Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson called the all-black uniforms Baltimore will wear for its “Thursday Night Football” showdown against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium “sexy.” Linebacker Roquan Smith said the motif brings to mind a “death row” defense. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. told The Baltimore Sun, “My daddy always said when the lights is on, it’s time to perform.”
Whatever hyperbole or emotions come to the fore, the Ravens’ prime-time showdown against the AFC North foe has all the trappings of a huge game, from uniform selection, to being under the lights as the NFL’s stand-alone contest, to a battle between superstar quarterbacks Jackson and Joe Burrow leading a pair of teams with Super Bowl aspirations.
“They’ll be excited to play,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of his players. “It’s a big deal.”
Added Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan: “This feels like a playoff game in November.”
It could have postseason implications, too.
A win by the Ravens (7-3) would all but bury the Bengals (5-4) in the race for the division title. Already, Baltimore went on the road and beat Cincinnati earlier this season, and another win would leave the Bengals 2 1/2 games back of the first-place Ravens with seven to go.
The Ravens’ first victory over the Bengals this season in Cincinnati was just a small measure of revenge against the team that ended their season 10 months ago in the wild-card round of the playoffs, a game Jackson missed because of a knee injury. This one, on the national stage, is “a heavyweight fight,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky told The Sun. “[It’s] the game of the season to this point.”
That’s why 33-year-old Ravens fan Blake Cavanagh is driving more than 300 miles from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Baltimore on Thursday morning. Though he grew up in Syracuse, New York, he’s been a fan of the team ever since the days of Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
After the Ravens lost to the Bengals in last year’s playoffs, Cavanagh, who has never been to a night game at M&T Bank Stadium, said he bought tickets to this game as soon as they became available, which was before the schedule was even announced.
“I had a feeling it was going to be prime-time game,” he said. “After both teams had terrible losses [last week] the energy in the Bank is going to be a different energy than a day game. The Bank is going to be rocking. We need this one. The division’s on the line.”
It’s also why 21-year-old Jordan Karpe plans to race out of his 5 p.m. international financial economics class at Loyola University Maryland as quickly as he can. His dad is a season ticket holder and Karpe, who grew up in Howard County, wasn’t missing this one.
“It’s definitely a different animal,” he said of the nighttime affair. “It’s electric. Alcohol consumption is a little higher than a Sunday 1 p.m. game. People are into it, especially with Cincinnati coming to town. It’s a massive game.”
That isn’t lost on the players, either.
The Ravens are coming off a brutal loss against the Cleveland Browns, who rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and kicked a game-winning field goal on the final play Sunday. That ended a four-game winning streak for Baltimore and more importantly brought the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and even the Bengals back into the division race. Cincinnati also stumbled with a shocking 30-27 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere,” Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen said, “especially with that team and what they’ve been doing lately.”
Added tight end Mark Andrews: “The world’s watching. We’ll all be up for that. Every game we’ve had we’ve been hyped up, geeked up for. There’s no difference for this game, but obviously it’s a special game. It’s Thursday night, all eyes on us.”
And on Jackson and Burrow, both of whom have put on some epic performances against each other over the years.
Jackson has a 7-1 mark against the Bengals in the regular season since taking over as the Ravens’ starter in 2018. Burrow, meanwhile, is just 3-3 against the Ravens in the regular season, but that includes two wins in 2021 in which he dominated Baltimore as he joined the realm of elite NFL quarterbacks.
What about their latest duel?
“For the Bengals to realistically think they can win the division, they’ve gotta win [this game],” Orlovsky said. “It’s a must-win.
“It’ll be fascinating to see which team and which quarterback can handle different pressure the best. Lamar has always struggled with all-out pressure versus Cincinnati and the all-out blitz. Joe’s always struggled with Baltimore’s simulated pressure. This game feels like it’s going to come down to that.”
The Ravens have also struggled to hold on to leads of late.
In their losses to the Indianapolis Colts, Steelers and Browns this season, they’ve blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. Going back to the start of last season, they’ve lost seven games in which they have led in the fourth quarter, tying them with the Colts for most in the NFL.
But when it comes to the Bengals, they haven’t had the same problems. The Ravens have won seven of their past 11 against Cincinnati dating to 2018, though the rivalry has been much closer in recent years with the Bengals having won three of the past five regular-season showdowns.
One of those losses for the Bengals came in their most recent visit to M&T Bank Stadium in October 2022 when Justin Tucker’s 43-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Ravens to a 19-17 victory. The Ravens wore all-black uniforms in what was a prime-time matchup then, too. Needless to say, Jackson is looking forward to another showdown under the lights.
“When you’re at M&T Bank Stadium at nighttime with our crowd, it’s electrifying,” he said. “So, I’m definitely pumped to be in that atmosphere.”