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Chiefs rise up, fall down to level of opponent

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Chiefs rise up, fall down to level of opponent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Chiefs have been something of a rollercoaster this season, though not in terms of wins and losses. They've been quite consistent at losing.

It's their performance that's been uneven, and it's often dictated by their opponent.

When the Chiefs have played one of the league's top teams, such as the Steelers or Broncos, a motley bunch that's lost eight consecutive games rises to the occasion. But when they follow with a game against a similarly downtrodden team, well, the results are fairly predictable.

They've lost, many of the games not even close.

``If you look at the games what we've played our best in, they've been against the `good teams' at the time,'' Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. ``And then the following week, for whatever reason, we haven't been able to play as well and finish.''

The Chiefs' margin of defeat in games played against teams with losing records is 12 points, while they've lost by an average of 13.3 to teams with winning marks.

But when you eliminate the games played against teams within one game of .500, the numbers tell a different story: They've lost by an average of nine points to the Falcons (10-1), Ravens (9-2) and Broncos (8-3), while losing to teams 4-7 or worse by more than 13 points per game.

That doesn't bode well with Carolina (3-8) coming to town Sunday.

``We played good against teams that I guess people don't expect us to win, and then I guess a game like this, people expect us to win because they're not as good a football team as other teams we've faced,'' defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. ``But we can't let down.''

Is that it, though? Are the Chiefs simply letting down against lousy teams?

``I'd like to think we come out every week, regardless of the opponent, knowing that at any given Sunday, any team can beat anyone,'' quarterback Brady Quinn said. ``This is an extremely competitive league. The difference from team-to-team and player-to-player is very minimal.''

Surely the Saints, who have won five of their last seven, are still scratching their heads at how the Chiefs managed to overcome a 24-6 deficit to force overtime at the Superdome, and then had the gumption to finish off the biggest comeback in franchise history for their lone victory.

The Ravens probably wonder who they were playing two weeks later when they visited Arrowhead Stadium and managed to grind and slog and fight their way to a 9-6 victory.

Just last week, the Broncos came to town riding a five-game win streak. Peyton Manning was shut down most of the afternoon, and Kansas City hung around until late in the fourth quarter, when Denver kicked a field goal to help wrap up a 17-9 victory.

On the flip side, the Chiefs were routed 31-13 by struggling San Diego, ambushed in a 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay, and blown out 35-17 by Buffalo early in the year.

``It's been brought to our attention, so I don't think it will be a concern,'' linebacker Derrick Johnson said, ``but we have had that pattern throughout the year.''

Johnson didn't get into the details of how it was addressed, but he did say the coaching staff has tried to get the message across in several different ways.

``Human nature says, `I played the Denver Broncos and they're the best team in the AFC West, so now here's a team that is 3-8 and they're not as good as the Denver Broncos.' So, human nature says, `Relax a little bit. I can relax a little bit,''' Crennel said. ``So, that's what you have to fight. You have to fight human nature. That's what we are focusing on, is not letting down and being able to put forth the same kind of effort we put forth last week.''

Notes: Chiefs LB Tamba Hali (knee), LT Branden Albert (back) and C Ryan Lilja (knee) have not practiced this week. ... The Chiefs claimed OL Hayworth Hicks off waivers. They also released K Matt Szymanski and signed LB Quan Sturdivant to the practice squad.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.