CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow finally got the Cincinnati Bengals offense moving, but his goal-line interception on the opening drive of the second half proved to be a game-changing momentum swing for the Baltimore Ravens.
Geno Stone picked off Burrow’s pass intended for Tee Higgins in the endzone, and the Ravens took advantage of the turnover with a touchdown on the ensuing drive to build a 10-point lead. The Bengals would have taken their first advantage of the game had the pass been completed to Higgins, and instead, they were left playing catch-up for the remainder.
Tee Higgins’ second touchdown of the day with 3:28 remaining gave Cincinnati a chance at the comeback but Baltimore went on to beat the Bengals 27-24 on Sunday in front of 66,015 fans at Paycor Stadium. Cincinnati drops to 0-2 while the Ravens are 2-0.
“I thought our guys fought,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We were in great shape coming out the second half with the ball and then, Geno (Stone) made a great play, ... did a good job holding backside and then cheating post-snap and made a great play. And it kind of turns into a 14-point swing there possibly ‘cause then they hit the big play, I think on the next play. So that’s the way it goes when you play these guys. I just told our team, this is one of those games you store away and you learn from so that you win more games down the road because of what we went through here.”
Burrow, coming off a career-low 82 yards passing in the opener at Cleveland, had just 35 yards passing in the first half while the Bengals managed only three possessions, but the fourth-year quarterback led them to the red zone on three consecutive drives in the second and third quarters and gave the Bengals a chance to come back in the fourth quarter.
The first red zone trip resulted in an Evan McPherson field goal after Rock Ya-Sin batted away the ball as Ja’Marr Chase was trying to complete a catch on a back shoulder pass from Burrow in the end zone on third down.
The interception on the next drive, to start the second half, helped the Ravens extend their 13-10 halftime lead to 10 points on Mark Andrew’s 3-yard catch, and although Cincinnati responded with its first offensive touchdown of the season – in quarter No. 7 – the three-point gap wouldn’t last. Higgins, who had no catches on eight targets last week, grabbed his first touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Burrow.
Baltimore scored another touchdown, this time on Lamar Jackson’s 17-yard pass to Nelson Agholor, to rebuild the 10-point advantage with 11:38 left. Both teams followed with three-and-outs but that left just 7:40 left for the Bengals to climb out of the hole and it wasn’t enough. Burrow found Higgins in the end zone on third down for the final score of the game, but Jackson’s 12-yard scramble on third-and-3 on the ensuing drive was enough to allow the Ravens to run out the clock.
The Ravens finished with 178 yards rushing on 37 carries, and Jackson had 54 yards on the ground to go with 237 yards passing.
“Second half, looking back, we moved it really well,” Burrow said. “It came down to the turnover in the red zone. When you’re playing that team, you can’t have that mistake because they’re gonna run it well, they’re gonna keep it away from you. They’re gonna score points. Lamar’s a great player, he’s gonna make plays, so you gotta take advantage of all your red zone opportunities and that was my mistake.”
Burrow threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns but came off limping after the final touchdown pass to Higgins and said he tweaked his previously strained right calf on the second to last play. He was massaging his calf on the sideline while the defense was on the field, but Burrow said he would have gone back in if the offense got the ball.
Higgins finished with eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals relied on special teams in the first half to keep the score close. Charlie Jones’ 81-yard punt return put them on the board after the Ravens had taken the lead on a long drive that ate up almost eight minutes off the clock. The Bengals went three-and-out on its first two possessions, but Jones’ return tied the game at 7 with 13:25 left in the second quarter.
Cincinnati had not scored on a punt return since Adam “Pacman” Jones did it, also for 81 yards, in 2012 against the Cleveland Browns.
Tucker followed with a 44-yard field goal the next drive to put the Ravens ahead 10-7 with 9:15 left in the second quarter, but the Bengals followed suit with a field goal drive of their own, a 27-yarder for McPherson, before Tucker got another one as time expired going into the break.
Monday, Sept. 25
Rams at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7