Once again, it was a tale of two halves. Sort of. It wasn’t as severe as, say, Week 15 versus the Buccaneers or Week 16 versus the Patriots, but for whatever reason, the Bengals haven’t been able to sustain their mojo through a full-four quarters in a little while. It hasn’t cost them a game yet, but one-and-done season is upon us. Mistakes can end a season now.
Still, there isn’t too much more to complain about after the Bengals handled a diminished Baltimore Ravens squad 27 - 16 at Paycor Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and offensive stars Mark Andrews and J.K. Dobbins unavailable, the Ravens weren’t much of a threat offensively through much of the game. The Ravens defense, however, was intact and lived up to their top-tier billing.
After looking crisp in their brief appearance on Monday Night, the Bengals offense looked largely lethargic against the Ravens. The run game was silent, gaining a meager 55 yards on the day, leaving it up to Joe Burrow and the passing game to bear much of the offensive burden. Thanks to four turnovers forced by the defense, the Bengals were able to cash in on phenomenal field position, building up a comfortable lead in the first half they would never relinquish. Even a late rally by the Ravens could only upgrade the outcome from foregone conclusion to mildly interesting.
But with the Bengals offense stuck in molasses, each of those turnovers was essential. The first of the day, a Jessie Bates interception of Ravens third-string quarterback Anthony Brown, set up a Burrow touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. The second was a Mike Hilton interception on a bobbled pass that set up another Burrow touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase. The third was arguably the most important, as Trey Hendrickson burst off the edge to force a fumble in the Ravens end zone, which Joseph Ossai recovered for a touchdown. The fourth Ravens turnover iced the game when Sammy Watkins, freshly claimed off of waivers, fumbled away the ball late in the fourth quarter.
Of the Bengals 27 points on the day, 21 were off turnovers. Give credit to the Bengals defense for taking advantage of their opportunities, but with another matchup with the Ravens now on the horizon in the Wild Card Round, counting on another four-turnover game would be foolish. Brown had some nice moments in the second half, but he’s not a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. The impact of a healthy Lamar Jackson on this Ravens team cannot be understated.
With their playoff-ticket already stamped, The Bengals had two objectives on Sunday: secure a home game for the first round, which was in doubt following a questionable ruling by the NFL’s competition committee and stay healthy. They succeeded in their first task, but unfortunately, they failed their second. Guard Alex Cappa, who has been having a Pro-Bowl-caliber season, was carted off the field with an ankle injury, making him the second significant departure to the offensive line in as many weeks.
With Cappa down, joining right tackle La’el Collins on the injured reserve, the Bengals offensive line is deteriorating at a critical juncture. Last year, the Bengals were able to overcome poor play from the offensive line, with no performance more indicative of that than overcoming nine sacks against the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round. The Bengals luck ran out in the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams and expecting the same success two years in a row feels tenuous at best.
As always, though, the Bengals defense was ready to pick up the offense. After a week that was at times frightening and unsettling, frustrating and confusing, and inspiring and unifying, it was back to business as usual for a Bengals team that knows how to play complimentary football in the biggest games. They faced an all-time NFL emergency and an imbalanced NFL ruling and didn’t blink in a decisive matchup versus a divisional opponent.
Even though the Bengals lost one of their most important contributors for an undetermined (as of yet) amount of time, this win should serve them well as they move into the playoffs. They didn’t play their best, especially on offense, but they still won by two scores. The Ravens will be leveled-up next week, no question, but Burrow won’t be missing touchdown passes to Chase or Tee Higgins next week, either. It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, and there’s still questions to be answered about their half-to-half inconsistency and a suddenly-thin offensive line, but the Bengals continued to prove that they’re always prepared to step up in crunch time.