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3 pivotal plays that cost the Ravens in their loss to the Bengals

These three mistakes could’ve changed the course of the game.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens had a pair of five-game winning streaks come to a disappointing end in their worst loss of the season on Sunday. Not only had they won five straight games after losing in overtime in the season opener, but they had also won their last five matchups with the Cincinnati Bengals with Lamar Jackson as the starter dating back to 2018.

As lopsided as the final 41-17 box score was, there were a handful of key plays and decisions that could’ve swung the game in the home team’s favor before their run defense completely broke down late.

Punting on 4th-&-13: Q2, 7:13, tied 3-3

After trading a pair of field goals in the first quarter, the Ravens drove the ball 41 yards down to Cincinnati’s 40 yard line. Instead of trotting out All-Pro Kicker Justin Tucker out for a 57-yard field goal attempt albeit against a slight breeze, Head Coach John Harbaugh decided to send out Sam Koch and the punting unit. Two plays later, they were trailing by seven points after Joe Burrow hit tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 55-yard catch and run score.

I understand Harbaugh wanting to try to pin the Bengals back deep with the way his defense was playing up that point. However, he has the most accurate and clutch kicker in NFL history on his side. Tucker has made kicks in worse weather conditions before and Harbaugh decided to forgo an opportunity to get three points in a game where he couldn’t afford to leave any on the field.

Jackson takes seven-yard sack: Q3, 8:22, trailing 20-17

The Bengals defense recorded a season-high five sacks in this game. While the former league MVP’s pass protection was far from perfect, there were several instances where he did them no favors by holding on to the ball too long or waiting too long to decide to tuck and run with it. The Ravens came out firing to start the second half with a quick three-play scoring drive to take their first lead of the game. However, the Bengals fired right back with a four-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the third quarter.

Jackson drove the offense 41 yards on their ensuing drive but on 3rd-&-8 from Cincinnati’s 34 yard line, he didn’t get rid of the ball after not being able to find an open receiver and was brought down by Trey Hendrickson. The lost yardage knocked the Ravens out of field goal range and they decided to punt again although a 58-yarder is still within Tucker’s makeable range. On the Bengals’ next drive, they went up by 10 points in four plays after sensational rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase put a pair of defenders in the spin cycle on his 82-yard touchdown reception.

Alejandro Villanueva holding penalty: Q4, 12:51, trailing 27-17

The Ravens were able to come back from down 19 points against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago. They were down by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter of that thriller, so trailing by 10 points wasn’t a daunting hurdle to overcome for this team. They appeared poised to make another fourth-quarter rally after cornerback Marlon Humphrey intercepted Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow in the red zone on the final play of the third quarter.

Jackson picked up a crucial first down on 4th-&-1 to extend their first drive of the final quarter with a six-yard rush and on the next play, ripped off a 39-yarder to move the ball to the Cincinnati 26 yard line. Unfortunately, Villanueva was called for a hold that negated the big play and all the momentum that came with it. The Ravens weren’t able to overcome the setback and only picked up 13 yards before turning the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass that was nearly intercepted. With a short field, it only took Cincinnati five plays to score the dagger touchdown on a 21-yard rumble from running back Joe Mixon.

Honorable mentions -

Jackson takes three-yard sack: Q3, 5:13, trailing 27-17

After their defense gave up the back-breaking touchdown by Chase, the Ravens’ offense still had plenty of time to mount a comeback but responded with a quick four-play drive that resulted in another punt. It got off to a promising start following a 10-yard run by running back Devonta Freeman. However, another sack where Jackson held onto the ball too long on second down stalled the drive after they weren’t able to move the chains on 3rd-&-13.

Back-to-back false start penalties: Q4, 8:03, trailing 34-17

With the Ravens clinging on to a sliver of hope to spark a late comeback facing 4th-&-5 from their 43-yard line, they got backed up 10 yards on a pair of false start penalties. The first was on second-year offensive lineman Tyre Phillips and on the very next play, wide receiver Marquise Brown jumped. Jackson finally took the snap on 4th-&-15 and after being flushed from the pocket, he checked the ball down to running back Ty’Son Williams — who picked up 11 yards but came up short of the line to gain resulting in a debilitating turnover on downs.