The Baltimore Ravens fell 27-16 to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 18 in a season finale that didn’t quite live up to its lofty expectations.
Back in September, this Week 18 matchup was shaping up to be a fierce battle for the AFC North, yet the Bengals already locked up the division last week and the Ravens had little to play for considering the circumstances.
With their defeat on Sunday, the Ravens clinched the No. 6 seed in the AFC, setting up a rematch against the third-seeded Bengals on the road in the Wild Card round next week.
Just like last season, this was another instance of the Bengals’ A-team facing essentially the Ravens’ B-team. Baltimore sat several key starters in Week 18 including its top quarterback, running back, and tight end, which gave off the impression that the Ravens weren’t trying that hard to win this game.
The Ravens still kept their first-team defense on the field with the exception of Marcus Peters, who may have been held out for precautionary reasons. Though this game didn’t turn into a full-scale blowout, Baltimore never had a chance to beat their offensively superior division rivals, not when undrafted rookie and third-string quarterback Anthony Brown recorded three turnovers (two picks and one lost fumble) in the first half.
Baltimore’s first three offensive drives ended in the following: punt, interception, interception. Those tide-turning turnovers put too much pressure on the Ravens’ defense to contain Joe Burrow (who channeled a little bit of Lamar Jackson in his wizardly scrambles) and a humming Bengals team that leaped ahead to an early two-score lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom as the Ravens enjoyed short spells of dominance here and there: Kenyan Drake, who saw more of the field due to Gus Edwards’ in-game injury, walked into the Bengals’ end zone for the Ravens’ lone touchdown, completing a 10-play, 76-yard drive.
Ravens commit four turnovers in season finale defeat against the Bengals
Rookie David Ojabo recorded his first NFL sack, made even sweeter by the fact that he took down a rival quarterback, the high and mighty Joe Burrow.
Cornerback Daryl Worley played a solid game in Marcus Peters’ place despite being picked on by Burrow all game and allowing Ja’Marr Chase to score a touchdown.
Linebacker Roquan Smith never gave the Bengals an inch and finished the game with a team-high 16 tackles, more than twice as many as the next defender on the list. He even taunted Bengals’ Chase in the end zone to get under Cincinnati’s skin — after all, it’s not an AFC North rivalry game without a bit of chippy antagonism and a heated sidelines fight.
It’s also not a Baltimore Ravens game without at least three field goals completed by Justin Tucker. The Ravens’ red zone execution issues haven’t improved in the last several weeks, and there were some questionable offensive calls throughout the game: just before the end of the first half, why was Greg Roman asking Anthony Brown to throw on third down when Brown was backed up in his own end zone? Why didn’t the Ravens go for it on a 4th-and-5 early in the fourth quarter when they were down 14 points?
If there’s a silver lining to take away from Week 18’s defeat, it’s this: The season finale was all about the Ravens letting the chips fall and putting up an admirable fight against a potential Super Bowl contender, starters or no starters.
It’s easy to look back and say, “Had the Ravens done this differently, they might have won the game,” but that’s a moot point considering Baltimore weren’t gunning to pull off the upset anyway.
In the end, the Ravens treated this as an exhibition game to try and feel out the Bengals’ offense and take notes rather than seriously try and beat their AFC North rivals. Call it a cowardly move, but the Ravens have more important matters to deal with heading into the postseason.
We’ll see you in the Wild Card round, Cincinnati.