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Ahead of Ravens’ game against winless Bengals, ‘inconsistent’ special teams an area for improvement

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 37-20 win over the New England Patriots.

In a 37-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Ravens exhibited crisp offensive execution and a relentless defensive effort. But the near-flawless performance was marred by multiple special teams blunders.

Up 17-0 in the second quarter, cornerback/punt returner Cyrus Jones muffed a punt in Ravens territory, which was recovered by Patriots cornerback and former Raven Justin Bethel.

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Four plays later, quarterback Tom Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu Sr. for New England’s first score of the game.

The Patriots scored 13 straight points after the turnover before cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s third-quarter fumble return for a touchdown again gave the Ravens a two-score lead.

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Kicker Justin Tucker also missed a fourth-quarter extra-point attempt wide left, his first miss of the season, as the Ravens looked to hold off New England’s comeback.

While the mishaps didn’t ultimately affect the outcome of the game, it led coach John Harbaugh to label his special teams unit as “inconsistent.”

“I think special teams generally is inconsistent right now,” Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We had some turnover. We were really, really, really doing a good job earlier in the year and it’s not as good right now.”

Despite the fumble, Jones remained the team’s punt returner for the rest of the game. Jones returned two punts for 7 yards, while the other three punts were downed.

Harbaugh said the team still has confidence in Jones, but added, “we’re always looking for players. That’s kind of how it always works.”

Tucker’s missed extra point, his first since Oct. 21, 2018, against the New Orleans Saints, was an issue of fundamentals, Harbaugh said.

“It was a technique thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think his plant foot wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be, and he just pulled the ball over there a little bit.”

In the Ravens’ first meeting this season against the Cincinnati Bengals, a 23-17 home win on Oct. 13, the team gave up a 92-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown, the first it had surrendered since 2011.

Harbaugh called Cincinnati “one of the top two or three special teams” in the NFL. Football Outsiders rates the Ravens and Bengals as the top two special teams units in the league, respectively.

“We better know, we’ve got to crank it up,” Harbaugh said. “Kickoff coverage wasn’t good enough. Kickoff return and punt return weren’t good enough.”

Extra points

>> Harbaugh said left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who came up gimpy after a fourth-quarter run, did not suffer a serious injury. Stanley remained in the game and played all 70 offensive snaps.

>> Harbaugh said he had “no reaction” to NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth’s assertion that quarterback Lamar Jackson was tipping plays to defenses by wiping his hands on his towel before the snap. Collinsworth’s mused late in the game that each time Jackson wiped his hands, it signaled a pass play was coming. But Jackson wiped his hands often in the second half, both on running and passing plays.

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