Sunday was one of the strangest regular-season finales in recent memory. Not only were the Bengals playing to avoid a venue-based coin flip, but they had to simultaneously juggle staying healthy and not tipping their game plan hand, while gunning for the win.
They achieved the main goal, but there were struggles along the way. Here are the best and worst facets from the Bengals’ 27-16 win over the Ravens.
Not leaving the playoff venue up to chance:
Even though the Bengals had some stumbles along the way, one couldn’t watch this game and believe they were uninspired. As we all know by now, if Cincinnati had lost this game, a coin toss scenario could have ensued wherein the Division Champs may not have hosted an opening round playoff game.
Instead, the defense swarmed, the offense was often aggressive (even if they missed the shots) and Roger Goodell was on their minds. If you didn’t think so, Joe Mixon’s touchdown celebration should have said it all.
Joe Mixon mocks the coin toss after his TD pic.twitter.com/lriTs25cdW— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) January 8, 2023
Yes, Cincinnati was facing the Ravens’ third-string quarterback, while both Mark Andrews and J.K. Dobbins rested. However, the unit racked up four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles—one of which went for a touchdown in this one.
Trey Hendrickson was a monster, racking up two of the sacks and the forced fumble, while Joseph Ossai continues to round into form with a sack of his own and the recovery for a score. It was also an outstanding day for Jessie Bates III, who had a pick and forced fumble.
The Ravens may have poked the bear:
As we’ve hinted at a couple of times and you’ll see below, the Bengals’ offense was displeased with their performance and left a lot of points on the field. That won’t sit well this week, as we’re all pretty sure that Joe Burrow and Co. will work hard to iron out the issues.
Additionally, many players also weren’t happy with the “approach” Baltimore was perceived to have taken this week. Most of the plays we pointed out below were within reason and just edged on the uber-physical side that has largely defined the AFC North.
We’re guessing that these are some of the plays in which the #Bengals are taking umbrage. We’ll talk about it on the #podcast tonight @ 630 et to kick off our #wildcardweekend coverage! pic.twitter.com/t4CIBQQrfP— Orange&Black Insider (@BengalsOBI) January 9, 2023
However, there are also a couple of examples in there with some after-the-whistle antics that seemed to rile up Bengals players. The defense also publicly noted some things and they may be playing at a highly-inspired level this Sunday night.
Many missed opportunities for points:
Even though Cincinnati was in the driver’s seat for most of this game, there were at least two touchdowns and many more yards (as well as possibilities for further points from those) left on the field.
Whether it was Burrow over or under-throwing bombs to receivers who had broke open, drops, and/or Baltimore’s defense making solid plays, Cincinnati really let some gold opportunities slip past them. This simply can’t happen with nearly as much frequency this Sunday night, if they want to advance.
Continued issues against tight ends with Mark Andrews on the bench:
Even though the Bengals’ defense clamped down on a lot of the facets of the Ravens’ offense, two rookie tight ends had their way with the Bengals. Isaiah Likely, a guy in whom the Bengals reportedly had pre-draft interest, went over 100 yards receiving on eight catches.
Charlie Kolar got his first extensive action of the year and had four grabs for 49 yards as well. This position is a focal point of the Ravens’ offense, despite who’s under center, so Cincinnati’s defense will absolutely need to hone in here with Andrews set to return.
Opposition pushing the envelope with their play:
Continuing off the “poking the bear” point above, there were some not-so-obvious things witnessed after the contest was over when going back over the film. While some believe the gripes coming from the Cincinnati side of things were overblown, there are still some moments that really take this rematch to another level.
Look, physical play and attempting to impose one’s will is an important part of football. However, extracurriculars and moments like the one below get under the skin for all of the wrong reasons—particularly when that hasn’t been in the opposition’s style of play in recent times.
The play where Tyler Boyd had to be evaluated for a concussion.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) January 10, 2023
Roquan Smith sees he's not getting up, takes the ball, nods his head in approval and throws the ball at Ja'Marr Chase as trainers run onto the field. pic.twitter.com/J1TiLHfr6g
Injuries to important offensive players:
Two very important players received concerning injuries this week. First and foremost, starting right guard Alex Cappa suffered an ankle injury on Sunday, putting his status in doubt for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Tee Higgins also has a hip pointer, which is a pretty painful injury. It’s possible he suffered the injury on a big hit to jar an incompletion Sunday and, needless to say, he’s an integral part of the offense.
In the first game, Higgins left the game extremely early and the Bengals’ offense had a lot of trouble scoring points. Having No. 85 available and healthy is key in this one.