Bengals Rumble Past Ravens in Wild Card Round
Updated: Jan 16
It couldn’t have been any other way. And why would you want it any other way?
The Cincinnati Bengals Wild-Card Round matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens - a rematch one week in the making - was a classic AFC North bruise-fest. Because of course it was. How could it not? These two teams know each other too intimately. The Ravens weren’t going to be a pushover, even if their MVP-quarterback Lamar Jackson was sidelined.
In many ways, this was exactly the kind of game the Bengals needed to experience as they march onward through the postseason. The road does not get easier, especially with the Buffalo Bills on the horizon. Though they struggled at times against the Ravens - and played far from their best game - the Bengals continued to demonstrate the same resilience and determination that will serve them immeasurably as the stakes get higher.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, but it was probably a little silly to ever expect the Bengals to blow out the Ravens. John Harbaugh is too good of a coach, the Ravens are too disciplined and talented (even without Jackson), and the team was playing with house money. Nobody was picking the Ravens to win this game. The pressure was all on the Bengals.
With Jackson still on the mend from a PCL injury he suffered in Week 13, the Ravens turned to backup Tyler “Snoop” Huntley, and he delivered with a fantastic performance that nearly led to the upset. In a hostile stadium that was deafening at times, Huntley showed poise and grit as he consistently put the Ravens in positive positions. He eluded pass rushers and found checkdowns with such regularity that it was reasonable to wonder if he’d switched bodies with Jackson in some impromptu, football-version of Freaky Friday.
Without Huntley, the Ravens would have been toast. Unfortunately for Huntley, though, the most decisive play of the game - and the one that almost single-handedly broke the Ravens backs - fell squarely on his shoulders. Facing a 3rd and goal from the one-yard line, Huntley and the Ravens lined up for a QB sneak to take the lead. Huntley took the snap and leapt over his linemen, extending his reach in hopes that one, measly sliver of the ball crosses the goal line.
And in an instant, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson had knocked the ball out of Huntley’s hands and into Sam Hubbard’s, the Cincinnati native and Bengals defensive end. With nothing but green grass in front of him and a convoy of blockers behind him, Hubbard rumbled 98 yards for the fumble-return score, the longest fumble recovery touchdown in NFL playoff history. Just like that, the Ravens threat was gone, and it was the Bengals who suddenly had the commanding lead.
Poor Huntley. He was having a game to remember and after one play, it was game to forget. Oh well. At least the Bengals don’t have to worry about that - leave that to the Ravens to sort out.
The Bengals do, however, have a few issues of their own to worry about. Left tackle Jonah Williams left the game in the second quarter and is currently week-to-week with a dislocated left kneecap. His injury marks the third Bengals lineman to go down in the second half of the season, joining right tackle La’el Collins and right guard Alex Cappa. We all know about the Bengals issues with pass protection on their run to the Super Bowl last year, and it looks like those issues might start creeping up a bit more.
Further compounding the offensive line issue is the Bengals struggles running the ball lately. When the Bengals ran all over the Carolina Panthers, it seemed that the Bengals run game problems were behind them. The Ravens are obviously a stout opponent, but 51 yards rushing just isn’t going to cut it. Buffalo is a team that can rush the passer - the Bengals are going to need the run game to help avoid those obvious passing situations that can annihilate a sub-par offensive line.
But even beyond the line and the run game, the Bengals played an overall sloppy game on Sunday night. Receivers dropped passes, tight end Hayden Hurst had a costly fumble, and cornerback Eli Apple was burned in coverage by DeMarcus Robinson. The Bengals defense also struggled to contain the Ravens run game, an oddity for a team that’s been so good in that department for almost two straight years now. As they’ve shown time and again, though, this Bengals bunch can never be counted out - even in the direst of scenarios.
Hubbard’s fumble-recovery touchdown reminds us that even in the darkest moment, this Bengals team has absolutely no quit. They don’t get down. They don’t turn on each other. They don’t get overwhelmed. They just keep playing ball, keep chipping away, keep waiting for their moment, keep finding ways to win.
The Bengals were lucky to win this game, but that isn’t an insult. The Ravens are a really good team. It was easy to forget when Joe Burrow was shredding their defense last year for 500+ passing yards, but this is a fantastic defense when at full strength. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who both missed the final Bengals-Ravens matchup from last year, are likely the NFL’s best cornerback duo. Roquan Smith is officially the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history - and he’s earned every last penny with his stellar play. They are great.
That’s what makes this win so important. Even when they didn’t play their best game against an opponent giving them their best shot, the Bengals still found a way to win the game. That’s what they do. They won’t be able to get away with playing this way against the Bills - if they hope to escape Orchard Park with a win, that is. The Bengals proved against the Ravens that they still have that postseason magic, and like Hubbard’s fumble-rumble, they’ll need to keep pulling more rabbits out of hats if they want to reach, and finally win, the Super Bowl.