The Ravens had their worst performance of the season in a lopsided 41-17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are five things we learned Sunday afternoon:
The Ravens cannot dwell on a humiliating defeat any more than they did on a proud victory.
The Ravens entered with a 5-1 record built on one-score victories and a single blowout. They exited as victims of a pummeling that sent them into their bye week facing serious questions about their status as an AFC contender.
We’re talking about what happened Sunday, right? Well, yes, but we could also be describing the events of Oct. 21, 2012, when the Ravens fell, 43-13, to the Houston Texans. That story ended 3 ½ months later in New Orleans, with Joe Flacco clutching a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
This is not to say the Ravens are destined to win the Super Bowl because they ate a blowout in Week 7. It’s just to say that one week is one week in the NFL. It’s not unusual for an eventual champion to be embarrassed on a given Sunday. Need more recent evidence? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell, 38-3, to the New Orleans Saints in Week 9 last season.
This was not a disqualifying loss for the Ravens any more than their 34-6 blowout of the Los Angeles Chargers, just seven days earlier, was a certification of their AFC preeminence.
“It’s always week to week; it’s always game to game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There never is any running narrative, it just doesn’t exist.”
Please don’t read this as an excuse for the Ravens’ performance. They tackled and covered poorly against a talented, hungry opponent that was eager to pounce on every mistake. They did not run the ball with any consistency against a defense that yielded 404 rushing yards to them in Week 17 of last season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson waited too long for plays to develop and took five sacks as a result. They were much the lesser team on their home field in an early battle for AFC North supremacy.
“This one’s going to burn a little bit,” defensive end Calais Campbell said, and you could hear from his humbled tone that he meant it.
There’s only so much use in self-flagellation, however. The Ravens, under Harbaugh, have always done a good job of treating each week as a discrete problem. Seasons rarely get away from them, and there is no reason to think this one will.
“We can’t really treat a bad loss any different than a win,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey after one of the worst individual performances of his career. “This bye week helps us because we can kind of study into it a little bit more than usual. But you look at it, you fix your problems. You’ll probably take this one [for] two or three days, and then you kind of flush it, and you move on.”
Fans won’t take comfort from such answers, which border on cliché. But there’s a reason successful players and teams learn to think this way. What else is there but next week?
All of the Ravens’ flaws resurfaced.
The completeness of their triumph over the Chargers wiped our memories of the first five weeks a little too quickly. Yes, they found ways to win those earlier games, but they did so in spite of shoddy tackling, a declining ground game and flimsy pass defense.
All of these old enemies showed up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Ravens actually started well on defense, pressuring Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into an inaccurate first quarter and keeping rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase off the stat sheet. Then, Cincinnati tight end C.J. Uzomah left Humphrey sucking dust on a 55-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, and the troubles followed.
This was the rare game in which Humphrey was not the best Ravens cornerback on the field. In the two-minute drill before halftime, he let Chase get away from him on a crossing route; Chase not only picked up 26 yards, he made it all the way to the sideline to stop the clock. Cincinnati capitalized with a field goal to go up 13-10.
Uzomah scored again on the Bengals’ first drive of the second half after Ravens safety Chuck Clark abandoned him in hopes of jumping a sideline route. To make matters worse, DeShon Elliott missed a tackle on the 32-yard catch and run.
The afternoon reached its nadir a few minutes later when Chase beat Humphrey on a quick third-down route and wiggled out of the cornerback’s grasp on his way to an 82-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 27-17. Humphrey briefly reopened the window for his team with an interception in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Ravens went just 18 yards on their ensuing drive, and that was that.
“I lost that matchup, so a lot of it … is on me,” Humphrey said of his showdown with Chase.
Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser offered a broader and simpler epitaph: “We would have been OK if we had just tackled.”
Burrow finished with 416 passing yards, Chase with 201 receiving yards. Their gaudy statistical lines echoed those surrendered by the Ravens in earlier games against the Raiders, Chiefs and Colts.
“Up and down,” Campbell said of the defense. “Hot and cold. Not very consistent yet.”
The Ravens could have made life easier for their defense if they had seized the initiative on offense like they did the week before. But they are no longer capable of playing bully ball against quality resistance. It’s telling that their best running performances of the season have come against defensive horror shows such as the Chiefs and the Chargers. Jackson (12 carries, 88 yards) was their only effective runner against the Bengals, and he took significant punishment as he tried to scramble his team out of trouble. The Ravens got 29 yards on 11 carries from their running backs; it’s hard to imagine such totals if they were working with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards instead of faded stars Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell.
