With dominant win, Bengals get revenge, send Ravens a message

MIKE PRESTON
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh looks on during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

The Cincinnati Bengals made another statement Sunday, but with an exclamation point.

It was nasty, too.

Not only did the Bengals beat the Ravens, 41-21, to take over first place in the AFC North, they embarrassed them. It was reminiscent of what happened in the playoffs nearly two years ago when the Tennessee Titans danced on the Ravens’ logo at midfield of M&T Bank Stadium and then beat the No. 1 seed Ravens, 28-12, in the divisional round.

The stakes weren’t as high Sunday, but the Bengals sent a message. They remember last October, when Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale publicly criticized them for kicking a 38-yard field goal while trailing 27-0 with 32 seconds left in the game.

The final score was 27-3 and it ruined the Ravens’ first shutout since Week 6 of the 2018 season. Martindale was mad, but Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor was probably even more irritated after reading Martindale’s comments.

Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale looks on during an NFL preseason football game against the New Orleans Saints Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

And so, Taylor and the Bengals got their revenge.

Not only did they send a message to the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers that there is a big boy on the block again out of Cincinnati, but Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow bombed the secondary for a franchise-record 525 yards and four touchdowns.

The Bengals probably also think Burrow got snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting with the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson being the top three quarterbacks in the AFC. For this season, Burrow has outplayed Jackson.

But that’s minor stuff.

Adding to the Ravens' humiliation: The biggest part of the humiliation came when the Bengals threw a 52-yard pass to running back Joe Mixon when they were up by 20 points with two minutes left in the game.

“They call their plays, we call our plays,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

That’s good advice, but he probably should have shared that with Martindale last year. That’s also coach speak. When one coach runs up the score on another, there usually isn’t a lot said afterward. But coaches and players have short memories. Harbaugh has run up the score on some teams in the past. Few coaches did it more than his brother Jim when he was the leader of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014.

Ravens try to downplay events: Some Ravens tried to downplay the events Sunday.

“Try to pick it off,” safety Tony Jefferson II of the 52-yard pass. “I really don’t honestly care what they’re calling on the other side. If they’re throwing it in the air, that’s an opportunity for us on defense to get a turnover. So, I don’t care what the score is or what time was left. They’re going to do what they want on their side; we’re going to do what we want on our side and that’s defend the ball.”

The Bengals did what they wanted to do.

They lit the Ravens up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. There were long passes, short passes, tightly contested receptions and short gainers that turned into long ones on slants across the middle. Some of this was expected because the Ravens were without three starters in the secondary and they haven’t been able to get a strong, consistent pass rush for most of the year.

But then the Bengals went crazy. Up 34-21 with 14:54 left in the game, the Bengals scored on an eight-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. All eight plays were passes. If that didn’t tick the Ravens off, maybe the next possession did. Cincinnati started at the Ravens’ 34 with about eight minutes left and went ahead 41-21.

Instead of running the ball, the Bengals threw six straight passes from the shotgun formation. They didn’t even respect the Ravens enough to put a runner in the backfield like they were thinking about passing. They didn’t care about Burrow possibly getting hurt, either.

They just wanted to crush the Ravens. Minutes later, they threw the 52-yard bomb.

“It’s football. We’re on the field playing football. So, [if] they’ve got a chance to do something … I know if I was on the other side, and I had a chance to do something, I’d try to do it,” said linebacker Patrick Queen, who played with Burrow at LSU. “So, it is what it is, and we’ll see them again soon.”

This embarrassment will sting: The humiliation will bug the Ravens.

They are competitors. They shouldn’t have been happy with the way receiver Ja’Marr Chase spun the ball on their sideline in the second half of the game after getting a first down. And even though Burrow has outplayed Jackson this season, the Pro Bowl is basically a beauty contest. Once you get voted in, you’re set for the next two or three years.

More importantly, though, the AFC North is no longer a two-team race between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. At the beginning of the season, Cleveland was expected to challenge for supremacy, but the Browns are still the Browns. Cincinnati, though, has stepped up, and they stepped on the Ravens on Sunday.

Two years ago, the Ravens had to remember the Titans.

Now, they need to remember the Bengals.