In a season-defining game for both teams, the 4-5 Baltimore Ravens hosted the 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals. With quarterback Joe Flacco absent with a hip injury, rookie Lamar Jackson received the start for Baltimore.
The Ravens won the opening coin toss and chose to defer. Coming off a bye, Baltimore’s defense started strong, forcing a three-and-out for Cincinnati on the opening drive.
On Jackson’s first drive as a starter, the Ravens drove down the field on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Jackson did not attempt a single pass on the first drive but was able to convert two third downs to keep the drive alive. Running back Alex Collins was able to punch the ball into the end zone to cap off the 11-play drive, giving Baltimore a 7-0 lead.
After two failed drives from each team resulting in punts, The Bengals were able to tie the game. It was running back Joe Mixon who scored the one-yard touchdown to even the scoreboard.
The Ravens once again took the lead with a 28-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, making the score 10-7. After a punt from Cincinnati, Baltimore tacked on another field goal just before halftime, this time from 56 yards to extend their lead 13-7. It was Jackson who made the play to get in field goal range with under 20 seconds left when he scrambled to avoid a sack and hit wide receiver John Brown for a 23-yard pickup.
Unfortunately, Jackson made his first big mistake on the opening drive of the second half. On second down, Jackson was intercepted by Shawn Williams. The pass was intended for Willie Snead IV.
Starting at Baltimore’s 32-yard line, it only took four plays for the Bengals to score. It was seemingly a busted coverage on tight end Matt Lengel that allowed him to score the four-yard touchdown and give Cincinnati the lead, 14-13.
Things did not get any better for the Ravens offense on the ensuing drive. Faced with a fourth-and-one, Jackson was stopped short on a quarterback run, setting the Bengals up with a short field at the 32-yard line.
On the seventh play of the drive, Dalton found wide receiver John Ross for a 22-yard touchdown. Ross caught the ball over Marlon Humphrey, despite good coverage. With the third quarter nearing an end, Cincinnati led 21-13.
Baltimore answered back with a huge drive propelled by undrafted running back Gus Edwards. Edwards had a rush of 17 yards earlier in the drive and finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown run. Edwards also ran it in for the two-point conversion to tie the ball game at 21.
The Ravens defense stood tall afterwards, forcing a three-and-out. With time in the fourth quarter winding down, Baltimore once again took the lead with a 24-yard field goal. The Ravens led 24-21 with eight minutes left in the fourth.
The Bengals weren’t done yet, however. Dalton found Tyler Boyd for a 32-yard gain on 3rd-and-12. After failing to convert on the following third down, Cincinnati was in position to once again tie the game with a 52-yard field goal, but Randy Bullock was unable to to convert the kick, giving Baltimore the ball back with under four minutes left and a three-point lead.
The Ravens were unable to capitalize, however, and had to punt the ball after a quick three-and-out. With 2:45 left on the clock, the Bengals had the opportunity to once again end Baltimore’s playoff hopes. Unlike last season though, The Ravens defense held strong on fourth down. Dalton targeted wide receiver Cody Core on 4th-and-3 but Humphrey was there to break up the pass. Baltimore was able to kneel the ball afterwards and exit with a crucial victory.
Jackson broke the Ravens quarterback rushing record with 117 yards on 27 carries. Jackson went 13/19 for 150 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in the passing game. Jackson was not the only rusher to eclipse 100 yards either as Edwards finished with 115 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. Edwards is the first running back to hit 100 rushing yards for Baltimore this season. Snead led all receivers with 51 yards on five receptions, including several key third-down conversions.
While the defense was unable to record a turnover and only totaled one sack split between Tyus Bowser and Matt Judon, the pass rush was in the backfield all day long, forcing Dalton off his mark on several throws. The run defense was outstanding, holding Mixon to a mere 14 yards on 12 carries.
The Ravens improve to 5-5 and now face the 1-8 Oakland Raiders. It’s possible for Flacco to return next week, but you have to wonder if Jackson did enough to win the job. Baltimore remains right in the thick of the wild card race.