Five thoughts on the Ravens' 49-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
The Ravens were coming off an electric home win over a legendary opponent that hadn't lost all season. Now they were playing a winless opponent in a half-full stadium. The Ravens were the better team and the one with momentum, but still, the jarring change in circumstances provided a test of intangible qualities such as their ability to focus, play well consistently and absorb their coaches' messaging. ("Puh-lease don't take this game lightly!") The Ravens passed all tests impressively, exhibiting no signs of a letdown while steaming to their fifth straight win – their longest regular-season winning streak in 13 years. With a slate of tough games looming, they really just needed to take care of business, i.e., get the right result against a struggling opponent. But they got more out of the game than just the right result, as they continued to build momentum and confidence on both sides of the ball. Lamar Jackson was simply unstoppable. The defense contributed more difference-making plays. The blowout won't be as memorable as last week's win over New England, but just like that game, this one validates the idea that something special is taking root in Baltimore.
The Ravens rushed for 269 yards when the teams met at M&T Bank Stadium last month, and it figured they would continue to pound away on the ground in the rematch. They have the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack, while the Bengals are dead last in the league in rushing defense. So what happened? The opposite of what the statistics and rankings suggested. Jackson opened the game with a 49-yard completion to Marquise Brown and continued to beat the Bengals more with his arm than his legs as the Ravens rolled up a big lead. He did mix in a dazzling touchdown run, as if to remind us he can do that, too (we know, Lamar), but this wound up being the day when he definitively answered whether he can beat you with his arm if you stack the box and don't let him run. Yes, he can. He finished with a perfect passer rating, completing 15 of 17 attempts for 223 yards and three touchdowns. His passing could not have been more accurate or deadly. Can we just stop talking about whether he can develop that skill to go with his others?
The Bengals probably would have been more competitive with Andy Dalton playing quarterback instead of rookie Ryan Finley. But not much more competitive. I mean, Dalton doesn't play defense, where the Bengals had no answer for Jackson and the Ravens. As it was, Finley was mired in a no-win situation, trying to make anything happen against the Ravens' aggressive, fast-improving defense while his own defense absorbed a shellacking. Making things worse for Finley, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale brought the heat, giving him all kinds of trouble. No surprise, it led to a pick-6, with Marcus Peters doing the honors for the second time since he joined the Ravens three weeks ago.
The Baltimore defense also scored on a Tyus Bowser scoop-and-score as the unit continued to burnish its reputation for ball-hawking. The only problem on defense was the success of the Bengals' rushing game, which totaled 157 yards. Not coincidentally, Michael Pierce left the game early with an ankle/foot injury. That's a situation to monitor.
OK, here's a stump-the-stars question: How many wide receivers did Jackson target Sunday on his way to generating a perfect passer rating? The answer is one. He targeted Marquise Brown four times as they continue to develop their chemistry, and it was a worthwhile effort, as Brown caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. But Jackson didn't aim a pass at any other wide receiver all day, and he never targeted a running back, either. Other than those four passes aimed at Brown, every one of Jackson's attempts targeted one of his tight ends, either Mark Andrews (seven targets), Nick Boyle (three) or Hayden Hurst (twice). I've always thought the offense eventually is going to need more from the wide receivers than what Brown provides, but I'm officially reconsidering the idea. The run-first Ravens have shot to the top of the league in offense with a passing game built around having three quality tight ends – all of whom can get downfield, by the way, which is crucial. Jackson isn't dink-and-dunking it with them. He's using them to make big plays with his arm. Unconventional? Sure. One would think a productive passing game requires a variety of productive wide receivers. But they're calling this Baltimore offense revolutionary for a reason.
Quick Hits: The Ravens scored so quickly so often that the Bengals dominated time of possession in a game they lost by 36 points. Cincinnati had the ball for 12-plus minutes more than the Ravens … The win completed the Ravens' first sweep of the Bengals since 2011 … The Ravens have scored touchdowns on seven straight trips to the red zone over the past two weeks … No player on defense is coming on stronger than Matthew Judon, whose day included two quarterback hits and six solo tackles, three of which produced losses … Winning on the road is usually one of the most accurate gauges of quality in the NFL. The Ravens are now 4-1 away from home in 2019. The last time they finished a regular season with a winning road record was 2010.