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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Matt Verderame

Bengals-Ravens Takeaways: Burrow Injury Looms Large, Lamar Jackson Boosts MVP Case

On Thursday night in Baltimore, the Ravens beat the Bengals, 34–20, giving them a 2 and 1/2 game lead in the AFC North over their rivals from southern Ohio. Yet the result of a key game rife with playoff implications took a back seat to a pair of significant injuries.

The big story is Joe Burrow injuring his right wrist in the second quarter before being ruled out. There was also Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews, who injured his left ankle on the game’s first drive and never returned. John Harbaugh later told reporters that the injury is likely season-ending.

As for Andrews, losing him would be a crushing blow to Baltimore’s passing attack. Coming into Thursday, the All-Pro tight end was second on the Ravens in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (521) while notching six touchdowns through the air, one more than the rest of Baltimore’s roster combined.

Here’s our five top takeaways from a primetime tilt loaded with importance:

1. The Bengals’ season rests on the right wrist of Joe Burrow

Burrow left in the second quarter of Thursday’s game with a wrist injury.

Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

At 5–5 and facing nothing but teams at or above .500 over their final seven games, the Bengals can’t afford to lose Burrow for any length of time.

With the Steelers and Jaguars coming up on their schedule, Burrow being sidelined would put an immense amount of pressure on backup Jake Browning against two well coached defenses. As for Browning, he’s never made an NFL start.

After surviving Burrow’s early season calf injury, Cincinnati finally seemed to be on track with strong wins over the 49ers and Bills. Then, an upset loss to the Texans last Sunday, followed by Burrow’s latest ailment, could spell doom. 

2. Lamar Jackson strengthened his MVP case with TNF performance

In a year where nobody has taken hold of the MVP race, Jackson helped his cause.

The 2019 MVP had a quality performance against the undermanned and overwhelmed Bengals, throwing for 264 yards on a whopping 10.4 YPA with two touchdowns and zero turnovers. Jackson also ran for 54 yards, helping extend multiple drives.

Although the stat line wasn’t incredible, it was solid and Jackson now has 11 touchdown passes on the season. It was a good win for Baltimore, and considering the game happened in a standalone window, it means more for narrative than a good Sunday afternoon showing. 

3. NFL officiating needs a serious review this offseason

For years, fans have complained about the way games have been officiated, ranging from bizarre roughing the passer calls, to inconsistent interpretations of pass interference.

While the entirety of Thursday night is worth a review, looking at Baltimore’s scoring drive before halftime is more than adequate. Leading 14–10 and taking over at their own 20-yard line, the Ravens had third-and-10 and threw incomplete, but officials whistled Chidobe Awuzie for a dubious pass interference call. Then, on first-and-20 at Cincinnati’s 38-yard line, another phantom pass interference call went against rookie corner DJ Turner II, giving Baltimore new life.

With more and more states allowing for gambling, and more money on the line for millions of fans than ever before, the officiating needs to be a top priority for the league. Whether it’s making officials full-time employees or simplifying the rulebook for the sake of consistency, something must be done. It’s been a mess this year (and in other recent years) far too often.

Jackson solidified both his MVP prospects and the Ravens’ playoff chances with his performance Thursday.

Matt Rourke/AP

4. Playoff statuses are clear after Ravens’ win over Bengals

With their win over Cincinnati, Baltimore is 8–3 and a full game ahead of the Steelers and Browns in the AFC North. Cleveland hosts Pittsburgh this weekend, so while one team will climb back to within a 1/2 game, the other will fall back. Additionally, with the Browns losing quarterback Deshaun Watson for the year, Cleveland appears destined to fight for a wild card.

Baltimore is also tied with the Chiefs for the AFC’s top seed, with Kansas City hosting the Eagles on Monday night. However, the Ravens still have a brutal schedule ahead, including games with the Chargers, Jaguars and 49ers on the road.

As for the Bengals, the postseason could be a pipe dream depending on Burrow’s status. Even if Burrow can return quickly, Cincinnati has a long road. The Bengals have five conference losses, meaning they might realistically be able to afford one more loss. The schedule isn’t their friend, either, with two games left against the Steelers, along with visits to Jacksonville and Kansas City.

5. Mike Macdonald’s coaching prospects continue to improve

Macdonald is one of the hot names around the league as a coordinator who could make the jump to head coach come 2024. He did nothing to hurt his cause Thursday night.

Macdonald, 36, took over for longtime coordinator Wink Martindale last year after serving as a Baltimore assistant from 2014 to ‘20 before working under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan in ’21 as a defensive coordinator.

Under his hand, the Ravens entered the night allowing a league-best 15.7 points per game, ranking first in sacks (39) and are second in yards allowed per game (273.6). Even before Burrow left with a wrist injury, the star quarterback was limited to 101 passing yards on 5.9 yards per attempt. All told, Cincinnati was stifled, scoring 20 points while surrendering five more sacks.

Come the regular season’s conclusion, don’t be surprised if Macdonald is on the short list for a litany of vacancies.

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