NFL fans across the country geared up for the most anticipated prime-time game of the 2020 season so far Monday night.
What they saw instead reminded many of the last time the Baltimore Ravens were on national television.
Kansas City defeated Baltimore 34-20 on Monday night with a fantastic blend of scintillating offensive performance and stifling defense that kept the reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson in check and saw his award-winning predecessor light up television screens all over the U.S. Patrick Mahomes threw for nearly 400 yards, while Jackson failed to break 100 through the air and fell short of the century mark on the ground as well.
Some expected a shootout at M&T Bank Stadium. What they instead received was a reaffirmation of the Chiefs as the defending Super Bowl champions, thanks in large part to their defense.
"They accepted the challenge," Mahomes said of his team's defense, via the Kansas City Star. "Everyone talked about how they were going to run it down our throats the whole game."
Run it down their throats, the Ravens did not. After running for 341 yards combined in their first two games (including a 230-yard outing last week) and gaining 788 total net yards in their 2-0 start, last year's league-leading rushing offense finished with 158 yards Monday night and ended up accounting for nearly 70 percent of Baltimore's total offensive output.
The Ravens' inability to pass effectively -- an effort marred by drops on the part of Jackson's teammates, and Kansas City's focus on keeping Jackson from escaping to the perimeter -- became increasingly glaring once the Mahomes-powered offense built a multi-possession lead. Baltimore couldn't commit to its run-first approach anymore with a 17-point hole to climb out of.
"The defense was bearing down against what I consider to be one of the best offensive teams in the league," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "That was something special."
Kansas City's defensive performance was surprising both because the Chiefs, even after winning the Super Bowl in a come-from-behind effort, still aren't known for shutting down opposing stars in key games. That general opinion might finally change after Monday night.
The Chiefs did so in a fashion we've seen just twice in the last calendar year. Cleveland spent the entire week leading up to its Week 4 meeting with Baltimore in 2019 talking about how important it was to "cage" Jackson because of his ability to escape and then elude pursuers in the open field. The Browns then promptly went out and forced three Ravens turnovers -- two Jackson interceptions and a Mark Ingram fumble -- en route to a 40-25 win.
"You naturally want to charge the quarterback, so keeping contain ends up being a huge thing," Reid said following Monday's win. "He's faster than most of the guys on the field. He can go. To stay disciplined takes a lot."
The other instance is the one that really resonates with the average viewer because of how stunning the outcome remains. Tennessee rolled into Baltimore on Jan. 11 fresh off an upset wild-card win over the Patriots, stopped the Ravens on two fourth-down conversion attempts and controlled the contest on the ground, beating Baltimore at its own game and sending the darling Ravens home earlier than anyone expected.
In that game, it was Ryan Tannehill who threw for less than 100 yards, but Jackson again tossed two interceptions, and Tennessee forced the quarterback to fumble as well. Those three turnovers combined with the two turnovers on downs suffocated the Ravens' offense and left their fans stunned as they exited with the sting of a 28-12 upset defeat still fresh.
The latter of the two examples came as a result of Jackson trying to do everything himself and his teammates -- notably a still-injured Ingram -- not doing enough to help. Monday night was more of an example of most everyone not doing enough, an outcome for which the Chiefs defense deserves much more credit than it will likely receive. The news cycle will replay the thrilling Mahomes touchdowns before it highlights an overlooked defense shutting down the reigning MVP.
"Patience," defensive end Frank Clark said of how the Chiefs were able to contain Jackson. "You have to play with patience against a player so fast, so explosive and a guy who can make plays throwing and running the ball."
The Chiefs didn't depart without any scratches or dents. Defensive tackle Chris Jones, who sacked Jackson twice Monday night, tweaked his groin, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. Fortunately for Kansas City, it's not believed to be anything serious, Pelissero added. With a quick turnaround ahead for the Chiefs, who return home to host New England this weekend, Jones' recovery window gains importance.
His play Monday night was undoubtedly key, helping the Chiefs turn what was anticipated to be a high-scoring affair into a one-sided victory that again reminded the rest of the league who the reigning champs are.