BALTIMORE — Throughout the first six games of the season, the Ravens had fashioned a couple of remarkable comebacks and escapes en route to a 5-1 record, tied for the best start franchise history.
But in their first AFC North matchup of the season, the Ravens’ flaws were badly exposed and there were no miracle answers, as the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) came to M&T Bank Stadium and routed the Ravens, 41-17, scoring the game’s final 28 points to pull away.
The Ravens offensive line struggled to give Lamar Jackson time to throw. The running backs got no traction. Tackling again proved to be abysmal at times, and the Bengals won consistently and decisively up front on both sides of the ball.
It marked the most lopsided loss in Jackson’s career, and he watched the final seven minutes from the sideline.
“We were beaten soundly,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
The teams traded scores during an entertaining 15 minutes that straddled halftime, and the Ravens took a 17-13 lead on the opening drive of the third quarter when Jackson lofted a 39-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown, who corralled the ball with a sliding toe-drag in the back of the end zone.
But from that point on, the Bengals dominated. The Bengals scored the game’s final 28 points, and the Ravens’ defense offered little resistance on the final two scores, a 21-yard run by Joe Mixon and then a 46-yard run up the middle by Samaje Perine.
The Bengals finished with 520 yards of offense and three touchdowns came on plays of more than 45 yards.
One sequence late in the game summed up the Ravens day: Trailing 34-17, .the Ravens opted to play for the first down on fourth-and-5 from their own 43-yard. They committed back-to-back false start penalties, pushing them back to fourth-and-15, and a dumpoff throw to Ty’Son Williams didn’t come close to the conversion.
Two plays later, Perine blasted virtually untouched up the middle for the game’s final score.
Here are five quick impressions of the loss, which snaps the Ravens’ five-game winning streak:
1. Marlon Humphrey was right. Ja’Marr Chase is making the NFL look easy, and the Ravens are going to have deal with him for years.
As the Ravens prepared to face Bengals sensational rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, cornerback Marlon Humphrey said Chase “really made the NFL look pretty easy.”
He sure did that against the Ravens, torching them for 201 yards on eight catches, including an 82-yard touchdown. That touchdown came on a simple slant on third-and-2, but once he spun out of the tackle attempt of Humphrey and Chuck Clark, no one else was going to track him down. Indeed, the quick slants proved to be nearly indefensible, as Chase was able to get open at will that way.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale usually prefers not to have one cornerback “travel with” or shadow a specific receiver, but Humphrey began the day doing that against Chase. Later, Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith had Chase in coverage at times, but Humphrey, as the shutdown cornerback and Pro Bowl pick on the roster, took responsibility for the breakdowns.
“Going into this week, the biggest assignment was on me to … stop their top guy, and I lost that matchup,” Humphrey said. “So a lot of it, kind of, is on me. I’ve just got to play better, especially when the gameplan is for me to have a big day. … I’ve just got to execute better.”
After watching Chase run wild over his defense, Harbaugh echoed Humphrey’s pregame assessment: “We wanted to do better against him. Obviously, our plans did not work, and he made it look easy today as well.”
For years, the Ravens had to deal with All-Pro receiver A.J. Green in Cincinnati, and now Chase looks like he is primed to be a huge problem for the Ravens for years.
2. Ja’Marr Chase was far from the only problem for a shell-shocked Ravens defense.
The Ravens had no answer for Chase, but he was hardly the only problem. Twice, the Ravens blew coverage against tight end C.J. Uzomah, and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow found him wide-open for touchdown catches of 55 and 32 yards.
The Ravens were making a lot of adjustments at the line of scrimmage, presumably to try to confuse the Bengals, but Marlon Humphrey said he blew the coverage on one of those plays.
Uzomah’s second touchdown came after Humphrey and Chuck Clark both converged on the underneath route, leaving Uzomah all alone in the middle of the field. He shook a tackle attempt by DeShon Elliott and raced for a 32-yard score that put the Bengals ahead for good at 20-17 with 11:06 left in the third quarter.
Tee Higgins added seven catches for 62 yards, and Ravens-killer Tyler Boyd finished with four catches for 39 yards.
Burrow finished 23-for-38 for 416 yards and three touchdowns and a passer rating of 113.5, avoiding the Ravens’ rush just long enough to deliver throws. In the Ravens’ 27-3 rout of Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium last year, Burrow was sacked seven times, but the Ravens got to him only once in this game.
