OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are in a familiar spot — leading the AFC North through Week 10.
The past two seasons, they've been passed down the stretch by Cincinnati. A win this week would make that prospect a good deal less likely in 2023.
The Ravens host the Bengals on Thursday night with a chance to sweep the season series against Cincinnati and take a 2 1/2-game lead over the last-place Bengals. Every team in the AFC North has a winning record, and Baltimore's 33-31 loss to Cleveland last weekend tightened the race considerably.
“Every game for us is a must win for us, not just because it’s a division game,” Jackson said. "But I believe our team is definitely a lot hungrier just from what happened Sunday in a division loss in a close game.”
This is the fourth time in five years Baltimore has led its division after the end of Week 10. The Ravens haven't finished first since 2019.
The four AFC North teams are playing each other this week, with Cleveland (6-3) taking on Pittsburgh (6-3) on Sunday. That means the Ravens (7-3) can expect to fall out of first place if they lose.
Cincinnati is 5-4 for the third consecutive season. The Bengals managed to win the division in 2021 and 2022 and reached two AFC title games and a Super Bowl. Another loss to Baltimore would give them quite a hill to climb.
“It's a big part of the year for both of us,” Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow said. "They're coming off a loss, we're coming off a loss. We're both trying to win the division, so it's a big game."
Burrow’s 347 yards passing and two touchdowns last week was evidence enough that he is fully recovered from a calf injury that dogged him early in the season. But two fourth-quarter interceptions and a dropped pass hurt Cincinnati in a 30-27 loss to Houston.
Burrow called it one of the most frustrating defeats in his four-year career.
First, with the Bengals down 27-17, Burrow overthrew tight end Drew Sample and was picked off by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson.
With 3:53 left, the Bengals had the ball on the Houston 14-yard line, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin stepped in front of a pass that Burrow tried to force into the end zone.
Cincinnati had third-and-goal with under two minutes left, and Tyler Boyd couldn’t find the handle on Burrow’s sharp pass over the middle.
The Bengals had to settle for a field goal to tie the game, then lost on a field goal by Houston’s Matt Ammendola as time ran out.
Jackson has completed 70.3% of his passes this season and has a passer rating of 98.1. Combine that with his running ability, and he's an MVP candidate again after winning the award in 2019.
Because of injuries to both quarterbacks, Jackson and Burrow have only faced each other four times, with Baltimore winning three of those meetings. Jackson threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns as the Ravens beat Cincinnati 27-24 in September. Burrow passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
The Bengals will be without one of their top receivers and a starting defensive end.
Receiver Tee Higgins is out with a hamstring injury and defensive end Sam Hubbard will miss the game with an ankle problem.
Hubbard was out last weekend too, and his contribution to Cincinnati’s run defense was sorely missed. Houston’s Devin Singletary rushed for 150 yards.
“The injury situation will never be perfect for any of the teams we are playing against or for ourselves,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “That’s why your roster has to be deep, and you’ve got to be able to count on those guys.”
Baltimore will be without tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) is doubtful.
The Ravens have trailed for less than 30 minutes total this season, but they lost in overtime to Indianapolis, on a late touchdown at Pittsburgh and on a last-play field goal against Cleveland.
Baltimore has outscored opponents 79-16 in the first quarter, but hasn't been nearly as dominant in the fourth. Coach John Harbaugh came to his quarterback's defense this week.
“I just wouldn’t rather have any other quarterback in the league than Lamar Jackson in a tough situation. We all try to do our best in every situation. We all try to build and improve through all these experiences that we have, and he’s no different,” Harbaugh said. “I just love his competitiveness. I’m a Lamar Jackson guy. That’s my guy. I believe in him, and I’ll take him in every fourth-quarter situation from here until I’m done coaching.”
UNDER THE LIGHTS
The Ravens are 19-3 at home in regular-season night games since 2008. The Bengals have lost 13 straight on the road in that situation.
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