Five thoughts on the Ravens' 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
When the game began, the Ravens had a five-game winning streak and the AFC's best record. Three hours later, they were no longer even at the top of their division and had a long list of issues to address. The Bengals wrested first place in the AFC North from them with what can only be described as a thorough shellacking. The Bengals scored almost at will in the second half as the Ravens' plan to upset quarterback Joe Burrow with blitzes didn't work out, to say the least. That put the onus on the Ravens' offense to continually score to keep the game close, and it wasn't up to the challenge against a Cincinnati defense that reduced Baltimore's rushing game to a non-factor and generally contained Lamar Jackson. The view of the Ravens' season is still pleasing enough from 35,000 feet; with a 5-2 record, they're at the forefront of the AFC playoff race entering a bye-week break that gives them a chance to get healthier. But they won't entertain many sweet dreams while they're off after absorbing this manhandling from a division rival that looked younger, faster, stronger, and better.
Burrow passed for 416 yards before being removed midway through the fourth quarter. Honestly, it seemed like 816 yards. The Ravens tried to rattle him with pressure, as they've done many times before when facing a young quarterback. The plan worked decently early, as the Bengals punted on three of their first four possessions. But they adjusted, bolstering their protection for Burrow, and he started hitting open receivers all over the field. A tight end, C.J. Uzomah, caught a 55-yard touchdown pass. Wide receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd moved the chains with11 combined catches. But rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase did the most damage, his eight catches for 201 yards amounting to a knockout win over Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who admitted the game plan called for him to handle Chase and he "lost that matchup." But don't pin everything on Humphrey. The other cornerbacks also were beaten regularly and the safeties didn't provide needed support. The Ravens will need to tweak their defensive approach when the teams meet again later in the season. The secondary needs more help against the Bengals' impressive playmakers.
The first time Jackson handed the ball to a running back, Le'Veon Bell was swarmed for a 5-yard loss. That turned out to be an omen, both for the Ravens and their running game. The next few times someone other than Jackson carried the ball, Ty'Son Williams gained four, Devin Duvernay lost two on an end around, Bell lost one and Devonta Freeman gained one and two. In the end, while Jackson rushed for a game-high 88 yards, in the process taking more hits than the Ravens want to see, Baltimore's running backs managed just 29 yards on 11 carries as that part of the offense was pretty much abandoned. It's easy to blame the backs, who lacked explosion, except they didn't have anywhere to go as the O-line opened few holes against one of the NFL's top rushing defenses. Early on, it was clear Jackson was going to have to make everything happen for the offense, both with his arm and his legs, and that's a tough spot to be in when you don't have a productive running game to keep the defense honest. The Bengals took full advantage of knowing what was coming, blitzing more as the game progressed. The Ravens have to use the bye to get their ground game into a better place.
In another sign that the O-line had a rough day, Jackson was sacked five times and hit a total of seven times. But the Ravens were still in the game in the middle of the third quarter. That's when one of the sacks of Jackson set in motion a decisive chain of events. The Ravens trailed, 20-17, and faced third-and-8 at the Cincinnati 34. Even if they didn't get the first, they seemingly were in range for Justin Tucker to try a field goal that could tie the score. But after Jackson was sacked for a 7-yard-loss, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh elected to punt rather than let Tucker try a 58-yard field goal. That's a long one, and Harbaugh often likes to take advantage of having such a strong kicker, but he didn't want to take the shot this time. Moments later, Chase scored on an 82-yard catch-and-run and the rout was on. My two cents, the sack was the problem, as Harbaugh likely would have let Tucker try to tie the score from 51 yards.
Short takes: The Bengals deserve credit for being sound, as they were penalized just once for five yards … The Ravens only had five penalties, but one was a crusher. With Baltimore down, 27-17, Jackson scrambled 39 yards to the Cincinnati 26, raising hopes for a rally. But the gain was negated by a holding penalty on Alejandro Villanueva … In just his second NFL game, rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman had three catches for 80 yards, continuing his quick development into an impact player … The Ravens surely are holding their breath that the ankle injury that knocked Patrick Mekari out of the game isn't serious. He has played well at right tackle … Jackson just shook his head with disgust when asked about wasting a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty leading up to a punt in the second half. "My mistake," he said … The Ravens are now 2-1 on their four-game homestand, with a Nov. 7 game against the Vikings still on the docket.