No question the Bengals had a statement win Sunday in Baltimore.
But have they ever had such a complete and defining victory? They emerged into AFC relevancy with a stunning 520-yard offensive effort complemented by a defense that did things to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson rarely ever done in a game their second units finished for the second straight week.
The 2004 Bengals needed 24 points in the fourth quarter in Baltimore in leaving second-year head coach Marvin Lewis' calling card that announced them. The Green-Dalton Bengals of 2012 proved they weren't rookie flukes from the year before, but they needed a last-snap field goal to beat the Steelers to go to the playoffs in a game of just 547 yards amassed by both teams.
But this breakout game on Oct. 24, 2021, A.M. (After Marvin) was a clinic in all three phases.
It even came with its own The-Rivalry-Has-Shifted moment. It had to be when Bengals right end Trey Hendrickson drew a holding call late early in the fourth quarter on left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and Hendrickson pointed to the stadium replay to remind him Jackson's long run didn't count.
"They have a huge Jumbotron. So, everybody could see. So, it's just one of those things, you know, part of the game," Hendrickson said.
They dominated everywhere, but it was two glaring areas in the centerpiece of the 41-17 victory that now has the 5-2 Bengals as the AFC's top seed.
They had the answers for a team that beat them 65-6 last year by countering their blitz on offense and defensively blitzing Jackson more than defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo usually does on virtually every third down. The Bengals exposed the Ravens' discomfort on third-and-long and playing from behind.
"I won't say we needed to prove it to ourselves, because we had a lot of people in that locker room who were confident going into that game today," said head coach Zac Taylor. "But this was a box we needed to check."
Taylor used two Magic Markers. His defensive line and the wondrous wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who is building the best season a rookie wide receiver ever had. Mark him down for another career-high, this one 201 yards, the most by a Bengals receiver since the 2015 game in Baltimore A.J. Green had one of his obligatory torch jobs against the Ravens with 227.
With a NFL-record 754 yards in his first seven games, Chase is taking dead aim at his LSU buddy's Super Bowl era rookie record of 1,400 yards, set last year by Justin Jefferson for the Vikings.
But he's on pace for an even bigger number. The number now is 1,831 yards, fifth most all-time and just three yards behind Antonio Brown's monster 2015 season.
"He's dynamic; he's smart; he just makes plays with the ball in his hand," Taylor said. "Teams just can't say we're going to lock in on Ja'Marr because we have other playmakers."
But the Ravens were insistent that Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey could travel with Chase one-on-one. Just like Humphrey did last week when the Ravens asserted themselves as the AFC's best team in a 34-6 win over the Chargers and he subdued Los Angeles' Mike Williams.
Now where do the Bengals and Chase fit in the picture? Remember after one of those Green heists and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wondered if they could cover him just once before he retired? What is Harbaugh thinking this morning after watching Chase, the first Bengal born in the 21st century just getting started?
With quarterback Joe Burrow threading it for a career-high 416 yards, Chase beat Humphrey inside, outside and on his devastating back shoulder.
Chase got him inside for the two biggest plays of the game, a 26-yard crosser that gave them a 13-10 halftime lead and the 82-yard touchdown slant on a catch-and-run he vanished in the middle of three Ravens and re-appeared in the end zone.
As big as it gets because that gave them a 10-point lead in the middle of the third and while the Ravens can come from behind, not their style. Jackson has five fourth-quarter comebacks of his 35 wins.
Burrow, who threw to both Chase and Jefferson in Baton Rouge, sounded amazed the Ravens let Chase go one-on-one in those all-out zero blitzes.
"I mean there were several times in the second half where that happened where there is zero check," Burrow said. "Where he had Marlon Humphrey – who I think is the best corner in the league, and they play that way because they have that guy to play a zero blitz and put him one on one, and Ja'Marr did a great job against him today. There are multiple times where he got that guy one on one and won his one-on-one matchup."
It wasn't just happenstance. Burrow is the guy that helped Chase study film when they were in school and it certainly paid off on the 82-yarder, believed to be the longest catch by a Bengals rookie since Bob Trumpy's 80-yarder in the first year of the franchise in 1968.
"I've been watching Humphrey's film day and night to get the best idea I can have of him," Chase said. "I know he's such a great corner. I came off the line with some hesitation then gave it a big burst and cut in on the slant route. I protected myself from any hit. As I was getting hit, my momentum took me into a spin. I kept following the spin and went from there.
"Humphrey did a great job of not letting me go over the top of him. We just started going to back-shoulders, stop routes, slants, quick pitches and stuff like that. After the catches come the [yards after the catch], breaking the tackle, making guys miss, and heading to the end zone."
As dominant as Chase was, the defense was just as good. The Bengals revamped defensive line, stocked with basically three new players, flipped this rivalry on its head Sunday.
Long attacked by Jackson as he built a 5-0 record against them, edge rushers Sam Hubbard (2.5 sacks) and Hendrickson (one) displayed patience and poise against Jackson's dizzying moves and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (1.5) dominated inside as Jackson was sacked five times for just the second time in his career.
All the while Pro Bowl-worthy nose tackle D.J. Reader, who left the field in Baltimore last season with a season-ending quad injury and missed the last 11 games, filled enough holes that the Ravens were faced with those uncharacteristic third-and-longs. The defense that was last in the NFL with 17 sacks last year now has 19.
"I wouldn't have had a sack if it wasn't for the push and contain from Sam. You can't say enough about him and his two and a half-sacks," Hendrickson said. "I mean it's about time some people start putting respect on Sam's name. That guy can rush. Larry on the inside, pushing guys back, so that (Jackson) can't step up. I mean that's a part of team defense. D.J., you don't see all these stats and stuff but if you watch the game from just his perspective, him pushing back all the guards and centers, that's the only reason our production is like that, and that's the complementary football that I think is so special in our unit."
Hubbard saved his career day for the biggest game in his four seasons as a Bengal. The game plan against Jackson had been crafted months before, Hubbard said, and there were some Lamar periods in training camp. But the basics still applied.
"We always have to have two guys on him, one inside shoulder [and] one outside shoulder," Hubbard said. "So, you always have to have two people on the ball."
It was not lost on Hubbard that he and Reader left that field last year. Reader never to play again that season and Hubbard's elbow bothered him the rest of 2020.
But he was back in time for last year's finale the Ravens rang up 404 yards rushing. And there was no question it was sweet after beating them with more passing yards than that.
"To finish the way we did and not allow them to come back into it and have that killer instinct is just so huge for us as a team," Hubbard said. "What we've come from, how we've progressed and where we've always envisioned ourselves getting. Now, finally to see that is good."
But Hendrickson was no longer looking at the big screen. Just the big picture.
"I think this is a steppingstone to where we want to go as a team," Hendrickson said. "I think we have goals as a unit and as a complete team. This is a stepping stone to take us where we want to go. Complacency can set in real quick."