KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs and Ravens were on even terms less than two seasons ago, when they met on a frigid field at Arrowhead Stadium to see who would advance in the AFC playoffs.
Baltimore won the game going away, pressing on in the postseason, just as it’s made a habit of doing for more than a decade. The Chiefs went back to the drawing board, fired their coach last season and are now trying to appease a fan base increasingly frustrated by mediocrity.
Two franchises, one the model of consistency, the other in turmoil.
“There’s been a tradition and an expectation and a standard that’s been established around here recently,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who will lead his Ravens (3-1) back to Kansas City (1-3) today for a matchup of two teams heading opposite directions.
“Ray Lewis is a big part of that. Ed Reed is a big part of that. Those two guys have a great way of training the younger guys,” Harbaugh said. “We always bring coaches in, they get ingrained in the system before they become a coordinator, so they’re evolving. But to me, it comes to down to veteran leadership and there’s no team that has veteran leadership like we do.”
There has been a massive leadership void in Kansas City for years.
When the franchise was peaking in the 1990s, there were fearsome players on defense — Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas, the Chiefs’ own versions of Lewis and Reed. Joe Montana and Marcus Allen came through town, and stalwarts such as Willie Roaf and Will Shields played the offensive line.
One by one, though, they moved along or retired, and the tenures of former general manager Carl Peterson and current GM Scott Pioli have so missed out on identifying the kind of personality that, regardless of position, seems to bring an entire locker room together.
“Baltimore is consistent just because of the core guys they have,” Chiefs cornerback Javier Arenas said. “They have special core guys, guys like Ray Lewis, that have been there a long time. They have guys who lead, who bring it, and who drag the best out of each and every one.
“They make sure you’re going to play well.”
Arenas wasn’t saying that the Chiefs are entirely devoid of leadership. Linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali provide some of it, and there are other players on both sides of the ball who have assumed a more visible role this season.
Still, the success level of the two franchises indicates it hasn’t been enough.
Baltimore’s been to the playoffs eight times over the past 12 years, including each of the last four, and beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl to finish off the 2000 season.
The Ravens’ regular-season winning percentage over that stretch is .607, sixth-best in the NFL. Their nine winning seasons trail only the Patriots and Colts. Their 10 playoff wins are third in the league, and their three conference title games tied for fourth.
“They’ve got great veteran leadership,” Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said. “They try to push those guys to go in the right direction, so any of those young guys that are coming in, they have to jump on the bandwagon and get going.”
There hasn’t been a bandwagon in Kansas City so much as a sinking ship.
That playoff loss to the Ravens a couple years ago represents the Chiefs’ only appearance since the 2006 season, and their only winning record. The franchise has only been to the playoffs three times total over the past 15 years, and hasn’t won a game since the 1993 season.
Only the Bengals and Lions have gone longer without winning a playoff game.
“Like you said, a few years ago they were a playoff team,” said Ravens running back Ray Rice, alluding to how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL. “Not a lot has changed with the personnel there, so we know what they are capable of.”
Indeed, looking merely at the outcome of games this season, Sunday looks like a mismatch.
The Ravens have been in every game they’ve played, winning most of them, while the Chiefs have been blown out in all three of their losses. Their only win, two weeks ago in New Orleans, required a franchise-record 18-point second-half rally against another team in disarray.
But digging deeper, the Chiefs have the fourth-best offense in the league — Baltimore is currently No. 2 — and a defense that has been decent against both the pass and the run.
The culprit in their losses? Fifteen turnovers, by far the most in the NFL.
“You take away the turnovers and things, and they’re doing an awfully great job with their offense,” Lewis said. “I think they were leading the league before last week.”
So maybe the teams that will meet on Sunday aren’t that far apart. Maybe they’re more similar than dissimilar, two teams with potent offenses and respectable defenses.
It’s difficult say the two franchises have been anything alike.
At KANSAS CITY (1-3)
Today, Noon, CBS
OPENING LINE — Ravens by 6½
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Baltimore 1-3-0; Kansas City 2-2-0
SERIES RECORD — Tied 3-3
AP PRO32 RANKING — Ravens No. 4; Chiefs No. 27
LAST MEETING — Ravens beat Chiefs 30-7, Jan. 9, 2011
LAST WEEK — Ravens beat Browns 23-16; Chiefs lost to Chargers 37-20
VISITOR OFFENSE — OVERALL (2), RUSH (12), PASS (4)
VISITOR DEFENSE — OVERALL (23), RUSH (13), PASS (29)
HOME OFFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (2), PASS (17)
HOME DEFENSE — OVERALL (13), RUSH (20), PASS (12)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Chiefs have lost three straight to Ravens, including AFC wild card game in 2011. Their last win was Oct. 4, 2004. ... Baltimore coming off stretch of four games in 18 days. ... Chiefs had six turnovers in last Sunday's 37-20 loss to San Diego, five before halftime. Kansas City leads NFL with 15 turnovers and minus-13 differential. ... Kansas City QB Matt Cassel has thrown seven interceptions and lost three fumbles. ... Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles leads NFL in yards from scrimmage with 512. Ravens RB Ray Rice second with 491. ... Charles second in NFL with 415 yards rushing, 8 behind Seattle's Marshawn Lynch. ... Ravens lead NFL with 26 plays of 20-or-more yards, eight TD drives of 80-or-more. ... Baltimore QB Joe Flacco third in NFL in yards passing with 1,269, trailing Drew Brees and Eli Manning. ... Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe fourth in AFC with 342 yards receiving. He also has three TD catches. ... Baltimore 7-1 against AFC West under John Harbaugh, including 2-0 against Kansas City. He is tied with Atlanta's Mike Smith (47-21) for best winning percentage among active head coaches. ... Ravens trying to start 4-1 for third straight season. ... Chiefs TE Kevin Boss (concussion) went on IR this week. LB Bryan Kehl signed to fill roster spot.