Baltimore rushed for 404 yards and scurried into the playoffs with a 38-3 win Sunday in the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals would have kept the Ravens from the postseason by handing them a loss.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Healthy Lamar Jackson makes difference
The Bengals seemed to have finally figured out how to handle Jackson in their first meeting when they held him to 2 yards rushing on three carries in a 27-3 loss, but he was back to his old self Sunday. Jackson was coming off a knee injury that first matchup when the Ravens got a defensive touchdown and most of their offense came off a few big plays.
On Sunday, he rushed for 97 yards on 11 carries and threw three touchdown passes to give the Ravens a 31-3 lead with 3:44 left in the third quarter before he was replaced by Tyler Huntley. His 1,005 yards rushing this season makes him the first NFL quarterback to record multiple seasons with 1,000 yards.
Jackson’s success opened up the offense completely and the Bengals didn’t have a way to stop them, especially while missing defensive tackle Mike Daniels (Reserve/COVID-19 list) and starting cornerbacks William Jackson (concussion) and Mackensie Alexander (illness). Baltimore’s 404 yards rushing (out of 525 total yards) was the most a team has ever managed against the Bengals, whose previous high for rushing yards allowed was 313 in 1969.
“It was a challenge,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We were missing a fair amount of guys. That’s no fun. I don’t question the effort. I haven’t seen the tape yet obviously, but there wasn’t anything that stood out from that standpoint. We ran into a really good football team that can run it as well any team in the league. They had enough long runs there that really broke our backs in some situations. We do expect to be better, but it was a tough matchup right now.”
2. Big plays prove costly
The Ravens had six plays of 20 yards or more, and the longest two plays were both for touchdowns.
Jackson threw a 43-yard pass up the middle to Miles Boykin to extend Baltimore’s lead to 10-0 in the first quarter, with backup cornerback LeShaun Sims getting caught behind the play in a Cover 3 defense. Late in the third quarter former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins broke free around the left end for a 72-yard touchdown to finish off the scoring.
Baltimore averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Dobbins finished with 160 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to push his touchdown total to nine for the season, the most by a rookie running back in franchise history. Gus Edwards also added 60 yards on 12 carries, and Devin Duvernay had a carry for 22 yards.
Asked if the Ravens did anything unexpected or if it was just lack of execution by the Bengals’ defense, safety Jessie Bates said it was a little of both.
“I think it was a couple of plays we’ve seen all week but we just didn’t execute it like we did in practice, which is unfortunate,” Bates said.
3. Offense falls flat
One week after being named the FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week, Brandon Allen managed just 48 yards passing and finished with two interceptions and a 0.0 passer rating. The Bengals finished with 147 yards rushing to top 140 yards rushing for three straight weeks but 195 yards total and 10 first downs amounted to just three points.
Cincinnati had a trio of three-and-outs to open the game and didn’t move the chains until the final drive of the half, settling for a field goal. By then, Baltimore already was well in control.
Things might have been different if Tee Higgins hadn’t been injured the first pass of the game for Allen. His 41-yard catch, which would have given him sole possession of the Bengals’ rookie receptions record at 68, was negated by Mike Thomas’ offensive pass interference penalty, and the only bigger play for the Cincinnati offense was a 55-yard carry by Trayveon Williams before Allen threw his first interception in the third quarter.
“It was obviously hard, all day long, to get any sort of momentum going,” Allen said. “That would have been a big one momentum-wise to get going, and obviously, it didn’t go in our favor. It came down to just sustaining any kind of momentum — and that would have been a big one for us — but I just felt like we couldn’t get anything going offensively all game long.”
The Bengals tried getting the ball to A.J. Green in the second half but seemed to be forcing it with him and Tyler Boyd receiving more attention from the Baltimore defense. Two of those attempts were intercepted and three of his other four targets were closer to being picked off than caught.
4. Loss impacts offseason
The Bengals entered on a two-game win streak, including a rare Monday Night decision over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the first road victory under Taylor at Houston, and they appeared to have some positive energy going into the offseason.
All the warm feelings of progress were forgotten with a disastrous performance in the finale.
“Obviously it hurts going out like that,” tight end Drew Sample said. “That’s not how we wanted the game to go obviously. I mean they took it to us. That’s really what it was. But like I’m sure other guys have said, it wasn’t for us not going out there and trying. We expected to win that game. We prepared all week to win that game. We wanted to knock them off, out of the playoffs, and that just didn’t happen for us.”
Taylor’s job was expected to be safe but it’s clear he knows the pressure is on to succeed in Year 3 after going 6-25-1 in his first two seasons. He was shorter than usual in his responses during Sunday’s postgame press conference and mentioned injuries more than in the past. Asked to sum up the season, he said simply answered “disappointing” and wouldn’t elaborate more than indicating it was the team’s record that made it so.
The Bengals had six losses by a touchdown or less and a tie against Philadelphia. They will have the fifth pick in the 2021 draft to help build around quarterback Joe Burrow, who is expected to make a full recovery from his recent ACL/MCL surgery.
5. Moving forward
The Bengals reportedly are parting ways with offensive line coach Jim Turner, defensive line coach Nick Eason, defensive assistant Gerald Chatman and wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell. Turner, Eason and Chatman were hired by Taylor to join his staff last year, while Bicknell was one of the few carryovers still in place from Marvin Lewis’ final staff.
Additionally, running backs coach Jemal Singleton is reportedly set to become the new running backs coach at the University of Kentucky.
There could be more changes as well. Taylor indicated this week that some of the conversations about the staff and player personnel decisions take place through the course of the season but that the bulk of those decisions are made after the last game. On Sunday after the game, he said the organization will “put some closure on this game and handle that stuff this week.”
Cincinnati has 28 players who will be free agents in 2021, including Green, Shawn Williams, John Ross, Mackensie Alexander, William Jackson, Josh Bynes, Carl Lawson and Allen.
Bates said the focus this week was trying to send some of the team’s key contributors of the past off on high notes, knowing many guys won’t be returning.
“I wouldn’t say it affects anyone, I just think it’s very awkward, honestly,” Bates said of hearing reports of potential coaching changes this week. “You try to avoid those conversations and stuff like that and just focus on the main goal at task. That was just going in and sending these guys off the right way that won’t be here like I said and just building that momentum into the offseason, which we didn’t.”