Ravens leap for greatness and free-fall in heartbreaking Wild Card loss to Bengals

Ravens, Tyler Huntley. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Ravens, Tyler Huntley. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens were trying to make a play.

That line will be inscribed on the gravestone that marks the end of the team’s 2022 season, one that was marred by Lamar Jackson’s injury and a steady offensive decline leading up to this point.

The Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-17, in the Wild Card round in a heartbreaker of a game that included the whole package: some divisional rivalry chippiness, a demoralizing interception, a rapturous fumble recovery, a sickening fumble-six, and the Hail Mary that nearly ended in unexpected glory.

On the last play of the game, Tyler Huntley heaved the ball up on 4th-and-20 with the Ravens’ postseason hopes on the line. The ball bobbled above defenders before falling toward wide receiver James Proche, who lunged forward but couldn’t complete the catch.

Huntley was trying to make a miraculous play, just like he was trying to make a play (his own words) in the fourth quarter when he leapt over a horde of players on the Bengals’ goal line to dunk his way to a touchdown.

A Cincy defender knocked the unprotected ball out of Huntley’s hands into Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard’s lap, and Hubbard cradled that rock all the way for a 98-yard fumble-six. A touchdown would have given the Ravens a precious 24-17 lead in the fourth; instead, the Bengals stomped on their hearts while running down the field to the other end zone, effectively sealing Baltimore’s fate then and there.

Ravens dug their own grave in Wild Card game defeat to Bengals

As much as fans may want to point angry fingers at Greg Roman for seemingly calling such an egregious play, the blame should be shifted to Huntley.

Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters in a post-game press conference that it was Huntley’s decision to go over the top rather than duck low for the traditional quarterback sneak:

"“We felt we had a good call. It’s a push sneak. It wasn’t executed right. Tyler went over the top…. He’s gotta go low.”"

Why didn’t the Ravens hand the ball to J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards, both of whom were running extremely well at that point, to pound it into the end zone? Dobbins, for all his talent and efficacy, didn’t receive a single carry in the red zone on Sunday night.

Harbaugh stands by the original play, and maybe it would have worked had Huntley not added his own flair (NFL NextGen Stats reveal that Huntley was 0.6 yards away from breaking the plane).

Hubbard’s 98-yard fumble return touchdown was the longest fumble return touchdown in postseason history since Buffalo Bills’ Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick-six off none other than Ravens’ Lamar Jackson in the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs.

The Ravens are now on the losing end of two awful NFL records, but this loss to the Bengals hurts more considering how surprisingly well the team played all game. Against all odds, when the entire nation was betting against them, it was Baltimore who held the upper hand in spite of their well-known offensive deficiencies.

Baltimore had a 10-9 lead at halftime. Huntley was able to make some show-stopping plays on the ground and in the air, including a deep pass to Demarcus Robinson for a 41-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It was Huntley’s first attempt of the game that was over 10 yards in the air, and it was Robinson’s first deep reception of the season; it also marked the first time Baltimore scored two offensive touchdowns in a game since November.

Huntley’s heroics (or rather anti-heroics) ultimately fell short, and he played in the game long enough to see himself become the villain.

A note should also be said about the Ravens’ questionable clock management in the final minute of the fourth quarter in which Harbaugh curiously didn’t call a timeout until the very end. More on that to come.

The Ravens can go home with their heads held high, yet there’s still that sinking, unmistakable feeling of, “We should’ve won this game. We should’ve made it to the next round.”

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And they really could have.