As he prepared for the Bengals last week, Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale declared that it was too early to put a Pro Football Hall Fame gold jacket on Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
But after he racked up his second straight career passing day against the Ravens with a blistering team-record 525 yards Sunday at a Paul Brown Stadium jammed with 63,922 fans drenched in holiday spirt and division title fervor, Burrow and his mates are on the verge being fitted for an AFC North championship ball cap with the 41-21 victory over the Ravens. And Burrow was on the verge of throwing for the most yards in the Super Bowl era, falling two yards shy of Warren Moon's 527 in 1990 that was tied by Houston's Matt Schaub in 2012. He twice passed Boomer Esiason on Sunday. First, he broke the Bengals record Esiason set on Oct. 7, 1990 in an overtime win Los Angeles over the Rams and the 522 he threw as Cardinal in 1996 for the third most until Sunday. Norm van Brocklin's 554 set 70 years ago is the record.
In his second year Burrow (37 of 46 with a career-high four TD passes) completed the 9-6 Bengals' first season sweep of the Ravens and Steelers in a dozen years with the biggest passing day in the NFL this season. It's also the second sweep this century to decisively break the tie atop the division with the 8-7 Ravens with two games left. And it comes in a game the Bengals posted their fifth most prolific yards of all time with 575, the most since Esiason lowered the boom in LA.
View the best game action photos from the Bengals hosting the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season.
The Bengals defense had a surprising tussle with Ravens emergency quarterback Josh Johnson (304 yards), but Trey Hendrickson got his 14th sack that broke Carlos Dunlap's club record, Vonn Bell picked off Johnson's last throw and B.J. Hill's fourth-and-one stop set up rookie kicker Evan McPherson's bid for an NFL record tying 10th field goal from 50 yards. It went wide right, stopping the Bengals' skein that saw them score on the game's first seven possessions with 5:15 left in the game.
Martindale tried a little bit of everything but his decimated secondary and depleted pass rush couldn't keep pace with Burrow's numerous weapons. Wide receiver Tee Higgins had a career high 194 yards on 12 catches and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase added 125 in his first 100-yarder since he romped for 201 in the bookend 41-17 win in Baltimore back on Oct. 24.
After the Ravens cut the lead to 24-14 with 1:38 left in the half Burrow proceeded to continue his assault with the help of Higgins' massive wingspan. On third down Burrow heaved a 52-yard jump ball and Higgins ripped it out of the hands of two DBs and his orange gloves cradling the ball helped it survive replay inside the Baltimore 10.
That gave Burrow eight throws of at least 50 yards this season, second only to the Rams' Matthew Stafford.
Then on back-to-back snaps (one was an interception in the end zone), Chase drew back-to-back penalties to set up Burrow's third touchdown pass of the half when Higgins out leveraged cornerback Kevon Seymour to the outside for the one-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left.
That left Burrow a smoking 18 of 21 for 299 yards in the half for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He became the first quarterback since Tom Brady to throw for that many yards in a half and the first Bengal to do it since Carson Palmer did it in a 2010 loss in Atlanta.
And Higgins already had a monstrous 129 yards on seven catches for his fourth 100-yard game in the last five weeks.
The Bengals went up 10-7 when Bengals head coach Zac Taylor matched Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's aggressiveness and went for it on fourth-and-one and was rewarded with running back Joe Mixon's grinding one-yard touchdown behind center Trey Hopkins with 27 seconds left in the first quarter. That came one snap after Mixon was stoned on third-and-goal from the 1.
Mixon's 13th rushing touchdown (two shy of Ickey Woods' club record) was made possible by Chase's hellacious 17-yard grab on the sidelines on third-and-two that put the ball on the Ravens 3 despite safety Chuck Clark's big hit.
Also on the drive, the Ravens lost their most experienced cornerback when Anthony Averett got carted off the field and Burrow wasted no time taking advantage on the next possession. The Ravens looked to call off the blitz and dropped into a zone and Boyd turned around the DB in the slot and was all by himself when Burrow dropped dime down the seam and a week after catching a 56-yard touchdown to win the game in Denver, Boyd made this one a 68-yard touchdown with the help of Mixon's block as he somersaulted into the end zone for a 17-7 lead.
It was Burrow's NFL-leading 12th touchdown pass of at least 20 yards in the air and it signaled another Joe Show was underway just 1:42 into the second quarter.
Burrow must have had Martindale enraged on the next possession after Boyd burned him deep. Burrow pitched 20-yarders over the middle each to Higgins and Chase as Chase broke A. J. Green's Bengals rookie record going past 1,057 yards and finishing the day with 1,163.
Then Burrow found Mixon in the flat and he froze cornerback Tavon Young with a jump cut long enough to slam him back into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown catch that made it 24-7 with 7:03 left in the half. And Burrow, who had 416 yards in Baltimore, was again blistering the Ravens again with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on 13 of 15 passing for 217 yards and the two touchdowns.
But the Bengals defense couldn't solve Josh Johnson even though he just showed up in Baltimore ten days ago. After they went up 24-7, they had a shot to bury the Ravens on a third-and-12 from the Ravens 8. But James Proche II got loose over the middle for a 16-yard gain. Then on third-and-13, cornerback Mike Hilton and linebacker Germaine Pratt couldn't finish a tackle on Tylan Wallace's second catch of the season that turned into an 18-yarder. Then they lost 1,000-yard tight end Mark Andrew for a 28-yarder on third-and-10 that set up a touchdown that cut it to 24-14 with a 1:38 left in the half.
As it turned out, more than enough time for Burrow.
When rookie defensive lineman Cam Sample (hamstring) went out for good early in the game, they were down to one edge behind starters Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Noah Spence, on the practice squad all season, got plenty of work in his Bengals debut.