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 next 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 Jamal Charles to pull away. Pro Bowlers Lewis safety Ed Reed led the charge.
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.
Seahawks, Jets advance
The NFL will have two new conference champions.
Both Super Bowl teams from last year lost Saturday on the first day of the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks silenced their critics and stunned the defending champion New Orleans Saints 41-36 to open the postseason. The New York Jets ended the night with a last-second 17-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Nick Folk kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired after Mark Sanchez led the Jets down the field and into range for the winning kick.
New York (12-5) will face the New England Patriots for the third time this season.
Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri looked as though they had combined for another comeback win when the famously clutch kicker made a 50-yarder to put the Colts (11-6) up 16-14 with 53 seconds remaining.
Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, advanced behind four touchdown passes by Matt Hasselbeck and a brilliant 67-yard run by Marshawn Lynch on which he broke six tackles.
The Seahawks (8-9) will visit second-seeded Chicago on Sunday.
It was a shocking way for the Saints’ season to end. They led 17-7 early before their defense was decimated by Hasselbeck’s arm and, finally, Lynch’s run. A season after their first NFL championship, the Saints (11-6) couldn’t match up with an opponent they beat 34-19 in November.
“We did it with our crowd and we fit together so beautifully,” said coach Pete Carroll, who in his first season with the Seahawks led one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “We kind of expected to win. I know that sounds crazy, but we did expect to win. The fact that it happened, it’s just kind of like, we want to take it in stride and go to the next one.”
Hasselbeck, who wasn’t cleared to return from a hip injury until Thursday, threw for 272 yards and a career playoff best four scores, two to tight end John Carlson. He outdueled Drew Brees, the Super Bowl MVP last February, who had a playoff record 39 completions, throwing 60 times for 404 yards and two scores.
It wasn’t enough, and he didn’t have the running game NFC West champion Seattle got — especially on Lynch’s TD.
Lynch took a second-down carry up the middle and a half-dozen Saints got their hands on him. None could bring him down, and Lynch tossed in a massive stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf as he completed the longest touchdown run of his career.
“That was the most unbelievable, unrealistic play I’ve ever seen in the history of football,” Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry said. “It was just unreal. It seems just like a routine football play, then he takes it to another level.”
Lynch finished with 131 yards on 19 carries, the first Seattle back to top 100 yards all season.
“We respect the heck out of the Saints,” Hasselbeck said, “but I think we felt something special all week and today, and we’ll see. It’s a good start for us.”
An unprecedented one, actually: No NFL team with a losing record had won a postseason game.