The Ravens survived an injury to quarterback Lamar Jackson and a bizarrely eventful first half to secure a vital 34-20 victory over the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. But the loss of tight end Mark Andrews cast a pall over an otherwise satisfying evening.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
The Ravens came through a strange and unsettling night with a victory they had to take.
The Ravens’ very promising season flashed before their eyes when Jackson fell hard along the sideline, got up unsteadily and spent several excruciating minutes hidden from view in the dreaded blue medical tent.
Their heated turf war with the defending AFC North champion Bengals has become a secondary concern.
When Jackson appeared, he went to the bench instead of the locker room as 70,997 exhausted souls expired in M&T Bank Stadium. Football business could resume, and what a strange evening of football we witnessed.
A 68-yard touchdown run was overturned by an ill-advised official, but a fortuitous bounce gave the Ravens those six points back. Cincinnati franchise quarterback Joe Burrow left clutching his throwing wrist and never returned to action. Neither did Andrews after impeding seven plays in the game. We saw the game delayed due to drone cameras. We saw Odell Beckham Jr. clear 100 receiving yards in a regular season game for the first time since 2019.
The Ravens pushed through the chaos to get a much-needed win to get their season back on stable ground. They dealt a blow to the playoff hopes of a boastful rival that passed them in the standings in 2021 and sent them home for good in 2022.
The Ravens would have spent the next nine days kicking themselves if they hadn’t finished off the Bengals without Terriers. Such a mistake couldn’t be ruled out after blowing a 15-point lead four days earlier against the Cleveland Browns and Deshaun Watson, who played the second half with a season-ending injury.
Despite all the stress of the first half, the Ravens put the game away without excess drama, stepping up their ground attack after halftime, adding five sacks to their league-best total and taking advantage of several moments dazzling strengths from their wide receivers.
They weren’t able to take full advantage of sweeping the Bengals and maintaining their lead in the division because of the discouraging news surrounding Andrews. But 8-3 with the best goal margin in the league and just one game left in the next 23 days is a good place to be. How troubling would this streak have been if the Ravens had lost to Cincinnati and Jackson’s injury had been worse?
He said his mind didn’t go there, even though he was stuck in that tent, begging coaches and doctors to let him back on the field. Jackson laughed when a reporter asked about the heating pad he was wearing on the sore spot.
“We have to stop talking about this ankle,” he said. “I’m fine. You see, I just got here. I’m fine.”
On this victorious Thursday, that was enough.
Mark Andrews’ injury will greatly complicate the Ravens’ quest for the Super Bowl.
Andrews limped after Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson dropped his hip to pull him down on the first drive of the game.
The teammates’ anguished reactions — Jackson threw his helmet onto the grass — spoke not only to the severity of the injury, but also to Andrews’ deep importance to everything the Ravens do. He is their most reliable target on third down and in the red zone. His rage to win elevates everyone.
Jackson’s satisfaction with victory was visibly tempered by the news about one of his closest comrades. He knew it was serious as he watched Andrews writhe on the floor. He hoped against hope that his friend would get up.
“It’s very hard, my brother,” he said afterward. “He’s the guy I came into the league with. We are bread and butter.
The Ravens won without Andrews, against the Houston Texans in this year’s opener and against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. They have a gifted young pass catcher, Isaiah Likely, whose most productive games as a pro have come in Andrews’ absence.
Next man up and all that.
But no one tried to pretend the loss was anything other than devastating. This is probably not the case. He thinks he’s ready to take on bigger responsibilities, but if that’s the case, he gives much of the credit to Andrews, who has been a big brother in the NFL.
“That means every game from this point on is for Mark,” he said.
The Ravens can be a great team from here on out, but they can’t be better without Andrews than with him. There are maybe five tight ends in the league with his skillset, fewer than the ones that are so essential to the soul of their teams. Players like him win you Super Bowls, and that quest — one the Ravens have shown they’re talented enough to pursue — became more difficult Thursday night, regardless of the final score.
“We’re going to miss him as a leader,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a fiery, emotional guy. It brings energy to everyday life, so we’re all going to have to make up for that.
Lamar Jackson’s receivers lent him a helping hand in a wild swinging performance.
