CINCINNATI (AP)In the locker room after the Bengals beat the Ravens, Joe Burrow handed out cigars to his teammates to celebrate a 12-4 season that included winning a second consecutive AFC North title for the first time in franchise history.
Like many games for Cincinnati this season, Sunday’s 27-16 win over a Baltimore team that rested many key players was at times beautiful and at times unsightly for the home team.
The Bengals have more than minor concerns heading into the first round of the playoffs next Sunday night on the same field against the same team.
But that didn’t stop Burrow from urging his teammates to recognize their accomplishments before they move on. And they did. Loudly. The quarterback said winning the division is the ”standard now” for a team that reached the Super Bowl a year ago.
”We’re going to celebrate it every single time we do it,” he said. ”We’re going to smoke our cigars and wear our T-shirts and hats, but we expect that every year.”
The Bengals’ eighth straight win came at the end of week full of emotional ups and downs and concern for Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who went into cardiac arrest on the same Paycor Stadium turf and had to be revived early in a Jan. 2 game that was suspended and ultimately canceled. Hamlin continues to recover at a Cincinnati hospital.
”It was a long week,” Burrow said. ”I think guys started feeling better at the end of the week when we started getting some good updates. At the beginning of the week, it was tough.”
Without much on the line Sunday, the Ravens rested many of their best players. Star quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his fifth straight game with a knee injury. His backup, Tyler Huntley, has also been banged up and got the day off. Running back J.K. Dobbins was a healthy scratch. So were tight end Mark Andrews, guard Kevin Zeitler and cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Bengals can count on seeing a different, more formidable Ravens team Sunday night, even if Jackson is still sidelined.
”There’s no easy path into the NFL, into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl,” Burrow said. ”The harder it is, the better it will feel.”
The defense took full advantage of mistakes by Baltimore’s rookie quarterback, Anthony Brown, who was starting his first NFL game. Interceptions by safety Jessie Bates and cornerback Mike Hilton both turned into short-field touchdowns for the offense. Brown fumbled the ball away in his own end zone during one of the four times he was sacked.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
After jumping out to a 24-7 lead at halftime, the Bengals’ offense fell flat. Burrow acknowledged that he ”missed throws I usually make.” The run game went nowhere. In the second half, Cincinnati punted five times and turned the ball over on downs and via a Burrow fumble. The Bengals’ only points came from a 26-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.
”It’s just not enough consistency,” coach Zac Taylor said. ”We had some three-and-outs and some third-and-1s, fourth-and-1s. Tough situation there and just not enough. (We) didn’t put our guys in a good enough position, didn’t execute well enough in some instances as well. Not our sharpest game that we’ve had.”
DE Joseph Ossai has been a solid backup this season. Against the Ravens, he had four tackles, including a sack, and was credited with two quarterback hurries. Perhaps most important, he was the first player to notice that Brown had lost his grip on the ball while being sacked by Hendrickson in the end zone. The second-year pro from Texas gathered it for the first TD of his career.
Joe Mixon gained 27 yards on 11 carries as the Bengals all but abandoned the ineffective run game.
RG Alex Cappa left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. That might be trouble. If he can’t play – he was on a scooter in the postgame locker room – the Bengals will have backups starting in both spots on the right side of the offensive line. Hakeem Adeniji is already filling in at right tackle since La’el Collins tore his ACL. The Bengals will count on Max Scharping, a fourth-year pro who previously played for Houston, to sub for Cappa if necessary.
7 – Punts by Drue Chrisman against the Ravens, the most in the seven games since he took over the job from Kevin Huber.
Get ready for a Ravens team that will have better players on the field and be way more motivated for the opening round of the playoffs Sunday night. Considering the number of skirmishes and postgame grousing about cheap shots, this third meeting between the division rivals this season could get chippy.
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