The Ravens rested key starters on offense in hopes of placing their greatest foot ahead subsequent weekend in a playoff rematch with the Bengals. Despite 4 turnovers and a 27-16 loss, they like their probabilities after their protection performed exhausting and properly towards streaking Cincinnati.
John Harbaugh cared much more about having a wholesome group for the playoffs than about home-field benefit.
The Bengals may as properly have saved their angst concerning the NFL’s vote to offer the Ravens an opportunity at home-field benefit by way of coin flip. As it turned out, Harbaugh was extra involved with fielding a contemporary, wholesome group subsequent weekend.
The Ravens handled their much-debated regular-season finale towards the AFC North champs like a preseason contest, taking no probabilities with their most necessary offensive gamers and turning the keys over to undrafted rookie quarterback Anthony Brown.
We didn’t see J.Okay. Dobbins, the league’s most efficient runner over the past month, or tight finish Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ solely constant go catcher. We didn’t see quarterback Tyler Huntley, whose lingering shoulder soreness and injured wrist restricted him in follow all week, or guard Kevin Zeitler, the group’s most constant blocker. Cornerback Marcus Peters, working his means again from a calf harm, was absent. So was his fill-in, Brandon Stephens, who fell unwell Friday.
The Ravens didn’t wave a white flag, however they did play with one hand tied behind their backs.
Asked for his rationale, Harbaugh mentioned: “What’s best for our team for our season.”
His decisions acknowledged the truth of the place the Ravens stand. They’re not roaring into the postseason from a place of power. They might be underdogs subsequent week. So they may as properly relaxation up and reserve each trick of their playbook in hopes of touchdown a playoff haymaker, maybe with Lamar Jackson again at quarterback.
Players didn’t appear bothered by, or targeted on, Harbaugh’s two-week technique.
“It doesn’t matter who we have up,” deal with Morgan Moses mentioned. “I have faith in every football player we have in this locker room, whether it’s Anthony Brown at quarterback, whoever it is. We’ve proven that we can win with anybody.”
The solely hiccup within the plan occurred when operating again Gus Edwards, a participant Harbaugh want to depend on subsequent week, was dominated out Sunday after he was assessed for a head harm.
It’s not as if home-field benefit has finished the Ravens a lot good prior to now. Some of probably the most painful postseason upsets in franchise historical past have unfolded at M&T Bank Stadium, whereas the Ravens have made their biggest runs as highway warriors.
A decade in the past, Harbaugh rested lots of his greatest gamers in a regular-season finale in Cincinnati. The Ravens misplaced to shut out a rocky final month of the season. One week later, they started an inconceivable run to the Super Bowl. This is a much less achieved group with far much less expertise on huge levels, however Harbaugh is doing his greatest to recreate that outdated alchemy.
After a resolute defensive effort, the Ravens are longing for a rematch.
Why would the Ravens really feel uplifted by an 11-point loss to an opponent they’ll face once more in per week?
Well, they began a third-string quarterback, held out their two greatest playmakers, turned the ball over 4 instances and nonetheless gave the Bengals an uncomfortable afternoon.
While Harbaugh didn’t go all out on offense, he did play most of his greatest defenders, save for Peters. They have been handed quick fields to protect within the first half and fell behind due to it. But they held the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow to 4 yards per play and 5-for-15 on third downs. Joe Mixon rushed for all of 27 yards on 11 carries. Wide receiver Tee Higgins was a nonfactor with one catch on seven targets.
By many measures, the Ravens truly defended higher than they did of their Week 5 victory over Cincinnati, towards a star-studded offense that was using excessive and hungry for a blowout. After two excellent performances towards Burrow and his merry band, they’re longing for a rubber match.
“This should be motivation for us going into next week,” outdoors linebacker Justin Houston mentioned.
Did the Bengals, just like the Ravens, maintain a few of their greatest methods in reserve? Houston wasn’t so positive, saying, “It didn’t seem like they were holding back any of their punches.”
The Ravens respect the expertise they’ll face subsequent weekend however really feel they’ve gauged the facility of Cincinnati’s greatest shot. They is likely to be fallacious. The Bengals did win eight in a row to go them within the AFC North. But the Ravens didn’t appear almost as dispirited Sunday as that they had per week earlier after shedding to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s kind of exciting,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey mentioned. “We just studied them. As [safety Chuck Clark] said, we just had a scrimmage. It’s a scrimmage we wish we would have won. But to play them again, they’re pretty familiar with us. We’re familiar with them. So it’s just going to be: Who’s the better team? When you play a team three times, the better team should usually show.”
Don’t assume we’ll know Lamar Jackson’s plans for this week till he reveals them.
For one more week, the weightiest drama spinning across the Ravens had little to do with the sport performed Sunday. With their season lastly right down to a do-or-die recreation, everybody, together with Ravens coaches and gamers, has the identical query: Will Jackson play?
Anonymously sourced reviews from nationwide media have supplied conflicting and complicated prognoses. Harbaugh has mentioned he’s hopeful however began his information convention on the finish of final week by reiterating how a lot uncertainty stays across the scenario.
Don’t assume anybody apart from Jackson is aware of what he’ll do.
