Cincinnati will now hit the road to face the Buffalo Bills next weekend. Game time is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 22.
The expectations were that the Bengals would have little trouble with these Ravens without Lamar Jackson at quarterback still nursing his PCL injury. However, this weekend’s games should have been foreshadowing for how this game was going to be way closer than anyone expected as Baltimore’s defense caused enough issues to keep the game close the entire game.
The Bengals started with the ball on offense. It was a methodical drive where running back Joe Mixon saw plenty of work on the drive both on the ground and through the air. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd also converted a big third down with a contested catch over the middle.
However, the drive lost steam after a shot to Tee Higgins in the end zone fell incomplete and the pass rush was able to get to Joe Burrow the next two plays. Evan McPherson subsequently nailed a 39-yard field goal to give Cincinnati an early lead.
The Ravens seemed to be ready to ride this running game behind J.K. Dobbins to start the game off, but Tyler Huntley’s second pass was picked off by linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither as he waited on the outside of a target intended for Mark Andrews. It gave the ball to the Bengals at their own 40-yard line.
Yards did not come by easy yet again. There were some key conversions to Ja’Marr Chase on the drive, but one of the biggest gains came after defensive back Marcus Peters punched/elbowed Mixon while they were both on the ground in an attempt to draw a flag. The joke was on Peters as he gave Cincinnati fantastic field position for Chase to score the game’s first touchdown about seven yards out. McPherson missed the extra point, though, so the Bengals only increased their lead to 9-0.
Baltimore answered back with a 17-play drive that was capped off by a Dobbins reception touchdown where he used every inch of his wingspan to stretch the ball across the line. There was a fourth down conversion on the drive, and a face mask penalty on defensive back Dax Hill on a third-and-goal stop that gave the opportunity for the touchdown. The touchdown cut the lead to 9-7.
What started as a somewhat promising drive ended with disaster. Burrow got sacked on second down, and then the following third down Hayden Hurst lost the ball on a hit by safety Kyle Hamilton that the rookie also recovered.
Offensive tackle Jonah Williams also appeared to go down on the play in very ugly fashion, adding injury to insult. Jackson Carman came in at left tackle in relief.
The Bengals did a great job of weathering the storm and holding the Ravens to a field goal before the half. They were aided by Baltimore needing Huntley to throw the ball since they didn’t have timeouts in order to be able to run it once they got near the goal line. The field goal gave the Ravens a one-point lead going into halftime.
The defense stepped up by getting a fairly quick stop against the Ravens defense thanks to an outstanding chase-down tackle by linebacker Logan Wilson on a potential Huntley scramble. The follow-up drive looked like a throwback to some old-school AFC North football. The offense clearly looked to protect Burrow with Carman taking over at left tackle by running the ball more.
The line got some good push, and Burrow was able to yet again hit on some clutch third downs. Hurst nearly put an exclamation point on the drive with a post over the middle, but it was reversed with him being a yard short. Burrow was able to get the touchdown the next play.
They also got the 2-point conversion following a pass interference on Peters. Higgins caught the pass after Burrow scrambled out to his right waiting for a crosser. They increased their lead to 17-10.
It was almost as if the teams had reversed roles as the Ravens had a quick hitting drive with a big catch-and-run from Dobbins that helped set up a touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson catching a deep pass on a slant-and-go that Eli Apple took the bait on. That tied the game at 17.
After a quick three-and-out from the Bengals offense, the defense decided they would score on their own. After allowing the Ravens onto the goal line, Huntley attempted to go over the top by extending the ball across the goal line, but a couple of Bengals’ defenders met his arms before he could get it across the line of scrimmage. The ball popped out right into Sam Hubbard’s hands as he returned it 99 yards for a huge 14-point swing that got the Bengals up a touchdown.
The offenses followed that up with a couple of three-and-outs the Ravens' offense hit a big play to a wide-open Mark Andrews, but the defense put the clamps on with some big plays by the defensive line was able to plug up the running game and then able to get to Huntley on third down for a sack to end the drive without any points. They were able to pin the Bengals inside their own 20-yard line, though.
Cincinnati got put behind schedule with a questionable holding call on the first play. The offense just looked completely thrown off on that set of downs following that. It set the Ravens' offense up with an opportunity inside Cincinnati’s territory to possibly tie the game with just over three minutes remaining.
Baltimore’s offense was able to set themselves up with a few shots at the end zone with less than 30 seconds left, but a lot of the questions may be turned to how Baltimore’s offense was maybe too patient with how they moved the ball. They huddled several times after the 2-minute warning. That ran roughly a minute off the clock. The Hail Mary nearly was ripped into the hands of a waiting Raven, but his effort came up short.
There will be many who walk away from this game concerned about Cincinnati moving forward. Some of that is rational as the offensive line is obliterated going into the Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills, Some may even point to the luck of Hubbard’s return being the only reason this team moved on, but the key there is that they are moving on.
We have seen Cincinnati be the victims of plays like that 98-yard return many times over the Bengals’ playoff history, and sometimes you need the bounce to go your way. These Bengals have gotten used to playing close playoff games, and this one was no different.
Up next, it’s on to Buffalo for the 3 pm CBS game next Sunday.