Third-string Ravens quarterback Josh Johnson will start in Sunday’s pivotal game against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals after Tyler Huntley was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Lamar Jackson (ankle) was ruled out Saturday.
Johnson, a 35-year-old journeyman who last started an NFL game three years ago, joined the Ravens 10 days ago, after Jackson was carted off the field in a Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Huntley, who’s impressed in reserve duty this season, was expected to make his second straight start Sunday, but he missed practice Friday with an illness and tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday, a source confirmed.
With practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler added to the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, the Ravens signed and activated former Calvert Hall star Kenji Bahar from the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement. Bahar, who spent time with the Ravens this preseason but has never played in an NFL game, will back up Johnson.
Huntley’s absence comes at an inopportune time for the Ravens (8-6), who have lost three straight games and need a win Sunday to retake control of the AFC North. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens would have an 80% chance of making the playoffs if they defeat the Bengals (8-6) and just a 24% chance if they do not.
Johnson, whom the Ravens signed off the New York Jets’ practice squad Dec. 15, spent parts of the previous two years in the Alliance of American Football and XFL before joining the Jets’ practice squad this season. He is 29-for-45 for 334 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in 2021, most of which came in a 317-yard showing against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9.
Johnson, who played at the University of San Diego under coach Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, has played in 36 games and started eight over his NFL career, going 1-7. His last start came with the Washington Football Team in Week 17 of the 2018 season, Jackson’s rookie season. Johnson has a 67.1 career passer rating, with 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 56.5% accuracy.
“I think it’s cool that he’s been in the league a long time, and it feels good just to have a ‘veteran, veteran’ in the room,” Huntley said of Johnson on Dec. 17. “He’ll tell you a little bit different. … He’s back learning another playbook, so it’s cool to see how fast he can learn it. I think he learned it pretty good today; he was answering a lot of questions. So I just like that he’s in the room with us now.”
Huntley, who nearly led the injury- and coronavirus-depleted Ravens to a comeback win over the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers on Sunday, is one of 10 players on the team’s 53-man roster who’ll miss Sunday’s game because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
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Also sidelined are tight end Josh Oliver, defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee, inside linebackers Chris Board and Kristian Welch, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry, and safety Geno Stone. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday and, like safety Chuck Clark, is expected to be available Sunday.
Under the NFL’s protocols, fully vaccinated players who test positive can clear protocol within one day if they register two negative tests and are asymptomatic. Players who are not vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days.
“We’ve just got to continue to follow the protocols [as] best as ever now, continue to wear our masks and [stay] socially distant,” Huntley said Thursday when asked about the NFL’s recent coronavirus outbreak. “The Ravens do a great job around here. They’ve added so many parts of the building for us to spread out and be on [virtual] meetings and just do what we’ve got to do at the building and be able to just still protect ourselves at the same time. So I feel like the Ravens, the NFL, they’re going a good job, and it’s going to get better.”
With Huntley and Jackson sidelined, the Ravens will face a talented Bengals defense without the kind of dual-threat quarterback that has keyed coordinator Greg Roman’s attack in recent years. Johnson has averaged 5.8 yards per carry over his NFL career, but he’s rushed just four times for 18 yards in three games this season. Cincinnati sacked Jackson five times in the teams’ first meeting, a Week 7 blowout win in Baltimore, and held the Ravens’ running backs to a combined 11 carries for 29 yards.
The Ravens will also be short-handed on defense. Even with rookie outside linebacker Daelin Hayes (ankle) activated from injured reserve Saturday, the unit has just 17 of its active-roster players available. Against a deeper Ravens defense in October, the Bengals finished with 520 yards in their 41-17 win, with quarterback Joe Burrow passing for 416 yards and three touchdowns.
Along with Bahar, eight Ravens practice squad players were promoted Saturday as COVID-19 replacements: offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith, defensive tackle Isaiah Mack, defensive tackle/guard Khalil McKenzie, inside linebacker Joe Thomas, cornerback Daryl Worley, defensive back Robert Jackson, and safeties Tony Jefferson and Jordan Richards. Tight end Tony Poljan was also activated from the practice squad with a standard elevation.
Notes: Like Jackson, Ravens special teams coach T.J. Weist will not travel with the team to Cincinnati. For the second straight week, special teams coach Randy Brown will take over for Weist, who tested positive for COVID-19 before the loss to Green Bay. … Ravens running back Justice Hill, already on season-ending IR, was also placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. ... The Bengals activated starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie off the reserve/COVID-19 list and placed starting defensive tackle D.J. Reader and reserve defensive end Wyatt Ray on the reserve/COVID-19 list.