The Ravens survived an injury scare to quarterback Lamar Jackson and a bizarrely eventful first half to secure a vital 34-20 win against the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. But the loss of tight end Mark Andrews cast a pall over an otherwise satisfying evening.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
The Ravens came through an odd, unsettling night with a win they had to have.
The Ravens’ highly promising season flashed before their eyes when Jackson went down hard along the sideline, rose unsteadily and spent several excruciating minutes obscured from view in the dreaded blue medical tent.
Their heated turf war with the defending AFC North champion Bengals faded to a secondary concern.
When Jackson emerged, he went to the bench instead of the locker room as 70,997 frazzled souls in M&T Bank Stadium breathed out. The business of football could recommence, and what an odd night of football we witnessed.
There was a 68-yard touchdown undone by misguided officiating, only for a serendipitous bounce to restore those six points to the Ravens. Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback, Joe Burrow, left clutching his throwing wrist and never returned to action. Neither did Andrews after he hobbled off seven plays into the game. We saw play delayed because of drone cameras. We saw Odell Beckham Jr. clear 100 receiving yards in a regular-season game for the first time since 2019.
The Ravens waded through the chaos to secure a victory they badly needed to put their season back on steady ground. They dealt a severe blow to the playoff hopes of a boastful rival that passed them in the standings in 2021 and sent them home for good in 2022.
The Ravens would have spent the next nine days mule-kicking themselves if they had not finished off the Burrowless Bengals. Such a slip-up could not be ruled out after they tossed away a 15-point lead four days earlier against the Cleveland Browns and Deshaun Watson, who played the second half with a season-ending injury.
For all the stress of the first half, the Ravens put the game away without an excess of drama, revving up their ground attack after halftime, adding five sacks to their league-best total and enjoying several dazzling highlights from their wide receivers.
They couldn’t fully enjoy sweeping the Bengals and maintaining their lead in the division because of the dispiriting news about Andrews. But 8-3 with the best scoring margin in the league and just one game to play in the next 23 days is a good place to be. How unsettling would that stretch have become if the Ravens had lost to Cincinnati and if Jackson’s injury had been worse?
He said his mind did not go there, even as he was trapped in that tent, imploring trainers and doctors to let him back onto the field. Jackson laughed when a reporter followed up by inquiring about the heating pad he wore on the sore spot.
“We need to stop talking about this ankle,” he said. “I’m good. You see I just walked up here. I’m good.”
On this victorious Thursday, that was good enough.
Mark Andrews’ injury will greatly complicate the Ravens’ quest for the Super Bowl.
Andrews limped off after Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson dropped his hip to haul him down on the first drive of the game.
Teammates’ anguished responses — Jackson whipped his helmet to the grass — spoke not just to the severity of the injury but to Andrews’ marrow-deep importance to everything the Ravens do. He’s their most reliable target on third down and in the red zone. His rage to win lifts everyone.
Jackson’s satisfaction with the victory was visibly tempered by the news about one of his closest comrades. He guessed it was bad as he watched Andrews writhe on the ground. He hoped against hope that his friend would rise.
“It’s very tough, bro,” he said afterward. “That’s the guy who I entered the league with. We’re bread and butter.”
The Ravens have won without Andrews, against the Houston Texans in this year’s opener and against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. They have a gifted young pass catcher, Isaiah Likely, whose most productive games as a pro have come in Andrews’ absence.
Next man up and all that.
But no one tried to pretend the loss was anything less than devastating. Likely certainly did not. He believes he’s ready for greater responsibility, but if that’s the case, he gives a lot of the credit to Andrews, who has served as an NFL big brother.
“It means every game from this point on is for Mark,” he said.
The Ravens can be an excellent team from here on out, but there’s no way they can be better without Andrews than with him. There are maybe five tight ends in the league with his skill set, fewer than that so central to the souls of their teams. Players like him win you Super Bowls, and that quest — one the Ravens have demonstrated they’re talented enough to pursue — became more difficult Thursday night, regardless of the final score.
“He’s going to be missed as a leader,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a fiery, emotional guy. He’s an energy-bringer every single day, so we’re going to have to all make up for that.”
Lamar Jackson’s receivers lent him a strong hand in a performance of wild swings.
