The Ravens executed their playoff script to perfection Sunday in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium when they ran it on 27 of their relentless 41 offensive snaps in swiping the clock for 22 minutes while building a 17-3 halftime lead over the Bengals.
Of Baltimore's 258 yards in the half, 161 came on the ground.
The Bengals didn't get their first first down until 3:40 left in the half on running back Samaje Perine's four-yard run and that set up his 13-yard bolt as well as quarterback Brandon Allen's 21-yard pass to tight end Cethan Carter and an eight-yard ball to wide receiver Alex Erickson that gave them third-and-one from the Ravens 20.
But the Ravens got Allen with a five-man pressure to get him out of the pocket and he had to hurry an incompletion to wide receiver Tyler Boyd on the left sideline. Head coach Zac Taylor opted to take Austin Seibert's 38-yard field goal to make it 17-3.
But the Bengals could just muster 62 yards in the half with Allen just 4 of 10 for 38 yards and if nothing could sum up the 2020 season for the Bengals and their fans, then their third offensive play from scrimmage did.
What a double whammy for rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins.
On third-and-eight, he broke wide receiver Cris Collinsworth's franchise rookie record with his 68th catch as he took Allen's quick hitter over the middle and took it 41 yards up the seam. But as he grabbed the hamstring that limited him in practice last week, a flag flew negating the record.
Wide receiver Mike Thomas was called for offensive pass interference with a block he didn't need to make and it looked like Higgins was done for the day. He was done for the day and went into the record books with Collinsworth.
The Bengals opened up the game with two running backs, Perine and Giovani Bernard and with Bernard running a jet sweep out of the slot, Perine went up the middle for two yards. Bernard and Perine were coming off a day they combined for 160 yards on 29 carries in Houston.
But the offense came out shaky. They went three-and-out again on their second series after facing another third-and-eight. Again, another penalty, this one on Boyd making an illegal shift. But it didn't matter because Allen's slant to Erickson, replacing Higgins, was short and incomplete on tight coverage by Anthony Averett.
Game action photos as the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season.
When they went into halftime, wide receiver A.J. Green didn't have a target.
With 2:08 left in the first quarter, the Ravens were on point. They were up by two scores (10-0) and their devastating run game had the yardage edge, 138-4. At the end of the first quarter they had 94 rushing yards and, more importantly, had already converted three third-and-ones while the Bengals had just those six snaps.
The undermanned Bengals defense had no answer for the Ravens run game working behind either an extra lineman or a fullback or both. And this is what that does to you:
On his second series Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (seven of 14 in the half for 97 yards and two touchdowns) went play-action, drawing up strong safety Vonn Bell on tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Miles Boykin was able to turn around cornerback LeShaun Sims (playing for the injured William Jackson III) on the outside for a 43-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left in the first quarter. It was the first plus-40-yard TD pass allowed by the Bengals this season.
But the defense got that turnover they desperately needed. Two snaps after he batted down Jackson's pass, defensive tackle Margus Hunt batted another one and this time rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither dove for his first NFL interception at the Ravens 47.
The offense couldn't respond. After Perine's first-down carry for three yards, Allen got flushed out of the pocket with no one open. On third-and-seven, Bernard got matched up on inside linebacker Chris Board out of the slot running deep down the left sideline. But Board boxed him out and Allen's completion was out of bounds.
That gave the ball back to the Ravens' meat grinder and Jackson was just too tough as he melted the clock with 17 plays and 92 yards for 8:39. The Bengals had him backed up on his 12 on third-and-five, rushed three, had everyone covered and Jackson eased for an eight-yard gain.
On fourth-and-three at midfield, Jackson ripped off a quick pass in front of the coverage for a first-down flip and then spreads the field for an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hollywood Brown. The Bengals blitzed for the first time, but Jackson went right to Brown in the slot, covered by little-used cornerback Jalen Davis. Davis, who came into the game with 51 of his 52 scrimmage snaps coming Nov. 15 in Pittsburgh, was in the mix with Jackson III and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander on the shelf.
At that point the Bengals defense was exhausted after being on the field for all but 4:06 of the first half.