The banged-up Ravens toppled the Bengals, 27-24, at Paycor Stadium in Week 2, snapping a three-game losing streak in Cincinnati, including last year's playoffs.
Baltimore is now atop the AFC North at 2-0 while the Bengals, winners of back-to-back division crowns, fell to 0-2 with both losses coming in the division.
Here are my five thoughts on the Ravens' win:
Lamar Jackson is the difference, leading a much sharper offense in Week 2.
All three of the Ravens' last three losses in Cincy came without Lamar Jackson on the field. Turns out, having your franchise quarterback makes a big difference. Fancy that.
While Jackson was back on the field, the Ravens were playing without five starters, including four injured in Week 1. Turns out, that didn't make a difference – at least not in getting a win.
We'll get to that later. First, let's focus on the new Todd Monken offense, which after a "rusty" Week 1 performance often looked like a well-oiled machine in the follow-up.
Jackson was the maestro, completing 24 passes on 33 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He took over the games at times, including on a scramble that helped seal the game, but also showed his faith in his teammates.
Jackson stood tall behind his injury-ravaged offensive line. He trusted his rookie wide receiver, Zay Flowers, to make a big play despite double coverage. He floated a perfect 17-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor despite tight coverage.
Perhaps the best sign for the offense is it beat the Bengals in a variety of ways. The quick passing game was hot early, as the Ravens cruised down the field for an opening touchdown drive. It hit a few big plays with the pressure on. It put the game away with power running in the end.
It was the kind of balanced, efficient effort that Monken showed during back-to-back national championships at Georgia the past couple years.
"Great offenses are able to do a lot of different things, and maybe it's tempo, maybe it's four-minute [offense] and just different things and that requires everybody to be on the same page and focusing on the details," tight end Mark Andrews said. "That was something that was good to see today. ... We're going to continue to be a better team just being efficient, not making mistakes. Those are hard teams to beat."
Ravens prove they weren't "short-handed" at all.
Roquan Smith corrected a reporter after the game when he suggested the Ravens were "short-handed." That's not how the Ravens saw it. Baltimore was without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Tyler Linderbaum, running back J.K. Dobbins, safety Marcus Williams, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Their replacements, across the board, stepped up with strong games in Cincinnati.
Geno Stone made the biggest play of the bunch, undercutting Tee Higgins to make an interception at the goal line in the third quarter with the Bengals threatening to take the lead. Pressed into starting duty for a second straight year by an injury to Williams, Stone said this week that he wanted to make more splash plays. He's off to a good start. Stone also led the team with nine tackles.
Gus Edwards led the Ravens' rushing attack with 62 rushing yards on 10 carries. Justice Hill added 41 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes. Not huge numbers, but efficient. Most importantly, when Baltimore needed a first down to close out the game and everyone in the stadium knew they were running the ball, "The Bus" rolled over the Bengals.
Left tackle Patrick Mekari and center Sam Mustipher held up well against a talented Bengals defensive line. Jackson wasn't sacked once.
Agholor may not have been in line for a big role at the start of Sunday's game, but the Ravens needed him after Odell Beckham Jr. went down with an ankle injury in the first half. He stepped up with a team-high five catches for 63 yards and the touchdown.
Rock Ya-Sin, who got a larger snap share in Week 2 with Humphrey still out, broke up a touchdown pass intended for Ja'Marr Chase. The Ravens gave up just one passing play over 20 yards.
The Ravens took this game personal.
Both teams played nice this week in the build-up to the game, but it was clear from kickoff that the Ravens had some lingering feelings from the way last year ended in this same building. They were injured then too, without Jackson, and still felt like they were the better team in the wild-card playoff loss that turned on a fluky fumble return for a touchdown.
Injured again, the Ravens proved they were still the better team this time. Smith set the tone once again with his mouth and with his pads. Kyle Hamilton joked that everyone in the 100-level at Paycor Stadium could probably hear Smith, who seems to relish bullying the Bengals.
Smith broke down the huddle at the end of warm-ups and multiple players said it was an intense speech that fired them up. After the game, Smith didn't shy away from letting his feelings be known.
"Obviously the guys talk a lot, don't have a lot of respect for a lot of individuals. You take that stuff personal," Smith said. "Revenge is best served as a cold dish."
Harbaugh told NBC Sports' Peter King that the win meant a lot: "This was an important game. Very important. We lost a playoff game here, and people see that and they move on. Not us. We've lived with it all offseason. And so today, we win, and you could just feel the joy. In the locker room, I saw euphoria, and I saw love."
Still, the Ravens left Cincinnati knowing this wasn't a playoff game and they have a very long way to go this season before they can claim they knocked the Bengals off their pedestal. The Bengals started last season 0-2 as well, then clawed their way all the way back.
"To me, it doesn't mean anything yet," Jackson said. "That's just two wins in a 17-game season. So, we have to stay focused and get ready for our next opponents. We can [celebrate] today on this victory, but other than that, we have to stay locked in because it's not a championship game."
Mark Andrews also makes a big difference, but Ravens are using everyone.
The return of Mark Andrews gave Jackson his security blanket back. Andrews caught five passes for 45 yards and was targeted a team-high eight times. He scored a 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Ravens their first 10-point lead and a little breathing room.
However, it's clear that the Ravens' receiving attack doesn't live and die with Andrews anymore. Sure, Jackson still targeted him in some clutch situations, including on said touchdown facing third-and-goal, but Jackson targeted seven different receivers with at least three passes.
It was a far cry from Week 1 when Flowers dominated the target share. Harbaugh said Beckham's injury isn't major, but the Ravens will rest easy knowing they have a multitude of targets even if he misses a chunk of time.
- The Ravens held Joe Burrow to just 222 passing yards, right on pace with the statistical outputs he had against them last year. Baltimore continues to find ways to put a lid on the Bengals' deep passing game, and again tackled well to keep Cincinnati from picking up a lot of yards after catch.
- Baltimore's pass rush didn't do a lot for much of the game, but it got dialed up down the stretch. Part of the reason for the lack of pressure early on was Burrow was getting the ball out fast. The Ravens brought the heat later on with Jadeveon Clowney getting a sack and another quarterback hit.
- The Bengals have some lingering concerns beyond the loss, as Burrow said he aggravated his strained right calf injury. He was seen limping and stretching it near the end of the game.
- It was a quieter second game for Flowers, but the rookie first-round pick still drops jaws. His 52-yard reception was spectacular, as he leapt in double coverage to haul it in. I also love the kid's moxie. He's laughing at the end of plays, seemingly playfully jawing with opponents. When Jackson didn't throw it to him early in the game when Flowers said he got open deep, the rookie had no hesitation to tell his quarterback to put it on him next time – then he backed it up by making the play. I would say the future is very bright, but so is the present.
- Jackson and the Ravens seemingly dodged an early bullet when a fumble was overturned by a penalty on the Bengals. They ended up still getting shrapnel, however, when the referees picked up a flag on an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Ravens' special teams unit had an uncharacteristic tough day.