the Mississippi River trying to elude police was probably his younger brother, Brian Reed. The search for a body at the scene in Louisiana has been called off.
“Just being there for strength, respect for what’s going on,” Reed said of his teammates he calls his second family. “They just gave me the team ball for my family.
“My family kept me focused. My older brother called me and told me, ‘Do what you do. You handle your business, we’ll take care of everything over here.’”
It was a week of heartache for the Ravens in more ways. Earlier in the week, the sister of linebackers coach Dean Pees died.
“Anytime you lose someone like that it just draws every one of us closer,” Lewis said. “Not to put Coach Pees’ business out there, but he lost his oldest sister this week too. So as a team we had to balance that out. We had to channel our emotions.”
The Ravens led 10-7 in the third quarter when Kansas City lost a fourth-and-inches gamble and then collapsed, quickly.
Dawan Landry stopped the play, throwing Charles for a 5-yard loss. On the next play, Tamba Hali drew a 15-yard penalty for a late hit on Flacco and the Ravens drove in for Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal, making it 13-7.