Mike Preston: Ravens nothing special in win over Bengals, but they can still have a special season



The Ravens won.

That’s the best thing you can say about the team’s 34-20 win against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens (8-3) beat the Bengals (5-5) for the second time this season and expanded their lead in the AFC North over the Cleveland Browns (6-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3), who will face off Sunday.

But there isn’t much more to learn from Thursday’s game when it comes to how far the Ravens might go in the postseason.

The Ravens lost tight end Mark Andrews to a likely season-ending ankle injury after he was tackled near the goal line by linebacker Logan Wilson following a 9-yard reception with 11:05 left in the first quarter.

That’s devastating news, almost as significant as the Browns announcing Wednesday that quarterback Deshaun Watson will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury he suffered last week in Baltimore.

Regardless, the Ravens won, and that’s all that matters. Last Sunday, they lost to Cleveland, 33-31, after taking leads of 24-9 and 31-17 in the second half.

If they had lost to Cincinnati on Thursday night, they might not have been able to recover. But the Ravens were about to do enough on both sides of the ball to close out the much-needed victory.

It wasn’t a super performance, but it provided a sense of relief over at The Castle.

There was nothing special about the win. The Ravens had 405 yards of total offense and held the Bengals to 272, but they weren’t dominant. They were good enough to win, especially against a team that lost star quarterback Joe Burrow to a wrist injury late in the first half.

There were a lot of things to like, such as quarterback Lamar Jackson’s accuracy on short to intermediate throws as he completed 16 of 26 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens finally started getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers, including receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (four catches for 116 yards) and Zay Flowers (3 for 43) and running backs Gus Edwards (12 carries for 62 yards) and rookie Keaton Mitchell (8 for 33).

Defensively, the Ravens held the Bengals to 136 passing yards and 2-for-11 on third down. The Ravens delivered a complete effort against backup quarterback Jake Browning in the final two quarters, but they were far from elite for the second straight week.

In fact, they looked vulnerable against the run. A week ago, Cleveland pushed the Ravens around to the tune of 178 rushing yards, and the Bengals piled up 136 on Thursday.

That scares me, and so does Jackson’s inaccuracy on deep passes.

We’ve seen that cause problems in the postseason early in Jackson’s career when opposing teams would take away the middle of the field and force him to throw outside the numbers. The results were not good.

It’s worse now that the Ravens will be without Andrews, Jackson’s go-to receiver and favorite target inside the red zone. The Ravens were already struggling because they didn’t have a consistent receiving threat on the outside, but at least they had Andrews to work the inside of the field.

Now they have no one. The Ravens were so desperate Thursday that they put fullback Patrick Ricard at tight end. It wasn’t because he could catch, but because he was the only tight end on the roster who could block. Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar are better receivers than blockers.

The remaining part of the Ravens’ schedule is much more difficult. It’s filled with playoff contenders such as the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Steelers.

You would feel better about the Ravens’ chances in the postseason if this team had a history of recent success, but they don’t have that pedigree.

They are a team that has lost double-digit leads six times since the start of last season, and they have a quarterback in Jackson who has 13 touchdowns and 13 turnovers in the fourth quarter over the past three years. Compared with his peers Burrow (25 touchdowns, 11 turnovers), Josh Allen (29, 11) and Patrick Mahomes (21, 10) over the same period, it’s clear that it’s not good enough.

But that’s all for down the road.

The Ravens set themselves up with a win Thursday because they don’t play another game for 10 days, followed by the Week 13 bye.

That’s not a bad position to be in at this point of the season.

They could have lost.

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