Jackson made some terrific downfield throws, but he also held the ball too long as he waited for chunk plays to develop, perhaps lacking faith that the Ravens could mount long drives built on more modest bites. They managed just one scoring drive longer than four minutes, meaning they never played the game on their terms.
The Bengals announced themselves as a legitimate threat to take the AFC North.
We can list the Ravens’ flaws on a never-ending crawl for the next two weeks, but the fact is they might have gotten away with their subpar performance against the 2020 Bengals. This was a more formidable foe that spent the week uttering confident words and backed them up with confident play.
Burrow knew he would face pressure, and he missed on eight of his first 13 attempts as Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston lived in the Cincinnati backfield. The former No. 1 overall pick did not shrink from the difficulty, however. He made correct reads and accurate throws with defenders in his face, and his receivers turned quick strikes into touchdowns of 55, 32 and 82 yards (49.4% of his passing yards came after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus). The Ravens opened the door with missed tackles and poor communications. Burrow and the Bengals sprinted through it.
“This might have been his best game as a pro,” Campbell said of Burrow. “We made it hard on him early, and he made some adjustments and did what he had to do. You have to tip your hat off to him. His playmakers made plays for him, too. That team is talented.”
On the other side, the Bengals made it clear their 26th ranked defense from 2020 is a relic of the past. They covered well enough downfield to give their pass rushers, Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson, time to reach Jackson, and they ate the Ravens alive at the line of scrimmage. They have stars at all three layers.
Based on seven weeks of evidence, nothing about the Bengals screams fluke. Their defense is the best in the AFC North (yes, they have outplayed the Steelers). Burrow and Chase are gifted enough to punish any opponent. Their self-belief is growing. Remember, Jackson and the Ravens took off faster than anyone expected in 2019. Could this blowout be tinder for the Bengals?
“I think it was a big statement,” Burrow said.
The Ravens cannot afford to lose Patrick Mekari.
Harbaugh offered no postgame update on his right tackle, who left the game with an ankle injury before halftime.
The Ravens had spent the first six weeks playing catch-up on the offensive line after Ronnie Stanley went down with an ankle injury that turned out to be season-ending. Mekari’s play on the right side was a legitimate bright spot in that effort. He came in with the second-best pass-blocking grade among the team’s starting linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, and Harbaugh has praised him unreservedly.
The Ravens love Mekari for his willingness to step into any breach. With him excelling at right tackle and Alejandro Villanueva looking more comfortable at his familiar spot on the left, the loss of Stanley felt less catastrophic than it probably should have.
Mekari’s injury might turn out to be minor, and it came at the right time, with the Ravens going into their bye week. But it reminded us how thin they really are at tackle. Tyre Phillips, who has rarely excelled as a pass blocker on the outside, stepped in for Mekari, and Cincinnati’s best pass rushers, Hubbard and Hendrickson, rolled up pressures against him and Villanueva. Practice-squad call-up David Sharpe was one more turned ankle from playing significant snaps.
Do not be surprised if Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta tries to pick up a tackle before the Nov. 2 trade deadline, though the leaguewide supply is thin.
Even in a bad loss, we saw evidence the Ravens have found the right formula at inside linebacker.
It was just Patrick Queen’s luck that he played one of the better games of his career in an ugly performance for the defense.
The Ravens stuck to their plan from the Chargers game, using the second-year linebacker as a complement to veteran Josh Bynes. Queen played 27 defensive snaps and earned the highest grade of any Ravens defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Early in the game, he moved decisively to fill a gap and dropped Bengals running back Joe Mixon for a loss. The 2020 first-round pick avoided the glaring mistakes that haunted many of his teammates.
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Bynes also played well, contributing six tackles as the Ravens held Mixon (12 carries, 59 yards) in check for most of the game.
The Ravens trust Bynes to bring order to the middle of their defense, and they hope Queen will rebuild his confidence and run free to the ball playing the WILL spot. This wasn’t the scenario they envisioned heading into Week 1, but it’s a logical attempt at trying to make the best of a disappointing start to Queen’s career.
Nov. 7, 1 p.m.
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