The only bonus coin flip in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon came on a mocking celebration from Bengals running back Joe Mixon after a first-half touchdown.
All discussion of playoff possibilities this week — and the potential of a coin flip giving the Ravens a home playoff game — was rendered moot when the Bengals took an early led and held on for a 27-16 win at Paycor Stadium. The Ravens (10-7) will return to Cincinnati next week as the No. 6 seed for a second straight matchup with the Bengals (12-4), this time in an AFC wild-card showdown.
After Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in a frightening moment during Monday’s game against the Bengals, causing the game to be called off, the NFL announced unprecedented rules this week to clarify the playoff picture. If the Ravens had defeated the Bengals and the teams were set to play again in the first round of the playoffs, the NFL decided that a coin flip would determine home-field advantage.
The Ravens won the game’s opening coin flip to determine possession, but that was the last heads-or-tails decision of the day, as the Ravens, who benched several key players and started their third-string quarterback, couldn’t overcome a first-half deficit in Cincinnati.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his fifth straight game with a left knee injury and backup Tyler Huntley was also inactive with shoulder and wrist injuries. Other starters, including tight end Mark Andrews, running back J.K. Dobbins, right guard Kevin Zeitler and cornerback Marcus Peters, were inactive as the Ravens sought to rest key players ahead of the postseason.
The Bengals made it clear this week that they weren’t happy that the Ravens would have a chance to host a playoff game between the teams while finishing with a worse winning percentage. That was emphasized after Cincinnati’s first touchdown Sunday, when Mixon pulled out a coin, flipped it and kicked it away as part of his celebration after a score that made it 10-0.
Undrafted rookie quarterback Anthony Brown made his first career start for the Ravens, and the first half wasn’t kind to him. He threw two interceptions and also fumbled in the end zone, which the Bengals recovered for a touchdown just before halftime. Brown finished 19-for-44 for 286 yards — the most for a Ravens quarterback since Jackson threw for 318 yards in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins — and was sacked four times.
The Bengals scored three touchdowns off those first three turnovers, and their 21 first-half points off those takeaways were the most by any NFL team this season and the most against the Ravens since 2007.
Baltimore trailed, 24-7, at halftime. Their lone touchdown came on a 4-yard run from Kenyan Drake to cap a 76-yard drive.
In the second half, Ravens rookie linebacker David Ojabo strip-sacked Burrow to set up a 26-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that made it 24-10. The Bengals responded with a 26-yard field goal of their own before two more Tucker kicks — from 51 and 27 yards — finalized the scoring.
The Ravens threatened to flip the script late as Sammy Watkins caught a 47-yard pass into Bengals territory. However, he fumbled on the play, giving Cincinnati the ball back with an 11-point lead and 2:56 to go.
Burrow completed 25 of 42 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown for the Bengals. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith led the Ravens with 16 tackles, including 12 solo.
Baltimore’s wide receivers didn’t always help Brown out. One of his interceptions bounced off the hands of Demarcus Robinson, who caught just two of his nine targets for 24 yards, and on one would-be big play, James Proche stepped out of bounds before reeling in a catch, nullifying a gain that finished just short of the goal line. Ravens wide receivers were targeted 17 times but caught just five of them.
Rookie tight ends had a strong showing, as Isaiah Likely caught eight of his 13 targets for a game-high 103 yards, and Charlie Kolar caught his first career passes, tallying four grabs on six targets for 49 yards. Watkins had 79 yards on two catches.
The Ravens will soon be back in Cincinnati for a rematch with the Bengals, and they should have more weapons available.
Players who rested Sunday, including the team’s top pass-catcher, Andrews, are expected to be back. But the defense — which was largely at full strength — will seek to have a stronger showing against the Bengals, who have won eight games in a row dating to October.
With next week’s opponent and location decided, attention on the Ravens this week will shift even more to availability — particularly at quarterback. Huntley was inactive Sunday after being limited during the week with shoulder and wrist injuries but is expected to be ready after saying on Friday that he’s “got a good chance” to play Sunday’s game.
And coach John Harbaugh said Friday that Jackson, the team’s starting quarterback for the past four seasons and the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player, is still recovering from his knee injury. Jackson’s return would obviously give the Ravens’ offense a lift; since his injury in December, oddsmakers have cut the Ravens’ chances to win the AFC in half.
“We’ll be hopeful for next week,” Harbaugh said Friday of Jackson potentially playing in the postseason. “We’ll just see where we’re at then.”
This story will be updated.