Ravens Suffer 'Statement Loss' As Bengals Take First In The AFC
A week after the Ravens celebrated a "statement win" over the Los Angeles Chargers, which earned them first place in the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals followed suit, promptly defeating the Ravens, 41-17, and becoming the new number one in the conference.
To defeat the Ravens was a significant moment for the Bengals, according to ESPN’s Ben Baby.
"The transformation is complete," Baby wrote. "The Cincinnati Bengals aren't just playoff contenders, they are the front-runners to win the AFC North. The NFL's worst team in 2019 went on the road in Baltimore and soundly beat the Ravens. This was arguably the biggest game to date of Zac Taylor's coaching tenure."
Let's not pretend that the Bengals have sewn up the division. They and the Ravens now have the same record with 10 games to go. But Baltimore missed a golden opportunity.
"The Ravens aren't running away with the AFC North," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "Baltimore was a touchdown favorite against Cincinnati and had the opportunity to go two games up in the division. But the Ravens relinquished first place because their secondary and run game failed to show up once again."
On the Ravens' end, this was as much of a failure as last week's game against the Chargers was a success, according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.
"[The Ravens] couldn't run the ball or protect their quarterback, and their receivers weren't getting a whole lot of separation either," Zrebiec wrote. "Defensively, they couldn't consistently pressure [quarterback Joe] Burrow, cover [rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr] Chase or tackle just about anyone. Before last week, when they put together their best all-around effort of the season, we saw all of the issues sprinkled throughout their games, but they overcame them. Not today."
All that's left is for the Ravens to begin their bye week, but Zrebiec doesn't see that being pleasant.
"All the Ravens could do after a game like Sunday's was erase it from their minds and look to better days," Zrebiec wrote. "They head into the bye week with a 5-2 record, but suddenly, that doesn't look or feel all that good."
Marlon Humphrey Takes Responsibility, But Secondary Has More Issues
The Ravens knew what they needed to do if they wanted to beat the Bengals: stop Chase. The man tasked with this assignment, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, lost that matchup.
Hensley: "Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey said this week Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase has made transitioning to the NFL look easy. Humphrey and the Baltimore defense made it easier by not tackling. On Chase's 82-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, 72 yards came after first contact. That's the tied for the third most yards after catch on a touchdown reception since ESPN began tracking it in 2009."
Zrebiec: "The Ravens gave up 520 yards to a team that came in with the league's 21st-ranked offense. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow did just about whatever he wanted in throwing for 416 yards and three touchdowns, and rookie Ja'Marr Chase embarrassed Humphrey, the Ravens' best and highest-paid defensive player, for the majority of his eight catches for 201 yards and a score."
The Baltimore Sun’s Ryan McFadden: In the first of what should be many matchups between Humphrey and Chase, the 6-foot wideout clearly had the upper hand. Chase's speed and route running were too much for Humphrey, who has made a career out of shutting down the opponent's top receiver."
Humphrey's never been one to shy from owning up to his mistakes. He did so after suffering a similar loss to the Cleveland Browns in 2019, and after the 2020 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans. Yesterday, Humphrey also owned up to his tough game.
It's not just a Humphrey issue, as pundits pointed out how the Ravens' secondary has struggled for much of the season so far.
Bengals, Not Bungles, Here to Stay
At 24 years old, Burrow and his primary receiving target, Chase, aren't going anywhere. They're a dynamic pair that have some realizing these aren't the "Bungles" Baltimore would bully in the Lamar Jackson era. NFL.com’s Judy Battista says the Bungle title is a misnomer.
"They are explosive and resilient and equipped to slug it out with the game's elite, as they were against the Packers then. As they were on Sunday," Battista wrote. "They are Bungles no more."
The greatest reason for the Bengals' success over the Ravens yesterday came from Burrow not panicking when faced with Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's system. Burrow wasn't surprised by the looks, blitz packages and attack strategies. He relished the competition and expected every proverbial haymaker swung on by Martindale, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King.
"I asked him if the Ravens surprised him much on defense," King wrote. "This, after Justin Herbert said he'd never seen much of the stuff the Ravens D did to him after Baltimore whacked the Chargers last week. Burrow: 'No. I knew exactly what to expect from the game. You gotta play physical against them, you gotta play intense against them. Otherwise they're gonna drown you.'"
"No more than an hour after Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine had broken off long touchdown runs to deliver twin knockout blows and send 70,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium to the exits, the face of this operation, 24-year-old Joe Burrow, lacked even a hint of an uptick in his voice as he explained what he and his Bengals teammates had just done," Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote. "Why? Well, Burrow's not surprised by it in the least."
These Bengals, with Burrow's attitude and offensive artillery, are, according to King, no longer a doormat for the AFC North title.
"Nobody intimidates [Burrow], no defense surprises him," King wrote. "In the competitive world of the NFL, those are good traits to have. And those traits in the quarterback translate to a 5-2 record and first place in the AFC North. At 24, Burrow is going to be around for awhile, and as long as he's around, the Steelers and the Ravens (and the Browns, now) can't treat the Bengals like a Homecoming game anymore."
Not All 'Doom-and-Gloom'
Mistakes were had and now the Ravens enter their bye looking to remedy their problems. But in the meantime, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer offers a fresh perspective on the positives.
"There are worse things to be than 5-2 and tied for first place in the AFC North," Shaffer wrote. "But the Ravens entering this year's Week 8 bye are not the Ravens who entered last year's Week 7 bye at 5-1. This team is more explosive downfield on offense and more vulnerable to implosions on defense. This team has a late-game swagger and an early-game lethargy. Through seven games, the ceilings are perhaps higher and the floors perhaps lower."
The positivity doesn't end there. In the first half, everybody could see the Bengals offensive plan was to "attack cornerback Anthony Averett."
That plan failed, as Averett answered the call repeatedly.
Many also saw some impressive play from rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Along the same lines, wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown hauled in a touchdown reception that rivaled his catch against the Denver Broncos.