BALTIMORE (AP) — When the Baltimore Ravens' season came down to two big games at Cincinnati eight months ago, Lamar Jackson was absent with a knee injury.
“Very tough,” the star quarterback said this week. “One, I was injured. Two, I wasn’t able to travel with my guys and support them. Just being out of the game, that’s not something I want to do ever again.”
Jackson is back and healthy, and the Ravens are hoping for a different result in this week's visit to Cincinnati. Last season, Baltimore still had a chance to host a first-round playoff game before dropping its finale 27-16 to the Bengals. In the postseason, the same teams played at the same site — and with Jackson again out, the Ravens lost 24-17.
Cincinnati is the two-time defending champion of the AFC North, and Jackson's late-season injuries have played a role in that. The Bengals also drubbed Baltimore 41-21 on the day after Christmas in 2021, with Josh Johnson playing quarterback for the Ravens.
Baltimore was more competitive with Cincinnati defensively last season. The Ravens beat the Bengals 19-17 in October, and the playoff game was close even with Jackson watching from afar.
The key play in that game was Tyler Huntley's fumble on a quarterback sneak at the goal line, which Cincinnati's Sam Hubbard returned 98 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown.
“I feel like it was my fault a little bit, because I had to go use the restroom,” Jackson said. “Get up, and by the time I'm walking to the bathroom, I'm hearing cheers. I'm like, ‘What happened? What happened?’ I look, and (No.) 94 running the other way. I almost hit my screen.”
Jackson is 6-1 in seven starts against Cincinnati. Since he entered the NFL, Baltimore is 0-4 against the Bengals with any other starting quarterback, including the postseason.
“We lost a couple times, but I feel like we played strong games,” running back Gus Edwards said. “We were in those games until the very end, and with Lamar back, we have our leader back.”
Both Jackson and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow received big new contracts recently, but neither was all that good in Week 1. Jackson turned the ball over twice in a 25-9 win over Houston, and Burrow threw for only 82 yards in a 24-3 loss to Cleveland.
It's not as though this is a must-win for Cincinnati, which also started 0-2 last season, but taking a two-game lead over the Bengals would be big for the Ravens. Baltimore plays three divisional road games in the first five weeks, starting with this one.
Although Jackson is fine, the Ravens are already feeling the weight of injuries. They lost running back J.K. Dobbins to a torn Achilles tendon last weekend. Safety Marcus Williams (pectoral), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot), center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) and tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) have not practiced this week.
Tight end Mark Andrews (quadriceps) missed the first game and has been limited in practice this week.
So the secondary will have some question marks against a Cincinnati offense which, last weekend notwithstanding, has shown it can pile yards through the air.
As for Baltimore's offense, it wasn't great in its first game under new coordinator Todd Monken, and injuries to Andrews and the two offensive linemen are a concern.
“We were just off. I would just say that it’s a work in progress,” Monken said. “The best thing we have is another opportunity to correct it.”
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Noah Trister, The Associated Press