CINCINNATI — There’s no denying that, when the Ravens took the field for Sunday’s divisional game against the Bengals, revenge was on their minds.
Any divisional matchup has high stakes, especially against a team with Super Bowl odds like the Bengals. The last two times the Ravens had faced the Bengals, they’ve done so in Cincinnati. And, in both games, they’d fallen short, with the second being an embarrassing playoff elimination in the AFC wild-card round.
So, when Baltimore left the field Sunday with a gutty 27-24 victory at Paycor Stadium, they had a level of swagger and something to say on their way out.
“It was an exciting atmosphere for sure, [starting] back to them not having a lot of respect, saying a lot of things about this and doing the stuff after they won last year in the playoffs and things of that nature,” Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith said after the game. “Revenge is best served as a cold dish. It’s great to come in here [and] start their year off 0-2 in the division, too.”
Smith’s partner at middle linebacker, Patrick Queen, had a similar message.
“We definitely had more motivation in this one,” Queen said. “We had a couple of players out each time. Not trying to make any excuse. We were still in those games. We still could have won those games. We still should have won those games.”
Faced with several concerns coming into the Week 2 matchup, the Ravens defense held its own against the Bengals and their high-powered offense that features Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The Ravens have been without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey since mid-August after foot surgery. Starting safety Marcus Williams left Week 1 with a pectoral injury. The pass rush, albeit promising, is mostly unproven outside of Jadeveon Clowney. Taking it all into account, it was reasonable to expect the Ravens to struggle against the Bengals.
Yet the unit created the only turnover of the game Sunday and stopped a top offense better than expected.
Filling in for Williams at safety, Geno Stone recorded the defense’s first interception of the season with a key play in the red zone. With the Ravens in quarters, Stone saw Burrow look off Chase while going through his progression and shifted his eyes to the middle of the field. He said he trusted his instincts, jumped to the front side and it paid off. Stone stepped in front of a pass intended for Higgins and nabbed the pick. It prevented a potential scoring drive.
“It means a lot that these coaches trust me and put me in the position to be where I am right now,” Stone said. “I’ve got a lot of trust in my guys, and my guys got a lot of trust in me. I’m just happy I was out there and to be able to make the plays I could for this team to help them win.”
Stone told reporters he called the interception coming all week. Humphrey alluded to it on social media during the game.
“I think I told everyone today I was going to get one, [just] off the type of week I was having,” Stone said. “I felt like I didn’t need to do something, but I knew it was going to happen. I’m just happy it did.”
The pass rush struggled for the Ravens, albeit without starting outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, who was out most of the game due to injury. The only production came from Clowney, who recorded the only sack of the game along with two quarterback hits.
Without Humphrey, the Ravens shuffled through cornerbacks. They used a mix of Ronald Darby, Brandon Stephens and Rock Ya-Sin on the outside. They stepped in when needed and created different looks to match up against Chase, Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Take what happened on another series, where Ya-Sin showed more of the defense’s resilience. With Ya-Sin matched up against Chase in the red zone, Burrow took the one-on-one jump ball to the star receiver on third down. As Chase came down with the ball, Ya-Sin got his hand perfectly underneath him to knock it free as Chase made contact with the ground. It forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal.
“There’s so many opportunities out there to make plays,” Queen said. “We just have to capitalize. If we capitalize every time, there should be no team that should stay on the field with us.”
While the Bengals still put together three long scoring drives, they were limited on big plays and run after the catch, which was a focus, Stone said. The longest pass Burrow completed was a 32-yard short pass to running back Joe Mixon. Chase’s longest reception was for 13 yards, while Higgins’ was 20.
The Ravens will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t a perfect performance, but it felt like one they needed to be considered among the best teams in the AFC.
“We know who we got on our team,” Queen said. “We got all the confidence in everybody to step up and do their job. At the end of the day, as long as we have 11 on the field on both sides, we’re good.”