A shocking fumble sends the Ravens into another offseason full of questions

Published 1/15/2023 11:28 p.m. EST, Updated 1/16/2023 12:03 a.m. EST

CINCINNATI — After another night of high drama and questionable decisions, the Ravens’ season is over.

The sixth-seeded Ravens squandered a golden go-ahead opportunity in the fourth quarter and couldn’t finish off a last-minute drive Sunday night, falling to the third-seeded Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow, 24-17.

The Ravens, who were again playing without injured quarterback Lamar Jackson, have now won just one playoff game over the past eight seasons. Here’s what else you need to know from Paycor Stadium:

What happened

The Ravens had a chance to take a 24-17 lead with about 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But a first-and-goal pass from the 2-yard line fell incomplete. A second-and-goal carry by running back Gus Edwards was stopped a yard short. On third down, quarterback Tyler Huntley took the snap and extended his arms, trying to break the plane with the ball.

Bengals inside linebacker Logan Wilson was ready, jarring the ball loose short of the line Huntley needed to cross. Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard picked up the fumble and brought it back 98 yards for a score, the longest fumble return for a touchdown in playoff history. The Bengals took the lead and didn’t relinquish it.

One final push

The Ravens did have a chance to tie in the final seconds of the game, thanks to an oddly relaxed drive, given the circumstances.

Harbaugh defended his team’s clock management after the game, saying the Ravens hoped to score without giving the ball back to the Bengals.

It certainly could have worked out that way. The Ravens were at the Cincinnati 17 with 34 seconds left at that point, and then ... stalled.

Huntley threw incomplete toward Mark Andrews on first down. Kevin Zeitler was called for holding on second down. Huntley missed Andrews again on the replay of that down, and again on third down.

On fourth-and-20 he dropped back and threw a Hail Mary toward Andrews (who else?) and it very nearly dropped into the hands of James Proche, who was targeted zero times the rest of the game.

The ball, of course, landed harmlessly on the ground and Ravens players sagged, removing their helmets for the final time this season as they wandered over to shake hands with Bengals players.

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What’s next

The Ravens will return to Baltimore early Monday morning. Next up are end-of-season team meetings, locker clean-outs and more questions about an uncertain offseason. Coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta are expected to hold separate news conferences later this month.

Streak beaker

The Ravens entered Sunday having not scored two touchdowns in a game since Week 12, when quarterback Lamar Jackson watched a fourth-quarter lead disappear late in a 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens also hadn’t struck downfield too often in the games since; Huntley’s longest completion of the regular season was a 40-yarder in a Week 17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. But with a pump-and-go strike to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, the Ravens reached 17 points on their second touchdown pass, and Huntley had a season-long 41-yarder.

Something out of nothing

Huntley’s longest completion of the first half was improvised. And not at all pretty. After corralling a bad snap by rookie center Tyler Linderbaum about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, Huntley scrambled to the sideline, looking like he would throw the ball out of bounds and avoid a big loss. Instead, he spotted tight end Josh Oliver, uncovered, a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He slipped him a short pass, and Oliver took it for a physical 19-yard catch-and-run.

Bad blood

Cornerback Marcus Peters didn’t play in the Ravens’ testy Week 18 loss, but he didn’t waste any time getting in the face of Bengals players. After allowing a first-down completion to Ja’Marr Chase, he got up jawing with the star wide receiver. A play later, he was penalized for taunting running back Joe Mixon after some extracurricular activity at the bottom of a pile.

Line dance

In Week 16, the Bengals lost starting right tackle La’el Collins to a season-ending knee injury. Two weeks later, they lost starting right guard Alex Cappa to a minor ankle injury that sidelined him Sunday. On Sunday, Cincinnati watched as a third starting offensive lineman, left tackle Jonah Williams, was ruled out with a knee injury. The Ravens finished with four sacks and held Cincinnati to 51 rushing yards (2.8 per carry).