Fans and speaking heads arbitrarily determined final week that Harbaugh’s tone and expression signaled frustration along with his quarterback when in reality, his message has remained constant since Jackson limped to the locker room in Week 13. He is aware of the Ravens will stand a far larger likelihood within the postseason if they’ve the participant round whom their offense is designed. He hopes Jackson might be wholesome sufficient to carry out. But it’s outdoors his management.
Teammates know Jackson provides them their greatest likelihood to win however mentioned they’re not obsessing about his standing. “He wants to get back; it just all depends on whether he can get healthy or not,” Humphrey mentioned. “Weirdly, we haven’t really been waiting. I mean, obviously, we want him back, but as far as defense, we’ve been like, ‘I know [Tyler Huntley is] a good quarterback, I know [Anthony Brown] is a good quarterback.’ Obviously, Lamar Jackson is one of one, so it would be great if we could add him back. If not, we’ll go with who we got.”
Other outdoors observers have extrapolated that Jackson is staging a de facto holdout to sign his dissatisfaction with the Ravens’ unwillingness to fulfill his contract calls for. Again, there’s no proof to help this given the best way he carried out himself in the summertime and thru the 13 video games he began earlier than his harm.
The scrutiny is comprehensible due to Jackson’s significance, the complexities of his contract scenario and the Ravens’ helplessness on offense with out him. But that ought to not lead us to fill the vacuum of concrete info with wanton hypothesis.
Anthony Brown was not able to beat one of many league’s greatest groups in a hostile setting.
Brown, the undrafted rookie from Oregon, mentioned he didn’t discover out he was beginning rather than Huntley till Sunday morning. Afterward, he wished he had settled in additional rapidly.
He was in a troublesome spot, making his first NFL begin towards one of many league’s most proficient groups in entrance of a rowdy crowd. Several of his receivers, most notably Demarcus Robinson, made life tougher with drops. But as Brown mentioned, his three turnovers helped the Bengals construct a commanding lead.
His sad day started within the first quarter, when Bengals defensive deal with B.J. Hill surged in on him and compelled a flat-footed heave into the arms of security Jessie Bates III.
“Yeah, getting hit while I’m throwing doesn’t really matter,” he mentioned, avoiding excuses. He mentioned he ought to have checked right down to Edwards.
Brown’s second interception wasn’t his fault. He threw a contact behind extensive receiver Robinson however suffered horrible luck when the ball bounced into the arms of Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton. Burrow wanted simply three performs to capitalize with a landing go to Ja’Marr Chase.
With the Ravens theoretically again within the recreation, down 17-7, Brown took them proper out of it with a fumble ultimately zone, recovered by Cincinnati for a landing. After the Ravens stripped Burrow deep in Cincinnati territory within the third quarter, Brown threw low and behind an open Charlie Kolar on third down, erasing one other likelihood for a landing.
The rookie performed with extra poise and made some glorious throws — his 286 passing yards have been probably the most for a Ravens quarterback since Jackson threw for 318 yards in Week 2 towards the Miami Dolphins — because the Ravens tried to rally, however as he was the primary to notice, all of that was too little, too late.
“He’s a smart guy,” Harbaugh mentioned. “He’ll take those things and learn from them.”
Rookie tight ends Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar confirmed the Ravens do have pass-catching expertise they’ve but to take advantage of.
Likely made the play of the day for the Ravens when he went up for a contested ball alongside the sideline and got here down with a 28-yard acquire to maintain them shifting towards a landing. The rookie tight finish was simply the group’s most efficient playmaker towards the Bengals, evoking recollections of his preseason brilliance and his stellar work stepping in for an injured Andrews within the Ravens’ Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite this group’s notable lack of pass-catching expertise, the Ravens have but to determine methods to unlock Likely in tandem with Andrews. His greatest video games have come along with his Pro Bowl teammate off the sphere. The rookie was his personal worst enemy early within the season, irritating coaches with penalties, drops and different psychological errors. But his weekly snap counts have hovered within the teenagers in current weeks. Couldn’t the Ravens have at the very least given him a shot to assist pull their passing recreation out of hibernation?
We largely stopped speaking about Likely because the season rolled on as a result of he was a minimal a part of the sport plan, and the Ravens’ chief issues lay elsewhere. But all of the qualities that excited us final summer time — that capability to outleap and outmuscle defenders, his livid runs after the catch — are nonetheless there.
“It just put my confidence back higher than what it was, just showing I am who I am,” Likely mentioned after his eight-catch, 103-yard efficiency.
At the identical time, he mentioned it’s on him to power his means onto the sphere. “I definitely dropped the ball a lot more than I’m used to,” he mentioned in assessing his season up to now. “It’s something I’m going to attack in the offseason and really just become that reliable option for the quarterback. At the end of the day, I make Mark [Andrews’] job easier if I’m doing my part and with the receivers. And then, that opens up the run game and now you’re talking about an offense that’s unstoppable.”
His classmate, Kolar, waited till Week 17 to debut however added 4 catches for 49 yards towards the Bengals, flashing his potential as an enormous goal within the center.
“Those guys are big targets, and they’ll both tell you they want two catches back,” Harbaugh mentioned of Likely and Kolar. “That’s how competitive those guys are. Those guys are going to be really good players for many years to come.”