The Ravens had been knocking on the door of the unbelievable.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley was within the midst of his greatest efficiency of the yr. The Ravens had scored two touchdowns in a single recreation for the primary time since star Lamar Jackson’s knee harm on Dec. 4. Baltimore — which was with out its greatest participant and enjoying on the street in opposition to the AFC’s hottest group — was about to take a fourth-quarter lead in enemy territory.
But as Huntley, on a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, sought to leap the pile and attain the soccer previous the airplane of the top zone for a landing, the ball was knocked unfastened. As it slipped away from him, so too did the Ravens’ possibilities at a playoff upset in opposition to a division rival.
Cincinnati defensive finish Sam Hubbard caught the ball out of the air and scooted 98 yards for a landing, the longest fumble return landing in NFL playoff historical past. Tight finish Mark Andrews stalked Hubbard down the sphere earlier than lastly getting blocked and collapsing on the 20-yard line. He kneeled there for a number of lingering seconds as Bengals followers rejoiced and Ravens followers shook their heads in bewilderment.
“It’s basically a 14-point swing,” stated Andrews, who had 5 catches for 73 yards. “It’s tough.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh later stated the play wasn’t executed effectively and that Huntley was presupposed to go low on the play, reasonably than excessive. Huntley initially thought he’d cleared the aim line. And Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow stated he doesn’t plan on making an attempt such a sneak himself sooner or later.
During the play, which lasted about 12 seconds, Baltimore’s probabilities of successful fell from 54% to 13%, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. The Ravens had three extra possessions however couldn’t rating, dropping 24-17 to finish their season after a last-second Hail Mary bounced across the finish zone and off the fingers of huge receiver James Proche II.
“I was hoping somebody came down with it,” Huntley stated, “but it just didn’t happen.”
That fumble — which was additionally the longest go-ahead landing within the fourth quarter in NFL postseason historical past — erased what had been a powerful efficiency by the Ravens. After a first-quarter interception, the Ravens’ offense settled into a formidable recreation, its greatest since Jackson, the group’s star for years, injured a ligament in his left knee six weeks earlier than.
Huntley’s fumble overshadowed what had been a productive day for him. He accomplished 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, plus the interception.
“It kind of sucks that that’s going to be the play that everybody remembers,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey stated of the fumble.
Running again J.Ok. Dobbins had a powerful recreation, too, and within the locker room afterward stated he wished his quantity had been known as on the fateful goal-line carry.
“He should never have been in that situation,” stated Dobbins, who completed with 4 receptions for 43 yards and a rating and 62 dashing yards on 13 carries. “I should be the guy. Let’s go win the game. I’m tired of it.”
“I thought we played a winning football game in many, many ways,” coach John Harbaugh stated. “Ran the ball well, threw the ball well, played outstanding defense, got the turnover. The difference was the two turnovers. Obviously, that hurt us. One really big one, but both led to scores.”
In the primary quarter, the Ravens protection couldn’t get off the sphere. They didn’t surrender many chunk performs, however the Bengals marched; Cincinnati had eight first downs within the quarter whereas the Ravens ran simply 5 offensive performs.
On the sport’s opening drive, the Bengals transformed a area aim. On the Ravens’ opening drive, they threw an interception, as Huntley misfired on his second move of the night. Cincinnati then scored a landing on a Burrow toss to huge receiver Ja’Marr Chase however missed the additional level to take a 9-0 lead early within the second quarter.
The Ravens, nevertheless, modified the sport’s path with a gentle 17-play, 75-yard drive within the second quarter, capped by Dobbins stretching to get the nostril of the ball over the airplane for a landing.
Kyle Hamilton, a Ravens’ first-round decide in final yr’s NFL draft, then pressured a fumble with a well-timed hit on Bengals tight finish Hayden Hurst — a one-time Ravens first-round decide. Hamilton popped the ball unfastened after which corralled it, which arrange a 22-yard area aim by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker after the offense stalled on the 3-yard line. With the kick, Tucker handed Matt Stover because the Ravens’ main scorer within the playoffs.
The Ravens took a 10-9 lead into halftime, however, after a Baltimore punt to open the third quarter, the Bengals scored a landing and a 2-point conversion to take a 17-10 lead. Baltimore responded with a 41-yard landing from Huntley to a wide-open Demarcus Robinson, tying the sport at 17.
Following a Bengals’ three-and-out, the Ravens drove 80 yards on eight performs earlier than Huntley’s fumble. On the play, the ball acquired inside 0.6 yards of the top zone, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Baltimore had three extra fourth-quarter possessions however couldn’t discover the tying landing they wanted, lastly getting stopped on fourth down within the waning seconds.
Huntley was somber postgame, saying he’ll be fascinated by the catastrophic fumble “the whole offseason.” Other gamers within the locker room comforted each other or pensively hung their heads.
“It hurts because you know you played well enough to have a shot,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler stated. “In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what you’ve done all year, you’re on that field and in that three hours you have a chance to move on and we didn’t get it done.”
Many had written off the Ravens with out Jackson, however their protection performed effectively sufficient in opposition to Cincinnati’s well-oiled offense and their very own offense appeared to play effectively sufficient, too. But they had been doomed by one 98-yard mistake. With the loss, Baltimore has nonetheless gained only one playoff recreation since 2015.
“We were controlling the game, controlling the game, driving up and down the field. But it’s a whole different situation if that doesn’t happen,” Huntley stated of the goal-line fumble.
Now, as an alternative of wanting ahead to a postseason date with the Kansas City Chiefs subsequent week, Ravens followers will enter the offseason with a burning query in thoughts: What is Lamar Jackson’s future in Baltimore?
Questions linger across the contract standing of Jackson, a pending free agent who didn’t journey with the group to Cincinnati, based on NBC. He and the group might conform to a long-term deal, or the Ravens might place the franchise tag on him — locking him up for subsequent yr for roughly $45 million — commerce him, or, much less doubtless, let him check free company.
Without him Sunday evening, the Ravens practically pulled off an unbelievable win. Ultimately, they got here up simply quick.