Marlon Humphrey refused to let the Cincinnati Bengals ruin the Ravens' season again.
In a must-win situation Sunday, the Ravens were clinging to a 24-21 lead and needed somebody to make a big defensive play in the final two minutes.
Enter Humphrey, the Ravens' second-year cornerback who has quickly become a key member of their secondary. On fourth-and-3 from Cincinnati's 37-yard line, Humphrey sealed the victory with 1:46 left, breaking up an Andy Dalton pass intended for Cody Core by knocking the ball out of Core's hands after he had momentarily secured it for what would have been a first down.
As the Ravens took over on downs, Humphrey was mobbed in celebration by Ravens teammates who could finally exhale after snapping their three-game losing streak. With five AFC teams sitting at 5-5, Baltimore is still alive in the playoff hunt.
It was even sweeter that the victory came against the Bengals. In Week 17 last season, Dalton completed a 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 to Tyler Boyd, propelling Cincinnati to a victory that prevented the Ravens from making the playoffs.
Almost a year later, the Ravens knew their playoff hopes would be slim if they lost to the Bengals again. Same opponent, similar situation, but this time the outcome was different. Humphrey thought about the similarities before making his game-saving play.
"When I looked up at the scoreboard I was like, `This is bringing back some bad memories,''' Humphrey said. "If we were going to keep those playoff hopes alive, we have to go just one game at a time, one play at a time and get victories."
This performance was a confidence-builder for a Baltimore defense that had tailed off after playing stellar football over the first six games. Last week's bye helped the defense get its legs back, and the Ravens shut out Cincinnati in the fourth quarter, stopping the Bengals on their final three drives.
The Ravens will need consistent defense to make a playoff push, and their secondary play will be crucial facing high-powered offenses like the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. With Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and slot corner Tavon Young, the Ravens believe they have four corners who will hold up in pressure situations and prevent big plays.
"Our guys are confident," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We have a lot of good corners. We have really smart safeties – safeties that can run with people and can cover people, and can use a lot of disguises. We're not easy to move the ball down the field against. I thought our guys played really well, but I was really proud of the way the corners covered. In that (final) series, they tested Jimmy, they tested Marlon. I can't remember who else they tested. I thought our guys came through and covered really well."
The Ravens felt much better after the game than they did during the third quarter, when they fell behind 21-13 after a Lamar Jackson interception set up a Bengals touchdown drive. But Jackson responded by leading Baltimore on a 10-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Gus Edwards' successful two-point conversion run that tied the game.
That drive seemed to energize the Ravens' defense. They held Cincinnati to a three-and-out on its next possession, and a Justin Tucker field goal provided the margin of victory. Once the Ravens took the lead, safety Eric Weddle said the defense had no choice but to hold up its end.
"It's on us," Weddle said. "Offense did enough. There's no more excuses. There's no one to look at. Everyone just man up. Don't try to do nothing crazy right now. Let's all just refocus and play sound defense. Our guys clutched up. Marlon made a great play. It's huge to come away with a win by any means, but for us to be on the field and some of the ways we've lost over the past couple of years, especially against this team, it was nice to shut them down."
The Ravens exorcised some demons against Cincinnati with Sunday's victory, but clinching a playoff spot remains a difficult task. At 5-5, Baltimore has left itself little margin for error, one of five AFC teams with identical records fighting for a wild card berth. Weddle said the Ravens would embrace the challenge, and he hoped Sunday's defensive stand against the Bengals would be a catalyst heading into a Week 12 matchup against the struggling Oakland Raiders.
Weddle said the last thing on his mind was the Ravens suffering a letdown against Oakland.
"We can't, I mean we know if we lose, it's basically done," Weddle said. "Next game up is the game of our lives and we'll treat it like that."