For the first time in his career, Lamar Jackson could not solve the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jackson entered Sunday's game with a 5-0 career record against Cincinnati, the team he had dominated like no other. But the Bengals were having none of that Sunday. They sacked Jackson five times, hurried him into off-target throws and short-circuited his ability to make electrifying plays.
The result was a 41-17 Cincinnati victory that ended Baltimore's five-game winning streak and ended Jackson's control over Cincinnati. It was a statement that the Bengals are a legitimate threat to win the AFC North, and that their revamped defense has a better chance to cope with Jackson's ability to take over a game.
Cincinnati's performance was so one-sided that Jackson was pulled from the game in favor of Tyler Huntley with 6:59 left. There was no reason to expose Jackson to any more punishment, and as competitive as Jackson is, he understood why Head Coach John Harbaugh made the change.
"Coach had to make a decision," Jackson said. "I was cool with it, for sure. He was trying to protect us, stuff like that. So, I was cool with it. It's definitely tough. We hate losing. We don't want to see the score tilted like that."
The Bengals are an improved team defensively this year with the additions of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, and cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie. Jackson was under duress all day, and the pressure came from so many directions that it was difficult for Jackson to anticipate where the heat would come from next.
"We always have to have two guys on him, one inside shoulder [and] one outside shoulder," said defensive end Sam Hubbard, who had two sacks. "So, you always have to have two people on the ball."
Jackson has enjoyed some signature moments against Cincinnati in the past, including a 360-degree spin during a touchdown run during his MVP season in 2019. But the Bengals prevented Jackson (15 for 31, 257 yards, one touchdown) from pulling off heroics to rally the Ravens as he had done several times during their five-game winning streak.
Jackson missed on some throws he normally makes, but the Bengals made sure he was throwing into tight windows with little time to make decisions. They were also disciplined with their pass rush, ready to squeeze Jackson's avenues to escape when he decided to tuck and run. Jackson rushed for 88 yards on 12 carries, but his longest gain was 16 yards.
"I thought our defensive coaching staff came together with a great plan, and our guys executed it to a tee," Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said. "We have smart pass rushers, and [Jackson] is so dangerous. Every time he extends a play, he's capable of running for an explosive play or passing for one. He's just such a tremendous player, and I'm really proud of how our defense handled him today. That was a really big step for us."
Jackson also gave credit to the Bengals defense.
"They played a great game," Jackson said. "For certain plays, they just played great defense. But we left some points out there on the field, for sure."
When Marquise "Hollywood" Brown made a sensational catch on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jackson on the opening drive of the third quarter, it gave Baltimore a 17-13 lead and it appeared the Ravens (5-2) might have found some answers at halftime.
However, that was the last time Baltimore scored. Without a running game to depend on, the Ravens consistently found themselves in second and long, third and long, and the Bengals put Jackson in a vice as he tried to convert those situations into first downs.
Taylor had lost his previous four games against the Ravens, including the last three by a combined score of 114-19. He did not deny that this victory felt special, to win convincingly against a team and a quarterback that has given him fits.
"Baltimore has really taken it to us the last several times we have played them, and we don't run from that," Taylor said. "So, I won't say we needed to prove it to ourselves, because we had a lot of people in that locker room who were confident going into that game today. But this was a box we needed to check. Now, we just move forward."