As the Baltimore Ravens’ injured quarterback, Lamar Jackson, is “facing an uphill battle” toward playing in their AFC wild-card game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is healthy and favored to lead his team to victory on Sunday Night Football.
Burrow will have a standout performance, according to former tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“He’s going to decimate the Baltimore Ravens’ defense,” Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer, said during an appearance January 11 on the “Up & Adams” show. “They can sign whoever they want for $100 million and it’s not going to stop Joe Burrow.”
Gronkowski was referring to inside linebacker Roquan Smith, whom the Ravens signed to five-year, $100 million extension on January 11. Smith had 16 tackles, including a dozen solos and one for a loss, in the Week 18 matchup between the teams.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gronkowski said. “You can keep him there long-term. Joe Burrow is going to decimate your secondary. He did it last week, he’s going to do it again this week coming up, and it’s going to be back-to-back wins and Baltimore is going to go home disappointed and Joe Burrow is going to lead them to another deep playoff run.”
Ravens Have Already Proved the Contrary in 2022
In reality, the Ravens mostly held Burrows in check this season. In two meetings, he was limited to less than 220 passing yards and had one touchdown pass and a turnover in each game. In Week 16 of 2021 alone, Burrows had a record 525 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Ravens.
When the Ravens won 19-17 in Week 5, the Ravens didn’t yet have Smith. And in their 27-16 loss in Week 18, the Ravens rested several starters, including Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Ravens’ defense was put in some compromising positions in the first half of the regular season finale when turnovers yielded a pair of Bengals scoring drives. However, they were lights out in the second half, allowing a field goal and forcing five punts.
In addition to Smith being inserted into the defense since the Ravens last bested the Bengals, the role and play of first-round rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton have evolved and elevated. His ability to be deployed as a nickel defender in the box both in coverage and as a pass rusher has allowed first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to be even more creative with how he can utilize other players at all three levels.
The stakes are much higher in their third meeting, and the defense will be healthy and foaming at the mouth for another crack at the Bengals, who are favored by 8.5 points.
Ravens Relish Underdog Role & Want All the ‘Smoke’
Experts, pundits and some of the Ravens’ own fan base don’t believe the team will advance to the divisional round. However, those in the organization are tuning out the noise and looking forward to making their doubters regret picking against them.
“I don’t know if anybody is going to believe in us outside this locker room, but we’re for dang sure going to believe in ourselves here,” defensive end Calais Campbell said in a press conference on January 11. “We’re going to give it our best shot. I think we have a great game plan. I think the guys are hungry and motivated.”
As much as they would like to have Jackson make his long-awaited return for their biggest game of the season, the Ravens are confident that they have what it takes to emerge victorious no matter who is starting under center.
“Obviously, Lamar is one of one, but you look at the other two guys, ‘Snoop’ [Tyler Huntley] and Anthony Brown, there’s so much trust in both of them, and that’s with everybody on the team,” tight end Mark Andrews said in a press conference on January 11. “We know with whoever we put out there – Lamar, ‘Snoop,’ ‘A.B.’, whoever it may be – we’re going to be all right.”
Even though their season finale matchup didn’t have a lot at stake as both teams had already clinched playoff berths, it still played out like a classic AFC North slugfest that isn’t properly depicted by the box score alone.
Several Bengals players sounded off about some of the chippiness in the game, with some calling the way the Ravens played “dirty”. They said that they “owe” it to their rivals to return the favor in the wild-card round.
“If there’s smoke, there’s smoke,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said in a press conference on January 11. “We’re not running from anybody. If you feel like people were doing things dirty, You weren’t at the same time? You can look at film from the past from what they were doing and stuff, too. So, at the end of the day, whoever has beef with each other, they have beef with each other.”
Smith was involved in several of the perceived examples of overaggressiveness. He had a simple message to close out his press conference and show that he isn’t interested in making headlines with words and bold statements and accusations.
“See you Sunday night,” he said with a laugh.