Instant analysis from Ravens’ 27-16 loss to Cincinnati Bengals

Here’s what the Baltimore Sun sports staff had to say immediately after the Ravens’ 27-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday’s Week 18 regular-season finale at Paycor Stadium.

Childs Walker, reporter: Victory was not John Harbaugh’s chief goal Sunday, as we saw when J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews, Kevin Zeitler and Tyler Huntley appeared on the inactive list 90 minutes before the game. Harbaugh instead focused on resting key starters and holding much of his playbook in reserve in anticipation of a possible playoff rematch with the Bengals next weekend. Given his approach, it’s largely pointless to dissect what happened on the field in Cincinnati.

Quarterback Anthony Brown, making his first NFL start, threw a pair of first-half interceptions, one his fault and the other not so much. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow capitalized, just what we’d expect from one of the best players and hottest offenses in the NFL. Did this tell us much about what we’ll see when the Ravens and Bengals meet next? Probably not. If anything, the Ravens can take heart from the fact they would have been right in the game if not for those turnovers. Their defense fought all the way and did not let the Bengals run wild. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely delivered an impressive performance. The Ravens will come back to Cincinnati next weekend thinking they have a chance to win with all their guys back in the lineup.

Mike Preston, columnist: Because the Ravens didn’t play six starters, does this game count as a preseason loss and break their NFL record for preseason wins at 23? The Ravens were smart not playing starters and gearing up for the postseason. The Bengals were very conservative on offense and showed little. At times, quarterback Joe Burrow was sloppy floating passes. Both teams were chippy, which only adds intrigue to next weekend’s playoff game between the division rivals. The head coaches aren’t best friends either.

Hayes Gardner, reporter: If the Ravens hadn’t turned the ball over four times, they might have had a chance to win. Despite a mostly poor performance, that’s reason for hope for next week. The Ravens will need to play better defense, catch the ball better and have better quarterback play. It’s a lot to ask. But if Lamar Jackson is able to play next week, Baltimore will at least have a shot.

Edward Lee, reporter: Considering the mounting injuries before and during the game, Sunday’s outcome wasn’t terribly surprising. With the Ravens suffering back-to-back losses to close the regular season, fans might worry about a lack of momentum. That might change if players like J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters get healthy this week. And if Lamar Jackson returns, this setback could provide all the fuel the Ravens need to stoke their competitive fires for next week’s game against the Bengals once again.

C.J. Doon, editor: Given the way things started for the Ravens, with three turnovers from rookie quarterback Anthony Brown turning into three Bengals touchdowns and a 24-7 halftime deficit, you have to like the fight they showed in the second half. With J.K. Dobbins and Mark Andrews inactive and Gus Edwards knocked out early with a head injury, the offense found a spark with rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, who finished with seven catches for a career-high 91 yards. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins also made two big plays before fumbling late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps most encouragingly, the defense responded nicely after giving up a couple of big plays in the first half, forcing five punts, a turnover on downs and a strip-sack by rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo in the second half. The Bengals, meanwhile, lost starting right guard Alex Cappa to an ankle injury, further depleting a banged-up offensive line. With a rematch against Cincinnati next week, the Ravens at least showed they can be a handful when they get closer to full strength. Now all eyes turn towards quarterback Lamar Jackson and his availability.

Tim Schwartz, editor: The turnovers turning into 21 points was surely disappointing, but you have to like the Ravens’ fight as they gear toward the playoffs. Nobody expected them to beat the Bengals with rookie Anthony Brown under center, but they made a game of it in the second half as they shut down Joe Burrow and Cincinnati’s offense. A rematch awaits, and all eyes turn toward Lamar Jackson and his injured knee. Wednesday’s practice will be telling for his status. They would have no chance without Jackson, but even still, how healthy — and effective — will he be after missing more than a month? It’s among the NFL’s most intriguing storylines this week, but that’s nothing new in Baltimore.


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