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The Breakdown: Five Thoughts After Ravens' Loss in Cincy

QB Anthony Brown

The Ravens lost to the Bengals, 27-16, Sunday in Cincinnati to close out the regular season.

Baltimore will get a rematch back in Cincinnati in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs next weekend.

Here are five thoughts from the Week 18 game, which left the Ravens' record at 10-7:

The Ravens' strategy to play for the postseason was the right call.

The Ravens were playing this game with one arm behind their back and kept it closer than should be expected, and certainly closer than it looked it would be early on.

The Ravens gave six starters the day off, showing they cared more about getting as healthy as possible than improving their playoff seed or getting a chance at a home playoff game via a coin toss (and more). The Bengals, meanwhile, had to play their starters the distance.

Head Coach John Harbaugh made the right decision. There was not a whole lot of definite upside to playing all the starters, especially on offense, and there was a whole lot of potential downside. Ultimately, it's all about being as strong as possible for the playoffs.

On offense, that meant getting healthy. Lamar Jackson sat a fifth straight game and the Ravens gave Tyler Huntley the day off to get his shoulder feeling as good as possible in case he has to play again. Workhorses who can use a little rest, Mark Andrews, J.K. Dobbins and Kevin Zeitler, also sat.

Defensively, the Ravens took a bit of a different strategy. On that side, they played more starters, while still resting rehabbing cornerback Marcus Peters. Defensively, Baltimore had a chance to build some momentum heading into a rematch against the Bengals, and they did that with a dominant second half.

It would have taken a lot to break the right way for the Ravens to host a home playoff game against the Bengals. Harbaugh instead decided to prepare his team in Week 18 the best he could for the following week. He explained it succinctly as, "What's best for our team and our season."

The Ravens defense looks up to the task.

There were some rumblings last week that the Ravens defense might be a bit of a mirage because it hadn't faced the mightiest of offenses down the stretch. Well, the Bengals entered this game as one of the hottest offenses in the league and Baltimore held it in check.

The Ravens gave up 27 points, but that number is skewed by a defensive touchdown and more scores set up by turnovers. Baltimore surrendered just 257 yards of offense to a team that has averaged 349 this season. The Ravens held the first-team Bengals offense to just three points in the second half.

Maybe the Bengals held back some of their favorite offensive plays in anticipation of a playoff rematch, but we won't truly know. Linebacker Roquan Smith said it seemed like they ran their normal plays, for what it's worth.

What we do know is an already mighty Baltimore defense may have gotten even stronger in the regular season finale, and will add another key piece when Peters returns to the field.

Smith seemed to be playing his first Ravens-Bengals game with a chip on his shoulder, and his 16 tackles proved it. He was all over the field and fiery, and he wasn't the only one. Baltimore's defense is going to carry some swagger into Cincinnati.

"Those guys know when we come back next week, we'll be here," Smith said. "I'm excited and I think it's going to be a great opportunity to show the world what we're going to do."

Rookies stepped up with more opportunities, and could contribute more in the playoffs.

The Ravens' decision to rest Huntley and Andrews, as well as part ways with Nick Boyle the day before the game, opened the door for some rookies to shine.

Isaiah Likely had a monster day with eight catches for 103 yards on 13 targets. Likely consistently found open holes and made contested catches, especially on his leaping 29-yarder in the first half that could have just as easily been an interception.

Given that state of the Ravens' receiving corps, Baltimore seems to be shifting more and more onto the plate of the tight ends. Likely could be a key piece to the Ravens trying to unlock the passing game in the playoffs.

Fellow rookie tight end Charlie Kolar, who had just two offensive snaps entering this game, made four catches for 49 yards and was especially strong on third down. He could be another contributor moving forward.

Rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo, who had just one defensive snap previously, notched a sack-strip on Joe Burrow and got valuable experience.

Backup QB Anthony Brown's day started rough with three turnovers in the first half, but he settled in during the second half. If Jackson and Huntley are back for the playoffs, the Ravens won't need to call on Brown again. But who knows? It was still good to see him hang in there.

The Ravens need better from their wide receivers in the playoffs.

Everybody knows the Ravens are thin at wide receiver, but they're going to need better play in the playoffs.

The Ravens didn't have a catch by a wide receiver until there was about three minutes left in the third quarter. Before that, they were 0-for-9 on passes intended for wideouts.

Brown's second interception should have been caught by Demarcus Robinson. He had another costly drop in a fourth quarter drive that stalled. Robinson made two catches for 24 yards on nine targets.

Sammy Watkins had two of the unit's biggest plays, but also had the ball ripped out of his hands for a critical fumble as the Ravens were trying to mount a fourth-quarter comeback. James Proche stepped out of bounds before what would have been the offense's longest play.

The Ravens can rely on their running game and defense to be strong in the playoffs, but they're going to have to make plays through the air. They don't have to make a lot, but they have to make some, and they can't all be by the tight ends.

Extra Points:

  • There were reports entering the game that the Bengals were “livid” about the NFL resolution that gave the Ravens a chance at a home Wild-Card playoff game despite not being the AFC North champion. No need for anonymous sources anymore because Joe Mixon made the Bengals' saltiness quite clear with his touchdown celebration in which he pulled a coin from his glove, flipped it, and gave it a disgusted kick. The Bengals were definitely feeling themselves during and after this game.
  • Overall, there was definitely a chippy feeling to this game that will surely roll over to next week for both teams. Two AFC North rivals going at it in back-to-back games, now with everything on the line. It's going to be spicy.
  • Despite the Ravens' efforts to stay healthy, Gus Edwards left in the first half with a head injury and didn't return. His status will be closely watched this week because the Ravens are much stronger when they have their 1-2 punch of Dobbins and Edwards.
  • Odafe Oweh missed a chance at two sacks on one play on the Bengals' first offensive drive, allowing the not so fleet-footed Burrow to escape the pocket for a scramble, but he finished with a half-sack that, unfortunately for Justin Houston, meant he didn't quite reach a reported 10-sack performance bonus.
  • Those who say the Ravens defense was at full strength must not have been watching Burrow target Daryl Worley repeatedly as he stepped in with Peters and Brandon Stephens out. Worley played tough and made some big hits and big plays, including breaking up a touchdown pass, but he also gave up a deep touchdown to Ja'Marr Chase.
  • It was good to see the Ravens defense end the first half with a four-and-out against the Bengals offense as end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a bugaboo this season. However, Brown's fumble recovered by the Bengals touchdown on the ensuing drive was a backbreaker in this game. Having Brown drop back to pass on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 6-yard line with 30 seconds left in the half did not turn out well.
  • In the two regular-season games against the Ravens this year, Burrow has thrown for 217 yards and 215 yards, respectively. Can the Ravens keep a lid on him and the passing attack for a third time? That will go a long way in determining the playoff rematch.

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