Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson entered Thursday’s pivotal AFC North showdown with a 7-1 record against the Cincinnati Bengals, and tight end Mark Andrews was a big reason why.
Jackson’s ability to rely on Andrews, the signal caller’s security blanket, has been crucial in games against the division rival. Andrews had scored seven touchdowns in his 10 career regular-season games against the Bengals, including one in each of his past three.
It appeared Thursday would be more of the same, as Jackson hit Andrews for a 14-yard reception on the game’s first play and later found him for a 9-yard catch in the red zone. But Andrews suffered an ankle injury on the play that knocked him out of the game — and likely will for the season — forcing the Ravens’ much-discussed wide receiver corps to step up.
That it did, helping lead Baltimore to a 34-20 win.
Odell Beckham Jr. had his first 100-yard game as a Raven, stacking a third straight impactful week after missing two games earlier this season because of injury and failing to record a catch in Week 8. Zay Flowers had a long touchdown — perhaps the most impressive by a Raven this season — called back by a questionable penalty. Rashod Bateman scored his first touchdown of the season to extend the Ravens’ lead. And Nelson Agholor was in the right place at the right time for a score of his own.
“The guys in the receivers room, we were due for a big game, so I’m just happy for all of them,” Beckham said. “There is a lot of hard work that goes into it.”
Replacing Andrews will be no easy task, but coach John Harbaugh said the effort from his wideouts is a blueprint.
“You say next man up, it’s not just the next player in that position, it’s all the men, it’s all the players stepping up and filling that,” Harbaugh said. “To replace a player like Mark Andrews, it’s going to take everybody. It’s going to take a team to do it, and our guys will be up for the challenge and up for the task, but those receivers are obviously going to be a big part of that.”
Jackson wasn’t as jovial as he’d normally be after a double-digit win over a division foe. He said losing Andrews for the season is “very tough” and acknowledged it’s a significant loss for the offense, calling the tight end the offense’s “receiver [No.] 1 sometimes.”
“That’s the guy who I entered the league with,” Jackson said. “We’ve been bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly — whatever you want to call it. It’s very tough, because that’s my boy.”
But Jackson also expressed his belief that the Ravens have the tools to replace Andrews in the aggregate. Bolstering the quarterback’s wide receiving corps was a point of emphasis this offseason, as the team signed Beckham to a $15 million contract, drafted Flowers in the first round and also brought in Agholor via free agency.
“We have guys who are going to step up,” Jackson said.
Beckham did not reach the end zone Thursday, but he led the receivers in receptions (four) and yards (116). The 31-year-old scored his first touchdown of the season in Week 9 against the Detroit Lions and found the end zone again Sunday versus the Cleveland Browns. He has more yards over the past three games (212) than he did through Week 8.
Beckham, who has torn his ACL twice, said injuries like Andrews’ are the “hardest part about this game.”
“It’s just tough, so just as brothers, you’ve got to be there for him,” said Beckham, who also left with a shoulder injury that he and Harbaugh said isn’t serious. “I’ve been through it; it’s not easy. It’s very unfortunate. It’s a big hit for this team. Mark has been an integral part of this team since [he] and Lamar have been here.
“So, we’ve just got to find a way to step up.”
Beckham’s last 100-yard game in the regular season came in October 2019 when he was with the Browns. His 116 yards Thursday were his most since October 2018 when he played for the New York Giants.
Jackson said he believes his chemistry with Beckham is on the verge of “skyrocketing,” while Beckham said Thursday was another “step in the right direction.”
The first big play from a receiver came from Flowers, whose 33-yard catch-and-run broke a Ravens rookie record. That catch was the 51st of Flowers’ season, breaking Torrey Smith’s franchise mark of 50. Flowers, who caught three passes for 43 yards, is on pace for 81 receptions and 908 yards.
The best play from a Ravens wideout Thursday didn’t count, as Flowers took a screen pass from Jackson, wove between a few Bengals defenders and outran the rest to the end zone for what appeared to be a 68-yard score. But Beckham was called for a hold, negating what would’ve been Flowers’ second career score.
“I’m still upset about the blocking [penalty],” Beckham said. “You can score all the touchdowns in the world, but we talk about that moment where you spring the block for your boy to score, your brother to score. It’s unfortunate. I was the happiest, just seeing [Flowers] on the Jumbotron, running and scoring.”
The dubious holding call didn’t hurt the Ravens, though, thanks to Agholor — and a bit of luck.
With the Ravens trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, Jackson’s third-down pass attempt was tipped into the air by a Bengals linebacker. The ball deflected right into Agholor’s hands, and the 30-year-old sprinted for a 37-yard score — doing a front flip into the end zone.
“He needs to give me some tips on how to do the flip, because last time I did it, I hurt my butt when I landed,” Jackson said with a laugh, referencing his attempt at it in Baltimore’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021. “He needs to give me some lessons, because he did a whole somersault. That was crazy.”
Two minutes later, Jackson led a two-minute drive that ended with another touchdown on third down. Bateman, whose season began in a fashion similar to Beckham’s, sprung open in the end zone for a 10-yard score — his first since Week 2 last season.
“You just need those things to get that monkey off your back, and I’m just so happy for him — just to see him smile,” Beckham said.
Jackson, despite playing through a bothered ankle, bounced back from his poor performance Sunday for one of the best passing games of his season (16-of-26 for 264 yards and two touchdowns). But he was even better when targeting his wideouts. His 14 targets to Beckham, Flowers, Agholor and Bateman ended in nine catches for 206 yards and both scores.
“That’s what we wanted,” Harbaugh said. “You want to be able to spread it around [and] give Lamar [Jackson] options like that.”
Without Andrews, the Ravens will need more of what they received against the Bengals from both Jackson and their receivers. Jackson will be without his trusted friend for the rest of the season, but Thursday might have proved he’s got even more out wide.