Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
The Bengals' upset hopes were based on their having an excellent rookie quarterback and a bunch of players who've given the Ravens trouble over the years. But the Ravens' attacking defense took over the game, so overwhelming and pounding the Bengals' Joe Burrow that it was semi-amazing he lasted 60 minutes. Baltimore's best defensive performance of 2020 rendered irrelevant a relatively tepid outing from the offense, which put up 17 points in the first 16 minutes but seemed out of sync after that. While films from the game will produce some teachable moments in the offensive meeting room, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale should save it for later use as a pump-up video. "That was fun to watch," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said of the defensive masterpiece. It was a far cry from the unit's troubled outing just two weeks earlier against the Chiefs, who, by the way, gave up 40 points and lost at home Sunday. Moral of the story: It's a long season.
The Ravens' defensive numbers were like something out of a Halloween horror show – seven sacks, 15 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss and three forced turnovers, one of which produced a touchdown. But the key to the performance was the shutdown of Bengals running back Joe Mixon, who'd rushed for 151 yards the week before but was pretty much smothered Sunday, managing just 59 yards on 24 attempts. That absence of a ground game combined with the Ravens' early lead spelled big trouble for Burrow because the Ravens could just line up and bring blitz after blitz. Pernell McPhee led the charge with his best performance of 2020, which featured five tackles, a sack and four quarterback hits. Patrick Queen also was superb with six solo tackles, two fumble recoveries, one sack, one forced fumble and his first trip to the end zone as a pro. But just as important were unsung guys such as Calais Campbell and Jihad Ward, who helped limit Mixon. If it all looked familiar, well, it's how the Ravens have played defense forever, by stopping the run, making the opposing offense one-dimensional and taking their chances from there. Mission accomplished.
The offense had a curious day. After torching the Bengals on the ground in two wins in 2019, Lamar Jackson only gained three yards on two rushing attempts Sunday. Meanwhile, he dropped back to pass on 31 of the Ravens' first 45 offensive snaps, and although he connected on some big passes as Baltimore jumped out to the early lead, he was often under pressure, threw an interception for the second straight week and was fortunate not to throw several more. What was the problem? Jackson was somewhat circumspect when asked about the sore knee that kept him out practice during the week. "It was all right. It didn't really affect me at all," he shrugged. But he also lamented the lost practice time, as if it mattered, and vowed "this week is going to be different because I'm going to be out there (practicing) every day." He dismissed the pass-run imbalance as unintended, preferring to pin the blame for the offense's stumbles on another factor – the inability to convert third downs into firsts. And indeed, after converting five of six on the early drives that produced points, the Ravens converted just two of nine the rest of the way. Everyone is happy after a win, but tight end Mark Andrews said of the offense, "We've got a lot to get better at."
Although the Ravens had a double-digit lead for virtually the entire game and there was no way Burrow was going to lead a comeback when he was basically being swallowed whole, the Ravens did struggle to put the Bengals completely away. That can happen when your offense stops scoring, and the Ravens' offense scored its last touchdown of the day early in the second quarter. Anyway, the team was looking for someone to step up with a "dagger" play, and no surprise, cornerback Marlon Humphrey provided it in the fourth quarter. For the third time in five games in 2020, he punched a ball out of a receiver's hands, causing a fumble that Queen scooped up and turned into a 53-yard scoring play. Humphrey was already widely acknowledged before this season as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks, and now, on top of that, he just might be the Ravens' top playmaker on either side of the ball this year. Several teammates mentioned Sunday that he belonged in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, and yes, it's early, but no one is going to suggest they're wrong.
Short takes: Andrews accumulated all six of his receptions (for 56 yards and a touchdown) in the first half … It was good to see rookie receiver Devin Duvernay generate 59 yards on three touches, including a reverse that went for 42 yards … The Ravens are now 4-0 against the Bengals since Jackson became their starting quarterback. They lost eight of the last 10 games in the rivalry before Jackson took over under center in 2018 … With rookie Tyre Phillips out due to injury, Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari alternated at right guard. As a whole, the offensive line seemingly struggled at times to open holes, especially early, but fared better later … The Ravens have forced a turnover in 18 straight games, the longest active streak in the league.
See the best photos from Baltimore's 27-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 at M&T Bank Stadium.