The Cincinnati Bengals are treating Thursday’s huge matchup with the Baltimore Ravens as a “playoff game in November” as the battle to top the NFL’s most competitive division heats up.
Cincinnati were beaten by a last-second field goal against the Houston Texans on Sunday, with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud besting Joe Burrow to end the Bengals’ four-game winning streak.
That result dropped the previously resurgent Bengals to 5-4 for the season, and that record is only good enough for fourth place in a strong AFC North.
The Ravens slipped to 7-3 for the campaign with Sunday’s walk-off defeat against the 6-3 Cleveland Browns, whose record is identical to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Furthermore, the Ravens and Browns both have 2-2 records against their divisional rivals this year, and all three of those teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Cincinnati are currently on the outside looking in, and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is under no illusions as to the importance of Thursday’s trip to Baltimore.
“I think it feels like a playoff game in November,” Callahan said.
“Usually when we play them, it’s going to come down to probably the last possession or two. It’s usually how all these games against them have gone, and you just have to be mentally ready for it.”
Focused on this week’s mission. pic.twitter.com/HQOMlbay1B
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 14, 2023
After seeing the Ravens squander a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Sunday’s dramatic defeat to the Browns, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh is planning to switch things up on Thursday.
While finishing with 34 rushing yards and a touchdown, rookie running back Keaton Mitchell only played four offensive snaps in the second half on Sunday, but Harbaugh plans to get more use out of him next time out.
“As you look back on it, it’s part of the process of getting a young guy in there and working him into the gameplan as we go,” Harbaugh said.
“I don’t think we felt as an offensive coaching staff we were going to throw the whole game plan on him.
“Looking back on it, would we have wanted him out there more? Yes. I think that’ll factor into this game plan.”
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 14, 2023