The injury-riddled Ravens defense has battled all year, but it reached the breaking point Sunday in Cincinnati against a potent offense.
Joe Burrow and the Bengals steamrolled the short-handed Ravens in a 41-21 rout at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday, dealing Baltimore's playoff chances a blow while taking the lead in the AFC North race with two games left.
Burrow threw for 525 passing yards and four touchdowns. It's the fourth-most passing yards in a game in NFL history, the most in Bengals franchise history, and the most the Ravens have ever surrendered, surpassing Ben Roethlisberger's 506 yards from 2017.
The Bengals scored nearly every time they had the ball – seven straight drives to start the game. Cincinnati's passing attack kept firing away, as Burrow ended the game with a 52-yard heave to running back Joe Mixon before taking a knee on the final play.
Burrow's trio of wide receivers – Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd – combined for 404 receiving yards and all four touchdowns. Higgins led the way with 194 yards and two touchdowns.
Baltimore entered the game with eight defensive players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Top cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are on injured reserve and two of their top replacements, Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith, are on the COVID-19 list.
The Ravens then lost starting cornerback Anthony Averett (chest) in the first quarter, then Tavon Young later in the game. That left practice squad cornerbacks Robert Jackson and Daryl Worley trying to defend Chase, Higgins and Boyd. Safety Tony Jefferson, who was brought back on the practice squad last week, ended up playing a lot of snaps.
"At the end of the day, we're in the NFL, [and] we've got to get it right. No excuses, really," Jefferson said. "Obviously, it's not ideal when you don't have everybody that's been jelled together and have that communication – which, like you said, is a huge component to being successful on the backend. But, when we go out there, none of that really matters. We have to go out there and execute the gameplan."
The beating started early and never relented. Burrow threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone, the most passing yards ever against a Ravens defense in franchise history. The Bengals averaged 10.1 yards per play in the first half as they sprinted out to a 31-14 lead.
The Ravens tried different strategies to slow down the Bengals. They brought pressure at times, but Burrow got rid of the ball quickly and eluded a couple sacks, including one on the very first play from scrimmage that served as a sort of harbinger for the day.
The one time the Ravens seemed to get a stop, with an end zone interception by Worley, he was flagged for holding. Higgins, who made a ridiculous 52-yard leaping catch over two defenders earlier on the drive, finished it off with a 1-yard score.
Boyd started the rout with a 68-yard catch and run down the seam in which he went untouched to the end zone on a busted coverage. Chase, who went for over 200 yards in the teams' earlier meeting, was the only wide receiver who didn't get a touchdown this time.
"It's been a crazy season, but it's a defense, it's a whole collective. We've all got to play better," linebacker Patrick Queen said. "We've all got to step our game up. You can't just pin it on the secondary. It's been all of us. It's tough with all the injuries. But at the end of the day, we're supposed to have their back and play better up front."
It's not the first big game for Burrow against the Ravens this season. In Week 7, Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns in M&T Bank Stadium. According to ESPN Sports & Info, Burrow is the first player in NFL history to top 400 passing yards against the same team twice in a season.