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Baltimore Ravens, with playoff berth in the bag, take odd approach to season finale

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It was obvious the Baltimore Ravens brain trust had other ideas than winning their regular season finale with the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon.

About an hour before the 1 pm. kickoff, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Andrews, Kevin Zeitler and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley appeared on the inactive list. Instead, head coach John Harbaugh focused on resting those guys and throwing out most of the playbook as well.

The Final: Cincinnati 27 Baltimore 16.

Why? The anticipation of a playoff rematch with Cincinnati next weekend. Well, guess what? The Ravens will indeed face the Bengals next weekend in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

With that realization, what’s the point of even trying to break down what took place at Paycor Stadium Sunday, right?

Analysis

Quarterback Anthony Brown, making his first NFL start, played as a backup’s backup, or otherwise known as a third-string quarterback. Brown threw two first-half interceptions, one completely on him, the other not.

On the other side of the line, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow played like one of the league’s hottest signal-callers, directing a scorching-hot offense. The Bengals responded exactly as the script dictated.

The biggest concern on the Ravens postgame radio show was this: with the Ravens resting six starters, and most other starters playing about half of the snaps, does this game count as a preseason loss and break their NFL record for preseason wins at 23?

Can’t bash Baltimore too much. The Bengals weren’t flashy, either, very conservative on offense, giving the Ravens little to see. The lackadaisical approach was evident. Burrow was sloppy at times, some of his passes floated, some looked like the ball became deflated in the air.

Not sure it wasn’t just for show, but at times both teams became a bit edgy, face-to-face, though nothing ever escalated. If anything, it does add a bit of juice to next weekend’s playoff contest.

Even though Baltimore turned the ball over four times, they do have some hope going into next weekend. The speculation is that quarterback Lamar Jackson will return next week. Rusty or not, the Ravens are a much better team with Jackson on the field.

Baltimore won’t exactly have momentum on its side entering the postseason, having lost its last two regular-season games. But momentum can easily change, especially if players like Jackson, Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters can play. All are vital on both sides of the line for the Ravens.

Considering the way the game with the Bengals began for Baltimore, with three turnovers from Brown, all resulting in Bengal scores and trailing 24-7 at the break, the Ravens played hard in the second half. OK, I’m reaching here. Cincinnati didn’t really put up much of a fight in the second half; they looked like they had a plane to catch.

With Jackson (knee) and Tyler Huntley (shoulder/wrist) inactive, the Ravens needed a clean game from Brown to have a chance of securing the AFC’s No. 5 seed and getting a home playoff game next weekend. Instead, they got what you would expect, three turnovers that dug Baltimore a hole a backhoe couldn’t dig out of.

What’s next 

The sixth-seeded Ravens will head back to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals for the third time this season in next weekend’s wild-card game. All eyes will be on the status of Jackson, who has not played or practiced since suffering a Week 13 knee injury.

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.