The Ravens scored a 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 5.
Here are five thoughts on Sunday's game.
The Ravens needed this win after what they've endured.
A team can only take so many tests. Following two straight home losses featuring fourth-quarter collapses, the Ravens needed to close out a win at home. They didn't need it for the standings. Yes, Sunday night's victory moved them into sole possession of the AFC North, but it's just Week 5. Nobody is winning the division in October and nobody lost it either. The Ravens' playoff chances wouldn't have been sunk had they dropped this one.
But Baltimore needed this one for morale. Every loss stings, but losing 17- and 10-point leads at home requires extra strength ointment. The Ravens' frustration was clearly evident last week in Marcus Peters. Baltimore hadn't been good on either side of the ball in the fourth quarter. This time, clinging to a three-point lead entering the fourth, everyone did their part. The defense got a huge stop on the goal line on the Bengals' next-to-last drive. The offense grinded out two long field-goal drives. Justin Tucker booted the 43-yarder to finish it off.
Twice, Lamar Jackson called Sunday night's win a relief. It's a great win over a very strong team that was in last year's Super Bowl and took it to the injury-depleted Ravens twice last year. But more than anything, it's a win that Baltimore closed out at the end. This team is very talented, but it needed that kind of win after the early-season heartbreaks.
Faith in Justin Tucker is never misplaced.
After the game, Calais Campbell admitted that even as Tucker trotted onto the field for the 43-yard game winner, he felt nervous. By this point, with Tucker hitting 61 straight field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime, and with now 19 game winners under his belt, it's practically AutomaTUCK, as they say.
But he's still human, and humans screw up sometimes. Well, maybe it's time to pinch Tucker just to make sure. Not only was Tucker's game-winning kick good; it was perfect. If the uprights were only a half-yard wide, it still would have gone through.
Even Head Coach John Harbaugh, who has witnessed every single one of Tuckers' 334 career field goals (plus postseason) go through the uprights, said it was a "hard one" to decide to send Tucker out for a 58-yard field goal in the third quarter while facing a fourth-and-4 from the Bengals' 40-yard line. That's absolutely in that cloudy go-for-it range. "But in the end, the scale tipped towards Justin," Harbaugh said. Tucker drilled it, then his linemen bowed down before him.
The scales tipped that way again when, with the Ravens leading by three points, Harbaugh decided to send Tucker out for the chip-shot 25-yard field goal instead of go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 3-yard line. Harbaugh knew that even if the Bengals scored a touchdown on their next drive, which they did, his offense would have enough time to put Tucker in position for the game winner. Sure enough, Tucker made the decision pay off. I don't know what the analytics suggested in any of those scenarios, but the chances are always good when you bet on Tucker.
Lamar Jackson showed one of his best traits on a tough night.
Jackson didn't have his strongest night, as three overthrows proved especially costly and kept this game closer than it should have been. His second quarter interception short-circuited the Ravens' early momentum when they built a 10-0 lead and were driving for more.
Then came two overthrows on should've-been-touchdowns on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, the first on a bomb intended for Devin Duvernay and the second on fourth-and-1 when Tylan Wallace popped wide open. Jackson said he'll be "mad at the film" after a game like this, in which he finished 19-of-32 for 174 yards with one touchdown, one interception and 58 yards rushing.
But even when Jackson isn't having his best night, he's still a winner. Jackson doesn't have a 40-14 record by mistake. It's because, with the game on the line, he can simply be the best player on the field. On the Ravens' game-winning drive, Jackson connected on back-to-back passes to Mark Andrews for 15 yards, then ran three times for 26 yards, including a weaving 19-yarder through the Bengals defense. Jackson gave credit to a "hungry" offensive line, which dug in and paved holes when they were needed most, but this was also a case of Jackson's pure hunger to win setting the table.
Just as Baltimore's secondary is coming together, it takes another hit.
The Bengals did a whole lot of talking after roughing up the Ravens' injury-decimated defense last year. Funny how it was a different story when Baltimore wasn't missing half of its starters. Still, there was good reason to believe this might be a high-scoring affair considering the firepower the Bengals have on offense and the fact that Baltimore's defense entered the game ranked last in the league.
Baltimore's defense rose to the occasion, however. The Ravens didn't allow member of the Bengals' wide receiver trio to top 50 yards. Ja'Marr Chase was held to 50 yards on seven catches. Tee Higgins, who left early with an ankle injury, was shut out. Tyler Boyd had three grabs for 32 yards. The Ravens secondary, which had given up more passing yards than any other unit, put a lid on Cincy. It was mostly screens and check-downs to the running backs that hurt Baltimore in the second half.
Yet, as luck would have it with these Ravens, fans can't totally celebrate. Losing Marcus Williams for a "significant" amount of time to a dislocated wrist is a tough blow. Williams has gotten off to a strong start in Baltimore and his playmaking ability made opponents think twice about going deep. Safety is one of the Ravens' strongest position groups, but this injury still hurts.
- The Bengals picked up 11 yards on the first play from scrimmage. They had five total yards on their next three drives, as the Ravens defense notched two sacks and three straight three-and-outs. Peters brought the flashy gold cleats and his energy was off the chain, helping the defense get off on the right foot. His huge tackle for loss on the Bengals' trick play also set the tone. Peters was clearly talking his talk with Chase, and the Ravens veteran had every right to. He won.
- We all wondered how the Ravens would fare if they didn't have Rashod Bateman. The answer is just fine. Devin Duvernay put up 78 total yards through the air and on the ground, showing even more versatility as a runner out of the backfield. Mark Andrews went beast mode once again with eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. On the Ravens' game-winning drive, Andrews kicked things off with two straight catches. The Ravens didn't have one of their premier offensive weapons, but they still had enough.
- Hayden Hurst waved to Ravens fans after scoring a 19-yard touchdown that halted Baltimore's early momentum. The former Ravens first-round pick is now with his third team, but he's off to a good start in Cincinnati. There's no ill will there (Hurst requested a trade, after all), but you know Hurst wanted to show he was always capable of more than he showed in Baltimore.
- The Jason Pierre-Paul, Odafe Oweh duo dominated the edges early on. They shut down the Bengals' second drive with a tackle for loss on first down and sack on third down. Pierre-Paul also batted down two passes. The Ravens' free-agent addition is looking like a good move and more pass-rush reinforcements are on the way.
- I didn't expect a Ronnie Stanley rotation considering that he's in great shape. But it makes sense considering offensive linemen typically play 100% of the snaps and the last thing Stanley or the Ravens want to have happen is a reprisal of Week 1 in Vegas last year. Stanley looked good and, most importantly, felt good. He'll continue to get stronger.
- Just as bad as the Ravens needed this win, Patrick Queen needed that interception. He heard the criticism after dropped picks in back-to-back games. Even Queen's teammates were teasing him about it. Credit the linebacker for putting in extra work this week to sharpen his hand-eye coordination. That's the kind of rewarding play that could be a launching pad.
- Baltimore's run defense needs to improve next, especially with Saquon Barkley (the NFL's rushing leader) and the New York Giants up next. The Bengals entered the game averaging 89.5 rushing yards per game, ranked 26th in the league. They finished with 101 rushing yards on 21 carries.