Bengals' defense comes up big to spark win vs. Ravens in NFL … – USA TODAY

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The Cincinnati Bengals preserved their chance at Super Bowl redemption by escaping against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, setting up a date against the Buffalo Bills in next week’s divisional round of the playoffs. 
What developed into a classic AFC North matchup, the Bengals used a 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to propel them to a 24-17 win. The two teams went shot for shot one week after they had squared off in the regular season finale, a 27-16 Bengals win that guaranteed the game in Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium. 
This victory was not without arguably the most dramatic swing of the NFL postseason thus far.  
With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley – listed questionable with an injury to his throwing shoulder and starting in place of Lamar Jackson – had the Ravens on the verge of taking a lead of their own.
From the 1-yard line, Huntley lunged for the goal line. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson knocked the ball away and it fell into the hands of defensive end Sam Hubbard, who ran 98 yards the other way for six points. 
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The Bengals had to survive another Ravens surge later in the fourth quarter. Baltimore started a drive on Cincinnati’s 46-yard line but, needing a touchdown, came up short after reaching the red zone. 
Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase had nine catches (12 targets) for 84 yards and a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter that put the Bengals up 9-0. But the Ravens, which entered with the second-ranked rushing defense in the league, contained the Bengals on the ground (51 team rushing yards). Quarterback Joe Burrow was 23 of 32 for 209 yards and a touchdown. 
Here is what we learned from the final game, and third thriller, of Wild Card Sunday: 
Beating a divisional opponent twice in consecutive weeks is nothing to scoff at. The prize for the Bengals is a trip to Buffalo with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. 
Cincinnati appeared in control before Huntley mounted a second-half comeback attempt. He connected with Demarcus Robinson for a 41-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17, with cornerback Eli Apple beat badly. On the next Ravens drive, Huntley found tight end Mark Andrews for 25 yards and ran for 35 yards down the 1-yard line before his pivotal fumble. 
Burrow remains undefeated (4-0) against AFC opponents in the postseason.
An offseason of question marks surrounding Jackson and a long-term deal awaits. The primary bargaining point during talks that stalled prior to this season was about the amount of guaranteed money. Jackson sought to bet on himself and played well – but not at MVP level like he did in 2019 – before his season ended with a knee injury in Week 13. 
The loss highlighted the dependency of offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme on Jackson’s skill set. The entire season has been an indictment of the lack of receiver depth.
On defense, the Ravens have a solid foundation. Their performance against the Bengals – and for the majority of the season – showed that. 
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey and inside linebacker Roquan Smith are signed to long-term deals, while linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Kyle Hamilton are on rookie contracts.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Ravens offense continued to huddle despite needing a touchdown. They entered the drive with two timeouts remaining and didn’t use one until the clock was stopped at third-and-20.
Veteran offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler was called for holding that brought them out of the red zone and Huntley could not find anything down the field. A final Hail Mary attempt to the end zone was almost caught by James Proche but fell to the ground, ending the Ravens’ season. 
Left tackle Jonah Williams exited with a left knee injury, further depleting the offensive line.
The Bengals were already without guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’el Collins, both of whom were offseason free agent signings brought in to enhance Burrow’s protection. Burrow was sacked four times against Baltimore and not having Williams for the rest of the playoffs would be an obvious further blow. 
The Bengals led the league in time of possession (31:55) during the regular season and had the ball for more than 12 minutes in the first quarter thanks to Huntley’s interception.  
In the second quarter, Baltimore’s offense rebounded for a 17-play, 75-yard that lasted 10:03, capped by a J.K. Dobbins touchdown reception as he stretched over the goal line. The Ravens got the ball back quickly thereafter following a Hayden Hurst fumble, forced and recovered by Hamilton. That set up a Justin Tucker field goal before halftime that sent the Ravens into the locker room with a 10-9 advantage. 
Unclear. Jackson did not travel with the team to Cincinnati.
What is evident, however, is that the Ravens’ offense is reliant on Jackson. The two touchdowns scored by the offense were the most since his absence Dec. 4 against the Denver Broncos. 
The initial prognosis for the injury, a PCL sprain, was 1-3 weeks. But Jackson has not so much as practiced since that injury, and on Thursday, he offered his first update on the injury. 
“I’ve suffered a PCL grade 2 sprain on the borderline of a strain 3,” Jackson wrote on Twitter. “There is still inflammation surrounding my knee and my knee remains unstable.”
Jackson added that he would not be able to give “100% of myself to my guys and fans.” 
Pressed repeatedly if Jackson’s injury was more serious than initially thought, Harbaugh declined to elaborate, citing that he couldn’t comment on specific player injuries. 
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.


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