Bengals hold on to beat Ravens behind historic fumble return

Just when it looked like backup QB Tyler Huntley would give the Ravens an unlikely lead over the Bengals in the fourth quarter, things went starkly in the opposite direction.

Huntley reached up with the ball toward the goal line on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson popped the ball loose and defensive end Sam Hubbard grabbed the fumble in mid-air. Hubbard then went 98 yards for a touchdown, the pivotal play in the Bengals’ 24-17 win to eliminate the Ravens on Sunday night.

The defending AFC champion Bengals now travel to face the Bills next weekend, in a rematch of the Week 17 game that was suspended in the first quarter after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field. Hamlin required CPR on the field after going into cardiac arrest but has since recovered and has been released from the hospital.

Until that fumble, Baltimore looked like it could pull off the upset despite the absence of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed a sixth straight game with a knee injury. Huntley had thrown for two touchdowns — matching his season total in four starts — and was in position to take the lead with 12 minutes left in the game.

Cincinnati, the third seed in the AFC, overcame continuing problems on the offensive line, losing a third starter to injury when left tackle Jonah Williams left with a knee injury. The Bengals were already without right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’el Collins, making it harder to protect Burrow and give him time to find receivers downfield.

Baltimore’s defense had made another stop in the fourth quarter to force a Bengals punt with seven minutes left, and Huntley threw a 29-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews, but the drive got no farther than midfield. Given one more shot with 3:14 to play, the Ravens got into Cincinnati territory, with Huntley converting a fourth-and-1 to the Bengals’ 33 inside the two-minute warning.

The Ravens got to the Cincinnati 17 as they sought a game-tying touchdown, but a holding penalty backed them up with 22 seconds left. A final pass on fourth-and-20 from the 27 went incomplete in the end zone to clinch the win for the Bengals.

The two teams had traded touchdowns in the third quarter, with Burrow scoring on a 1-yard keeper and hitting on a two-point conversion to receiver Tee Higgins for a 17-10 lead. Baltimore responded with a Huntley 41-yard touchdown pass to receiver Demarcus Robinson to tie the game at 17-17.

The Ravens had led 10-9 at the half, their defense holding Cincinnati’s offense to just 127 yards to keep the game close. The Bengals had jumped out to a 9-0 lead, converting a Huntley interception into a Burrow touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase on the opening play of the second quarter.

From there, Baltimore took charge, with Huntley leading the Ravens on a 17-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a third-and-goal touchdown where Huntley threw to running back J.K. Dobbins, who stretched out and extended the ball across the goal line for the score.

Ravens rookie safety Kyle Hamilton forced a fumble from Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst on the next drive, and Baltimore had a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line, but couldn’t convert the opportunity. Justin Tucker’s 22-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 10-9 lead at the half.

Baltimore played a sixth straight game without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been sidelined by a knee injury. The Ravens had gone 2-3 without him to finish the season, and Jackson reportedly didn’t travel with the team for Sunday’s game, raising questions as to where things stand on a potential contract extension.

Jackson, a former NFL MVP, played this past season on a fifth-year option, making $23 million, and the Ravens are unlikely to simply allow him to become a free agent in March. The team could use the franchise tag on him to pay him $32 million in 2023, knowing a longterm extension would need to exceed $40 million a year, with Jackson insisting on much if not all of the deal to be guaranteed.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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