Jackson’s stat line — 16-for-26, 264 yards, two touchdowns on a tender ankle — sprinkled some zest back onto his Most Valuable Player campaign.
And he was magical at times, dancing in the pocket until Rashod Bateman popped open for the touchdown that put the Ravens up 21-10, running to extend drives deep in the fourth quarter.
Other times, he ran into forces beyond his control.
The officials wiped out a 68-yard touchdown by Zay Flowers, whistling Beckham on a dubious — OK, downright egregious — holding call. Jackson bellowed his disapproval, a rare display from an athlete who usually directs his fury at himself.
On another potential home run play, he watched Cincinnati cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt bat away his beautiful bomb to Bateman.
At other times, his vision seemed off. He had an eternity to probe the field on a dropback late in the second quarter but saw neither Beckham streaking free toward the end zone nor Flowers waving his hand in the middle of the field. That lapse was quickly forgotten when his next throw took a lucky bounce into the hands of Nelson Agholor, who romped 37 yards to the end zone, finishing with a joyous somersault.
That play spoke to the essence of Jackson’s night: He got by with a little help from his friends.
There was Flowers’ video game cut on a 33-yard gain that set up the Ravens’ first touchdown. There was Beckham’s tightrope dance along the sideline to keep the Ravens moving toward the end zone in the two-minute drill. The 31-year-old showed he had still more juice in his surgically repaired legs when he busted loose for a 51-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
Here were the wide receivers we buzzed about during training camp, making Jackson look better on a night when he needed a hand. As Harbaugh alluded to after the game, the Ravens are going to need more from all of them with Andrews’ trusted paws missing. This was a good start.
A toast to the draftees of 2021.
Recall how Ravens fans despaired at the prospect of their team traveling to Cincinnati in Week 2 without Marlon Humphrey to contend with the great wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase.
That game, in which Chase caught just five passes for 31 yards and 2021 third-round pick Brandon Stephens played 60 of 60 defensive snaps at cornerback, foreshadowed one of the great stories of this Ravens season.
Simply put, Stephens, a man without a clear position or a clear path to playing time going into training camp, has been a revelation over the past 11 games. He did it again Thursday. With Humphrey out again, he lined up against Chase 22 times and gave up one catch for 2 yards, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
“We did play man coverage out there quite a bit,” Harbaugh said. “Brandon, before the game I saw him go off by himself. He knew the challenge he was going to be faced with, and he just did a phenomenal job. He keeps stepping up. He meets every challenge.”
Odafe Oweh’s story was different. We knew what the Ravens needed from the 2021 first-round pick, and we knew he’d play. But would he produce enough to lift an unproven pass rush?
Well, he’s played awfully well, and consistently, over five games since he returned from a significant ankle injury. He hit a new peak against the Bengals with a career-high seven pressures, per Next Gen Stats, and his fourth sack in that five-game span.
In a tasty narrative twist, he did most of his good work against Orlando Brown Jr., whom the Ravens traded for the pick they would use on Oweh.
“I should’ve given him a game ball,” Harbaugh joked afterward. “He’s going to be mad at me.”
The 2021 draft class, widely maligned as recently as two months ago, is finding its feet.
Cincinnati again showed the Ravens can be vulnerable to head-on assault.
The Bengals came in last in the league in rushing and second to last in rushing attempts, so perhaps they caught the Ravens off guard by blasting straight ahead with running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon carried nine times for 48 yards in the first half. Just as importantly, he was Burrow and backup Jake Browning’s top target, making linebackers Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith look a step slow every time he caught the ball.
“It was just the looks that we were giving them, and they were doing the right things with those looks,” Queen acknowledged. “We just have to be better.”
He and Smith also struggled early to keep up with tight ends Tanner Hudson and Drew Sample, neither of whom is usually a featured star in Cincinnati’s offense.
The Ravens did fine muffling the Bengals’ loudest threats in Burrow, Chase and Tyler Boyd. But they’re surprisingly vulnerable to power football, as evidenced by the 4.1 yards per carry they had allowed coming into the game and the 178 rushing yards they’d surrendered to the Cleveland Browns a week earlier.
It’s a relative weakness worth keeping an eye on as they prepare to play efficient running teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins in December.
Ravens at Chargers
Sunday, Nov. 26, 8:20 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 3 1/2