Sports

QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens focused on not letting loss to Bengals linger

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens’ 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday dropped them from the top spot in the AFC as well as first place in the AFC North.

But players insist the largest margin of defeat in the Lamar Jackson era did not decimate their confidence or championship aspirations. The Ravens (5-2) aren’t going to dwell on this loss heading into their bye week and will focus on the remaining 10 games.

“We can’t let this beat us twice,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It’s one game. It hurts. It’s going to burn. [It was a] division game at home, but at the end of the day, [we have] a whole lot of football left to play. It’s as simple as that.”

Campbell later added, “In the second half of the season, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure.”

Despite the loss, the Ravens still matched the best start in franchise history. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Baltimore an 81.2% chance of reaching the playoffs (only the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans have a better projection in the AFC).

What that loss to the Bengals revealed was Jackson’s playmaking can’t make up for all of Baltimore’s injuries and weaknesses. The secondary has to cut down on big plays allowed. The offense has to get more out of its running backs.

An encouraging sign for the Ravens is how they’ve maintained an even keel throughout the emotional comebacks and big wins. Players didn’t pound their chest after routing the Chargers by 28 points on Oct. 17. And they weren’t hanging their heads after falling to Cincinnati by 24 points a week later.

“We just move on,” Jackson said. “They played a great game. I feel like our guys played a great game as well, a little bit, here and there. But they got the ‘W.’ We’re going to go into next week, [and] we’re going to work, see where we messed up at when we watch film and [just] move on.”

Baltimore has shown resiliency under Jackson. In 2019, the Ravens started off 2-2 before reeling off 12 straight wins. Last season, Baltimore was 6-5 to start December before winning its last five games in the regular season. In Jackson’s two previous losses by double digits, the Ravens won the following game.

Asked why he’s optimistic about where this team can go, rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman said, “Because I know where we are. I mean, we put it on tape. The world has seen it. We just have to continue to do it consistently. So, I just know we need to do that moving forward.”

Here are the two biggest Ravens’ fix-it items for the bye week:

    • Reduce big pass plays: The Ravens became the third team all time to allow three 400-yard passers in the first seven games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The root of the problem has been wrapping up receivers. Baltimore has given up an NFL-worst 1,200 yards after the catch — 165 more than any other team. Baltimore, which lost Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to a season-ending knee injury just before the start of the season, has historically not surrendered many big plays. Last season, the Ravens gave up nine passes of 30 yards or more, which were the fewest in the NFL. Through seven games, Baltimore has allowed 13 completions of 30-plus yards, which are tied for the most in the league.

      “The biggest problem we have on defense right now in terms of big plays is not getting guys on the ground,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s been an on and off problem all year. Until we get that fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking. Our guys understand that.”

    • Improve production from running backs: Over the past four weeks, Baltimore’s running backs have totaled 242 yards rushing, which ranks sixth-worst in the NFL. The group of former Pro Bowl runners — Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell — are averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season. This shouldn’t come as a shock after Baltimore lost its top two running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards) to season-ending knee injuries before the start of the season. The offensive line has dealt with several injuries, including a season-ending ankle injury with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Baltimore hasn’t opened up holes as it has in the past, and the running backs are averaging a league-low 1.3 yards after first contact.“We just have to block better, scheme better, run better,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have an opportunity to go on another run after the bye. Baltimore plays host to the Minnesota Vikings before playing at the Miami Dolphins and at the Chicago Bears. Those teams have a combined 7-13 record (.350).

After the Ravens’ largest margin of defeat in four years, Harbaugh emphasized that no one should jump to any grand conclusions from one game.

“We played our worst game of the season, worst game in a long time,” Harbaugh said. “It’s week to week. A week ago, you’re being crowned the best ever and we’re sitting there saying ‘Whoa, whoa, it’s one week.’ Now you want to say ‘What’s wrong with the run game, what’s wrong with the pass game, you guys are terrible.’ We’re like ‘Whoa, whoa, it’s one week.’ It’s the same message from us.”

Harbaugh then asked how many games the Ravens have left to play.

“The worst we can do is 5-12, I promise you that,” he said. “What’s the best we can do? 15-2. So, we’re going to be somewhere between 15-2 and 5-12. That’s a guarantee. What we end up being is up to us and how well we play.”

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