The Ravens play in Cincinnati every season, but recently they've done it without Lamar Jackson.
The franchise quarterback is eager for Week 2, when the Ravens head to Cincinnati with Jackson healthy and ready to rejoin the rivalry. Jackson has only played two games in Cincinnati in his six-year career, and none since 2020.
In 2021, Jackson didn't play in Cincinnati due to a season-ending ankle injury. Last season, he missed both the regular-season finale and the Wild Card playoff game in Cincinnati with a season-ending knee injury.
Jackson still remembers how helpless he felt, watching Baltimore's season end without him in January.
"Very tough," Jackson said. "No. 1, I was injured. No. 2, I wasn't able to travel with my guys and support them. Being out of the game, that's not something I want to do ever again.
"Going back to Cincinnati, great atmosphere, great crowd. I've got some of the Louisville guys in the area, great support from the Ravens fan base in Louisville. It's great to be there."
Does Jackson remember how he felt watching Sam Hubbard of the Bengals return a fumble 98-yards for a touchdown for the winning score in last year's playoff game?
"I'd rather not," Jackson said. "I almost hit my (television) screen."
Jackson hopes to hit some big plays Sunday that will help Baltimore snap its three-game losing streak in Cincinnati. He's been a huge difference maker in this rivalry. The Ravens have a 6-1 record against the Bengals when Jackson is the starting quarterback, and he's 2-0 as a starter in Cincinnati.
Jackson will also be traveling with key weapons he's never had against the Bengals. He now has wide receiver Zay Flowers, who had nine catches for 78 yards in Week 1. Odell Beckham Jr. would love to have a breakout game after catching two passes for 37 yards in the Week 1 victory over the Texans.
Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said Wednesday that facing the Ravens for the first time with new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken presents an element of the unknown.
"There's always that unknown there of things they've got in their back pocket," Taylor said via the team’s website. "You've just got to be ready to react as you go over the course of the game, especially early in the season."
However, the Ravens still have other injury concerns. They lost running back J.K. Dobbins (Achilles) for the season in Week 1 and starting safety Marcus Williams (pectoral) is going to be out for an extended period of time. Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot), Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) and starting center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday, while Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (quad) practiced on a limited basis.
There's little doubt the Ravens will still be shorthanded Sunday, but Jackson's presence is an X-factor that Cincinnati hasn't had to deal with in some time. Jackson is focusing on the game plan, not Baltimore's injuries.
"It's no excuses," Jackson said. "We all have guys in the NFL that are getting paid to bust their behinds, so it is what it is. It's tough just because they're key players, but we have guys that are going to step up and lead us out there on that field and do what they're supposed to do."
Despite Jackson's 6-1 record against the Bengals, the Ravens enter Sunday's game as underdogs according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. That's a role that Jackson relishes.
"I love being the underdog," Jackson said. "I really don't care to be hyped up or people displaying that we're on top of the league. I'd rather be the underdog because we always have something to prove. We always have a chip on our shoulder to go out there and win a game."
The Ravens already have a chip on their shoulder going up against the Bengals, after losing two hard-fought games in Cincinnati last year. But Jackson is back in the mix, and his presence in the lineup gives the Ravens confidence for this trip to Cincinnati.
"Yes, we lost a couple times, but I feel like we played strong games," running back Gus Edwards said. "We were in those games until the very end, and with Lamar back, we have our leader back, and it's going to be a lot of more big plays."