Few gave the Baltimore Ravens a big chance to upset their divisional rival the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Bengals were riding a seven-game playoff winning streak and were favorites by 8.5 points. The Ravens, meanwhile, were without star quarterback Lamar Jackson and spat on the stretch with backup Tyler Huntley behind center.
Still, the Ravens dominated the Bengals for much of Sunday night. They outshot their rivals from 364 to 234 yards, they average significantly more yards per game (5.5) than the Bengals (4.3) and Huntley even beat All-Pro Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
After getting rid of a first interception, Huntley brought the Ravens’ offense to life. He led the Ravens for an impressive 17 games and 75 yards, leading Baltimore to two points earlier. Minutes later, he orchestrated a two-minute drill to give the Ravens an improbable 10-9 halftime lead.
When the Bengals came out firing in the second half, Huntley was ready for the fight. After Burrow regained the lead for Cincinnati late in the third quarter, the Ravens quarterback responded just three minutes later with a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Demarcus Robinson to tie the game.
Then came the pivotal drive in the game. At first, the drive had all the makings of a career-changing moment for Huntley. He dropped a pass straight into the bucket to tight end Mark Andrews for a 25-yard gain on third-and-first. On the very next play, he took a read option for 35 yards all the way down the Bengals 2-yard line. He was six feet away from giving the Ravens a touchdown lead over their division rivals with less than 13 minutes left in the game.
Three games later, it was the Bengals who had a lead they wouldn’t let go of the rest of the game.
Between those moments, Huntley made a critical error that cost the Ravens their season. Facing a third and a goal on that one, the Ravens dialed in a stealthy quarterback. But rather than lower his head and move forward, Huntley made his own decision to try and jump over the pile. There, Bengals linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson awaited him. Wilson knocked the ball off the hands of Huntley, and it landed conveniently in the hands of Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard, who turned and ran 98 yards for the go-ahead score.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed after the game that the design of the game should be low.
“It wasn’t executed the right way,” Harbaugh said. “Tyler went above and beyond. It’s a burrowing game. He has to go low. This is how the room is designed.
Huntley said he thought the defense gave him enough room on top, but he wished he had fallen low on the play.
“Yeah, maybe they wouldn’t have made it all the way,” Huntley said. “But at the time, I just felt like everyone was packed, they shot for our linemen’s legs, the (line)backers felt pretty good on the line, and I just tried to make a game.”
The Ravens are in the midst of a quarterback crisis. Jackson is on an expiring contract, and Baltimore has failed to reach an agreement with the former MVP in two offseason negotiations. While Baltimore has insisted they resume negotiations when the time is right, some have questioned Jackson’s interest in returning based on the fact that he has played the past six games with a knee injury. Further questions were raised Sunday night when the NBC show reported that Jackson hadn’t even traveled with the team for the Wild Card game.
Harbaugh did not comment on Jackson’s situation after the match, only praising Huntley – who was dealing with a pair of injuries on his own – for a brave effort in a difficult position.
“I think coming out of the shoulder and wrist injuries and fighting to get back on the court and give him everything he had (in) that kind of performance.”
The Ravens return to Baltimore to figure out where to go from here, and the Bengals advance to face the Bills in the Divisional Round.