The Ravens’ run defense also faltered late after stuffing the Bengals ground game early. The Bengals totaled just 18 rushing yards in the first half, but then in the fourth quarter, Joe Mixon cut back for a 21-yard touchdown run and a 34-17 Bengals lead. On the Bengals’ next possession, Samaje Perine busted right up the middle virtually untouched for a 46-yard score.
“We can’t let this beat us twice,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It hurts. It’s going to burn. Division game at home, but at the end of the day, [we have] a whole lot of football left to play. It’s as simple as that.”
3. Lamar Jackson can’t be the entire running game.
The Ravens finished with 115 rushing yards, but Jackson accounted for 88 of that on 12 carries. The Ravens’ three running backs — Devonta Freeman (4-14), Ty’Son Williams (2-10) and Le’Veon Bell (5-5) — totaled 29 yards on 11 carries.
After gashing the Chargers’ 32nd-ranked run defense for 187 yards last week, the Ravens’ run game got no traction against the Bengals’ No. 8-run defense except when Jackson scrambled or kept on a designed run. But the Ravens don’t need him subject to repeated hits that come with so many carries.
The Ravens’ running backs didn’t have the speed to turn the corner outside, they had little burst up the middle, and they often put the Ravens behind schedule and into second- or third-and-long situations. Latavius Murray missed the game with an ankle injury, and he had become the No. 1 back in this remade group, but the Ravens have to take a hard look at this situation.
The Ravens were put in a terrible position this summer when top three backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all suffered season-ending injuries. They have made the best of a bad situation and have tried to tap into proven, veteran talent. The fact that three former Pro Bowl selections — Murray, Freeman and Bell — were available to be signed in early September seemed fortuitous, but it also is increasingly clear why they were available. Their best days are behind them.
Last week, all three veteran backs scored in the Ravens 34-6 rout of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Harbaugh said after that game that all three “felt like they had something to prove” after being “sort of cast away” from other organizations.
It’s a good story about second chances, but one thing is certain: This offense won’t come close to realizing its potential if the running backs can’t run the ball.
Does general manager Eric DeCosta look for outside help yet again? The trade deadline is Nov. 2.
4. Lamar Jackson was never in rhythm.
Jackson finished 15-for-31 for 257 yards and one touchdown, just the third time in 44 career starts that his completion percentage in a game was under 50 percent.
Jackson never got into any rhythm, beginning with incompletions on his first four throws. He made some nice touch passes, finding rookie Rashod Bateman (3 catches, 80 yards) for a 35-yard strike, and hitting Marquise Brown in the back of the end zone for a 39-yard score.
But other passes missed their target badly. On his first throw to Bateman, Jackson seemed to expect Bateman to be a few yards further downfield; they have had little practice time together and are still getting used to each other. Other throws ended up short-hopping or behind the intended receiver.
Some of that credit has to go to the Bengals’ defense, which never let Jackson get comfortable in the pocket. Defensive end Sam Hubbard finished with 2.5 of the Bengals five sacks, and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi added 1.5.
The Ravens kept fullback Patrck Ricard, tight end Eric Tomlinson and a running back in to help with pass protection at times, but that left Jackson with fewer options downfield, and even with the extra help, the Bengals’ defensive front consistently won the battle in the trenches and had Jackson facing heat quickly.
5. The Bengals are going to have a say in the AFC North.
With their win, the Bengals have pronounced that the balance of power has shifted in the AFC North. They hold the top spot at 5-2, they have already won at Pittsburgh and at Baltimore, and barring injuries, they appear equipped to compete to the end.
Quarterback Joe Burrow is healthy again, he is surrounded by a dynamic receiving corps led by Ja’Marr Chase, and the defense has improved at all three levels. This team bears no resemblance to the one that the Ravens throttled, 65-6, collectively, in the two meetings last year.
The Ravens said this week that they thought the Bengals were one of the top 10 teams in the NFL, and it didn’t sound like usual midweek, pregame lip service to hype up the opponent. It sounded like Ravens players and coaches believed it, and after this whipping, they have no reason to doubt it now.
“It’s a different team,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We’re allowed to build and improve, and we just have a different mentality right now. … This is their moment. Everything we’ve talked about, we’ve earned. We’re starting to earn respect, but we still have a long way to go.”
When the Ravens’ schedule was released, many people pointed to the three-game stretch that begins Nov. 28 — vs Cleveland-at Pittsburgh-at Cleveland — as the one that would define the season. Suddenly the game at Cincinnati on Dec. 26 looms much larger.
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