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Tuesday Trenches: Too Close for Comfort

A win is a win in the postseason.

Syndication: The Enquirer The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let me start by saying this: The Cincinnati Bengals are a better team than the Baltimore Ravens. The better team won on Sunday night. Having said that, for much of the game, the Ravens outplayed the Bengals, but in the end, the better team won.

When the Bengals coaches and front office built this team, they did so with winning a Super Bowl in mind, and in the AFC, in order to get to the Super Bowl you have to beat the Chiefs and Bills. This team was built to beat the Chiefs and Bills. Not the Ravens. Had the Bengals been able to play their brand of football, they would have blown the Ravens out. However, the Ravens did exactly what they wanted, which was dragging the Bengals down in the mud to play typical AFC North football.

Here are a few things that went right and a couple that didn’t.

Rumble, big man, rumble!

Nothing is better than watching a big man in the NFL score a touchdown. That’s what happened when defensive end Sam Hubbard recovered a fumble that landed right in his lap after linebacker Logan Wilson knocked it out of Tyler Huntley’s hands. Hubbard returned the ball 98 yards for the go-ahead score. What we witnessed last night was maybe the most important play in franchise history, and the call by Mike Tirico is one of the all-time greats.

Just have a watch and listen...

Familiarity breeds contempt

It didn’t take a very long time for this game to get ugly. Players were chippy almost right away. I don’t know if I would say either team played dirty, but there were definitely plays that toed that line. That’s how division rivals are when they meet in the playoffs. The Ravens were a wounded animal that was backed into a corner with nothing to lose. They weren’t expected to win, and they were under no pressure. All the pressure was on the Bengals.

The same thing happened to the Bills, who barely squeaked out of the Wild Card round with a win against the banged-up Dolphins, their division rival.

The point is, don’t look too far into how ugly this game was.

Killing Them Softly

If the city of Cincinnati commissioned a bronze statue of Joe Burrow to be erected on Fountain Square, there wouldn’t be many people who live in the area that would question the idea. After all, the Bengals have won their fourth playoff game in Burrow’s three seasons as the team’s signal caller. We’ve seen Burrow go off on the Ravens. Last season he passed for 941 yards and seven touchdowns against the division rival.

On Sunday, Burrow didn’t have that kind of game. Instead, he just didn’t make any mistakes. He completed 23 of 32 passes and a touchdown. He also added a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak. He didn’t throw risky passes and he took what the defense gave him.

Remind you of someone?

Hold the line

The Bengals offensive line was completely rebuilt after Burrow was sacked a staggering 70 times last season. They brought in Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and La’el Collins in free agency and drafted left guard Cordell Volson. The new line struggled in the first half of the season, but really came together during the team’s eight-game winning streak. However, they lost Collins and Cappa in the last two games of the regular season, and they may have lost left tackle Jonah Williams after he limped off the field last night.

The Bengals finished the game with Jackson Carman at left tackle. That means that 60 percent of the team’s offensive line isn’t healthy. Hopefully, the offensive line is as deep as the defensive line has been this season.

The Bengals survive and advance to the divisional round where they’ll travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on Sunday. Here are a few things we could see in this heavy-weight match to earn the right to go to the AFC Championship.

  • Josh Allen is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL, with a howitzer for an arm and the speed to burn most defensive linemen and linebackers. He’s among the best quarterbacks in the league. He can also be prone to mistakes, as we saw in the Bills-Dolphins game. Allen and the Bills offense are absolutely capable of putting up a ton of points.
  • The Bengals and Bills are both very good at moving the ball through the air, but the Bills have also been good on the ground as well. Running backs Devin Singletary and James Cook have both averaged over four yards per carry, but Allen is the team’s second-leading rusher with 762 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • The Bengals and Bills defenses are fairly similar. They’re both very tough against the run, and they’re more susceptible to the pass. The Bills have 10 more sacks on the season than the Bengals did, though. The Bills front seven will likely attempt to target the weak spots on the Bengals’ banged-up offensive line.
  • Emotions will be running high on Sunday. The last time these two teams met, Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field and the game ended up being canceled. Hamlin is thankfully doing well and has been discharged from the hospital, but you can absolutely expect the Bills to be playing with a little extra fire this weekend.

To wrap things up, some random thoughts on the Bengals’ Wild Card round win over the Ravens.

  • This game gave the term “grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat” a whole new meaning.
  • As much as the whole city loves Burrow, and rightfully so, the Bengals’ defense won this game.
  • The Ravens have the toughest defense the Bengals will see in the postseason, at least on the AFC side.
  • John Harbaugh’s clock management was atrocious on the Ravens’ last offensive drive. Things could have gone very differently if they used their timeouts earlier than they did. With one minute and 17 seconds left in the game, the Ravens huddled for 30 seconds like they had all day.
  • Even McPherson missed another extra point on Sunday night. That’s his fourth missed extra point of the year. In the end, Burrow found Tee Higgins for a two-point conversion to erase, the mistake, but if they don’t convert and the Ravens score at the end of the game, that point matters very much.
  • Having said that, McPherson is still one of the best kickers in the NFL and there may only be one kicker that I’d rather have. He happens to play for the Ravens.
  • Teams can form a reputation based on what they do at the end of the season and in the postseason. The Chargers have a reputation for choking and the Bengals used to have a reputation of not being able to win big games. That reputation has changed, I think.
  • Carman gave up a sack at left tackle, but overall looked much more comfortable there than he did at guard last year. After all, left tackle was his position at Clemson. I’m not saying he’s better than Williams, but I don’t think he’ll be a huge step down either.
  • Zac Taylor delivered more game balls to bars and restaurants around Cincinnati Sunday night after the game. I love this new Bengals tradition.
  • Plays like Hubbard’s 98-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown makes you think about fate. Any slight change in that single play could have changed everything. If Huntley had decided to go low instead of high, or if the Ravens had decided to give the ball to J.K. Dobbins instead of trying a quarterback sneak, the game could have ended very differently. So if the Bengals were destined to win this game, what are they destined to do this weekend and beyond?
  • Harbaugh’s post-game handshake with Taylor was about as cold as a post-game handshake can get. It’s clear these two teams don’t like each other and with the Browns doing Browns things and the Steelers in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, the Bengals and Ravens are likely to be trading shots for the next few years.
  • Mike Hilton has been an incredible free agent addition. He’s likely the best slot cornerback in the league when it comes to run support and playing in the box.
  • Defensive lineman Zach Carter had himself a game, with three big stops against the run in big moments.
  • Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither’s interception to end the Ravens’ first drive of the game set the tone for the defense.
  • The Bengals have now won nine games in a row. A streak like that is so improbable to pull off for any team in the league.
  • Enjoy this win. Don’t stress yourself out about how the Bengals won. Just be happy they did.

Who Dey!