Ravens are not overlooking Bengals heading into regular season finale
The Baltimore Ravens are one win away from officially punching their ticket to the playoffs for the third straight season. They battled their way back into contention after a midseason slump and after finally getting some help last week, are in firm control of their own destiny.
However, nothing is given in this league, every win is earned and any team has a chance of winning on any given Sunday. The last hurdle that the Ravens need to clear to ensure that they have a trip to the ‘dance’ locked up is a Week 17 road trip to Ohio where they will faceoff with the Cincinnati Bengals for the second and final time this season.
“It feels great,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “But we still have Cincinnati in our way. We have to get ready for them because those guys are going to come to play. We’re going to Cincinnati, so we just have to be ready and focus on those guys.”
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh echoed similar sentiments to the reigning league MVP in his Monday press conference but also acknowledged that while they are in control of their own fate, nothing has been locked up and that this suddenly surging Bengals team is peaking right now.
“We’re still in the process of trying to finish this thing out the right way and get into the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “We’re happy with the fact that we do completely control our destiny, but we haven’t given that much thought. We just have to take care of our business, and that’s what we’re trying to do. [We have] a very tough opponent coming up in Cincinnati. We know them well. We play them a lot, and they’re playing their best football of the season, really, by far. So, we understand the challenge and we’re preparing for that as we speak.”
Even without rookie quarterback Joe Burrow who was the first overall pick in this year’s draft and starting running back Joe Mixon, Cincinnati has won their last two games in impressive fashion.
During that span, they have averaged 32 points per game, including a season-high 37 in a win over the Houston Texans last week and hung 27 on the division champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a stunning Week 15 upset, and have run the ball exceptionally well.
“You try not to look too far elsewhere, but we control our own fate, and that’s a great feeling,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “We’ve got to go play a really, really good Bengals team this next week and try to get better and reach the playoffs. And that’s all we can focus on – is the next game – not focus on the playoffs. We’re just trying to get better and win this game, and the cards will fall how they fall.”
The Ravens blew out the Bengals 27-3 back in Week Five in the first meeting between these two AFC North rivals this season thanks to an explosive first quarter and the most dominant performance by their defense of the season to date.
Sunday’s game against the Bengals will have an eerily familiar for the Ravens and their fans when the team takes the field. Even though it will be played in a different venue this time, the stakes are the same as the season finale of the 2017 season that ended in excruciating heartbreak for Baltimore and all of Flock Nation.
Just like they were entering the final week of the regular season three years ago, the Ravens just have to beat a Bengals team with nothing but pride to play for and whom they had defeated handily earlier in the season to get into the playoffs.
While the media is fueling the hype surrounding the comparison of the two familiar circumstances, a result from a game three years ago between two teams that look very different now than they did then isn’t on the forefront of the minds of the players and coaches who are adamant about staying focused on the task at hand.
“I don’t think we’ve mentioned that game at all, period,” Clark said. “I do personally remember that game. It’s the same situation. Fighting for a spot in the playoffs, same team, not the same field but it’s something that’s definitely in the back of your mind. We keep it moving and deal with the task that’s at hand this week. The game that happened three years ago has no control on this one.”
The Ravens had their hearts ripped out on a last-minute improbable play when these two division rivals last faced off with so much at stake.
However, that year’s Ravens team wasn’t as dynamic or battle-tested as this year’s bunch that has had to overcome a myriad of injuries on both sides of the ball throughout the season and even still and was nearly punched top the brink by an outbreak of the virus that has cost so many lives admits the pandemic.
Against Cincinnati this week, expect the Ravens to maintain the same level of intense focus and high level of play that they have exhibited during the four-game winning streak that has them looking like the team no one in the AFC or the entire league for that matter will want to face come January.