The Baltimore Ravens will be without their best player and the face of their franchise when they faceoff with the Cincinnati Bengals in the final week of the regular season. Two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Lamar Jackson will miss his fifth straight game as continues to work his way back from a sprained PCL.
The former unanimous league MVP missed his 15th consecutive practice on Friday, January 6, 2023, and in his postpractice press conference head coach, John Harbaugh ruled him out before the final injury report was even released and offered further clarification on his star signal caller’s ongoing injury situation.
“The truth is, we just really don’t know,” Harbaugh said. “I know everyone’s working as hard as they can. Lamar’s working as hard as he can, the trainers are working as hard as they can, and [I] can’t wait for him to get back, obviously, just like everybody else. That’s where we’re at. He won’t be playing in this game, and we’ll be hopeful for next week. We’ll just see where we’re at then.”
Prior to his most recent comments, he had been reluctant to provide much of an update or timetable for Jackson’s eventual and hopeful return but he went on to reiterate that injuries and recovery times are always unpredictable because every player’s body is different and heals at its own pace.
“I know that maybe people – fans, and media and everybody – might get a little frustrated about, but it’s just kind of the nature of it,” Harbaugh said. “When we have an update, definitely, you’ll have it, but injuries are so hard to predict. That’s why I get up here sometimes and I’ll refrain from saying how long it will be. You might think it’s going to be some number of weeks, or some number of days, or whatever, but you really don’t know because they [players] all respond differently.”
With Jackson missing this fifth game in a row since getting injured while getting sacked in Week 13 it means the team will have to turn to third-pro Tyler Huntley close out the regular season for the second year in a row.
The former undrafted free agent has helped the team go 2-2 in Jackson’s absence and clinch a playoff spot whereas last season, the team lost six straight games to close out the season with Huntley at the helm for three of the last four and narrowly miss out on the postseason.
Ravens Feel There’s a ‘Good Chance’ Huntley Plays
While Jackson was the only player ruled out on the final injury reports, he wasn’t the only quarterback on the team to appear on it as Huntley was listed as questionable for Sunday. He continues to deal with a lingering and nagging injury of his own in the form of a “tendonitis issue” in his throwing shoulder but is still expected to play.
“I think there’s a really good chance he could play on Sunday, but again, if that doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen. So, [I’m] hopeful for that,” Harbaugh said.
Despite not being able to throw and being limited to only taking metal reps in practice all week while undrafted rookie, Anthony Brown, took the first-team reps, Huntley is just as confident as his coach that he’ll be available to face the Bengals.
“I feel like I’ve got a good chance to play Sunday,” he said. “Although, how I wake up feeling come Saturday, Sunday … I’ve just been resting. The best way to feel the best is a little rest, so they’ve been resting me these past couple days, and I’ll be ready to go.”
Top 3 Ravens Storylines for Week 18 vs. Bengals
Will either team rest any healthy starters?
Outside of Jackson, both teams are coming into this matchup relatively healthy for this time of the year. However, it remains to be seen if one or both of them will opt to rest any of or some of their key starters since both of them are likely going to be locked into their current seeding in the AFC playoff picture.
After missing the past two games with injuries, the Ravens are slated to have defensive starters Calais Campbell and Marcus Peters available for this game after both multi-time Pro Bowlers participated in the week of practice. Harbaugh that it isn’t possible to not dress or play “too many guys” because they are not working with a 90-man roster like in the preseason.
“You don’t have an unlimited number of guys,” he said. “It’s not as big a deal as I think it’s sometimes made out to be, but our plan is to go up there and win the football game and do the best we can to win. I’m sure the Bengals are going to be looking at it the same way and I’m sure it will be a hard-fought game.”
On the other side of this matchup, the Bengals might just decide to sit or completely not dress a handful of key starters because they want to give them extra time to rest. There also could be some players on the team still struggling to process any lingering mental or emotional effects from the incident that caused the cancellation of their last game and left Buffalo Bills safety Demar Hamlin hospitalized and in critical condition which he has since made remarkable progress.
Will the Ravens water down the game plan?
Since the likelihood of these two teams meeting for a third time in the opening round of the playoffs is extremely high, neither might go all out in terms of what they put on tape for what will more likely than not be the same opponent. They’ll likely save any new wrinkles on both sides of the ball for the postseason and Harbaugh alluded to as much on Friday.
“You have to think in that way. I’m sure they’re thinking the same way. You have to think of it as a two-game operation,” he said.
Gaining momentum heading into the playoffs
Even though the Ravens have won three of their last five games without Jackson at the helm for all but one quarter, they aren’t exactly peaking right now. They haven’t scored 20 or more points since Week 12 in a 28-27 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars as their red zone offense struggles that have been an issue all season continue to persist no matter who is under center.
While the defense isn’t without its own flaws, mainly inconsistent pass rush while Campbell was out, they’ve been the most consistent unit of the team’s three phases of the game. To be able to have a highly efficient outing on the offensive side of the ball in particular where they don’t turn the ball over, score over 20 points, and hopefully emerge victorious would go a long way towards giving the entire team a huge confidence boost heading into the postseason.