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Ravens vs. Bengals: Takeaways from a dejecting playoff defeat

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Baltimore Ravens came up short in their wild card matchup against the Bengals on Sunday night, falling to Cincinnati 24-17. After falling behind by two possessions early, the Ravens erased their deficit and put forth a competitive fight — much more than many people predicted entering this game.

Ultimately, the Ravens couldn’t overcome a few costly miscues and wound on the losing end of a game they were just yards, if not inches away from potentially winning.

Here a few takeaways from the sobering loss.

Fumbling (literally) the game away

The Ravens held their own through three quarters and were on the cusp of seizing momentum late before disaster struck. Following a 41-yard touchdown catch from Demarcus Robinson to even the score at 17-17, the Ravens drove 80 yards in eight plays to reach the Bengals’ two yard line.

The Ravens had three chances to gain three yards. Their first two tries gained only one yard combined. Then, on third-and-one, Huntley’s attempt to reach the ball over the goal line went array, as he fumbled and the loose ball was returned 98 yards by Sam Hubbard the other way for a Cincinnati touchdown.

It was difficult to process what had happened in the moment, and it’s even more difficult to swallow in hindsight knowing what could have been. The Ravens’ defense forced consecutive three-and-outs on the Bengals’ next two possessions, but Baltimore never sniffed the red zone again after that.

Had the Ravens come away with a touchdown or even a field goal on that possession, it’s entirely possible – if not likely – they emerge victorious given how their defense was performing.

Despite a loss, the Ravens’ game plan worked

Ultimately the Ravens lost and there are no moral victories. However, for what it’s worth, it’s notable that they put themselves in a position to win. You could make a strong argument, too, that they were the better overall team on Sunday night. That shows in the box score.

After falling behind 9-0 early in the second quarter, the Ravens wound up finishing the game with more first downs (23-18), 130 more total yards, and won the time of possession battle by nearly five minutes. They began to control the game late in the third quarter after tying the score and forcing a quick three-and-out.

Defensively, they again proved up to the task against a potent Cincinnati offense. They gave up next to nothing on the ground and forced Joe Burrow to beat them primarily with underneath and intermediate throws. No Bengals’ pass-catcher had a reception of 20 or more yards on the night.

They averaged about 4.5 yards per carry and converted 10 first downs on the ground. Tyler Huntley, aside from two crucial turnovers, put forth arguably his best career performance and willed the Ravens’ offense to the doorstep of victory.

Expectations weren’t high but the Ravens exceeded them. That makes the ultimate result even tougher to swallow.

Questionable coaching decisions loom large

The Ravens’ clock management at the end of the game will be highly scrutinized in the days to come and rightfully so. Following a J.K. Dobbins’ 11-yard reception with just over a minute remaining, the Ravens had two timeouts and were at the Bengals’ 17 yard line. John Harbaugh did not call one and instead let the play clock run. On top of that, the Ravens went into a huddle before their next play, which wound up being an incomplete pass to Mark Andrews.

Then, Justice Hill’s four-yard run out of bounds was nullified by a holding penalty called on Kevin Zeitler. Suddenly, the Ravens were back at the 27 yard line with just over 20 seconds remaining – a much less favorable position than they were in 30-40 seconds earlier.

If Harbaugh was set on not using a timeout, the Ravens could have at least gone no-huddle to give themselves more time to work with. Instead, the clock was only stopped via a series of incompletions when there was 20 seconds or less left.

The Ravens could have had a full minute to gain 17 yards with a full set of downs and one timeout to work with. They squandered valuable time and backed themselves into needing a desperation heave into the end zone as time expired. Do the Ravens score if they use a timeout or two earlier in that sequence? Maybe not, but it’s worth wondering if that was a better strategy.