Jackson’s stat line — 16 for 26, 264 yards, two touchdowns on a sore ankle — brought some spice back to his MVP campaign.
And he was magical at times, dancing in the pocket until Rashod Bateman got open for the touchdown that gave the Ravens a 21-10 lead, running to extend drives deep in the fourth quarter.
Other times he came up against forces beyond his control.
Officials erased a 68-yard touchdown run by Zay Flowers, whistling Beckham on a questionable – OK, downright blatant – holding call. Jackson roared his disapproval, a rare display from an athlete who usually directs his fury at himself.
On another potential home run, he watched Cincinnati cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt throw his beautiful bomb to Bateman.
At other times, his vision seemed poor. He had an eternity to survey the field on a dropback late in the second quarter, but saw neither Beckham heading freely toward the end zone nor Flowers waving his hand at midfield. That gap was quickly forgotten when his next throw took a lucky bounce into the hands of Nelson Agholor, who raced 37 yards to the end zone, finishing with a joyful somersault.
This piece spoke to the essence of Jackson’s night out: he got by with a little help from his friends.
There was Flowers’ video play cut on a 33-yard gain that allowed the Ravens’ first touchdown. There was Beckham’s tightrope dancing along the sideline to keep the Ravens moving toward the end zone during the two-minute drill. The 31-year-old showed he had even more juice in his surgically repaired legs when he broke loose for a 51-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
Here are the wide receivers we talked about during training camp, making Jackson look better on nights he needed a helping hand. As Harbaugh mentioned after the game, the Ravens will need more from them with Andrews’ trusted paws missing. It was a good start.
A toast to the 2021 recruits.
Remember how desperate Ravens fans were that their team would go to Cincinnati in Week 2 without Marlon Humphrey to face wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
That game, in which Chase caught just five passes for 31 yards and 2021 third-round pick Brandon Stephens played 60 of 60 defensive snaps at cornerback, foreshadowed one of the great stories of this Ravens season.
Simply put, Stephens, a man without a clear position or clear path to playing time heading into training camp, has been a revelation over the past 11 games. He did it again on Thursday. With Humphrey out again, he lined up against Chase 22 times and allowed one catch for 2 yards, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
“We played a lot of man coverage,” Harbaugh said. “Brandon, before the game, I saw him leave by himself. He knew the challenge he was going to face and he did a phenomenal job. He continues to gain momentum. He takes on all the challenges.
Odafe Oweh’s story was different. We knew what the Ravens needed from the 2021 first-round pick, and we knew he would play. But would he produce enough to lift an unproven pass rush?
Well, he has played very well and consistently for five games since returning from a serious ankle injury. He hit a new high against the Bengals with a career-high seven pressures, according to Next Gen Stats, and his fourth sack in that five-game span.
In a tasty narrative twist, he did most of his good work against Orlando Brown Jr., who the Ravens traded for the pick they would use on Oweh.
“I should have given him a game ball,” Harbaugh later joked. “He’s going to be mad at me.”
The 2021 draft class, widely criticized just two months ago, is finding its feet.
Cincinnati once again showed that the Ravens could be vulnerable to frontal attacks.
The Bengals came in last in the league in rushing and second-to-last in rushing attempts, so perhaps they caught the Ravens off guard by charging straight ahead with running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon carried nine times for 48 yards in the first half. Just as importantly, he was the primary target for Burrow and backup Jake Browning, making linebackers Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith look a little slow every time he caught the ball.
“It was just the looks we were giving them, and they were doing the right things with those looks,” Queen admitted. “We just have to be better.”
He and Smith also struggled early on keeping up with tight ends Tanner Hudson and Drew Sample, neither of whom are usually breakout stars in Cincinnati’s offense.
The Ravens did a good job of shutting down the Bengals’ loudest threats in Burrow, Chase and Tyler Boyd. But they’re surprisingly vulnerable to power football, as evidenced by the 4.1 yards per carry they allowed before the game and the 178 rushing yards they gave up to the Cleveland Browns a week earlier.
It’s a relative weakness worth monitoring as they prepare to face efficient teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins in December.
Ravens at Chargers
Sunday November 26, 8:20 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Double: Ravens by 3 1/2