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Jackson's injury a concern, but Ravens' defense playing well
By NOAH TRISTER
BALTIMORE (AP) Thanks to Lamar Jackson's injury and a surging Cincinnati team, the Baltimore Ravens suddenly have their work cut out for them if they want to win the AFC North.
They did, however, take another step in that direction last weekend.
The Ravens rallied late to edge the Broncos 10-9, and although Denver's inept offense played a big role in the victory, Baltimore's remaining schedule includes a few other teams that might also struggle to score. So this formula - winning a low-scoring game behind strong defense and just enough offense - might be able to work until Jackson comes back.
"A character win without question - finding the way to get the job done when it needed to get done in different areas was the key," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought guys came up with some plays when we had to have plays made. Defensively, throughout the game, offensively, especially on the last drive, special teams."
Harbaugh described Jackson's knee injury as "week to week" - so it seems likely that Baltimore will again have to rely on backup Tyler Huntley this coming weekend at Pittsburgh. Jackson left Sunday's game after the first quarter.
The Ravens managed a field goal on Huntley's first full drive - and then nothing more until he led a 16-play, 91-yard march for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. That kept Baltimore (8-4) in a first-place tie with the Bengals. Cincinnati has won four straight.
Two weeks ago, the Ravens had a one-game lead and were about to face Jacksonville and Denver. The Bengals were about to take on Tennessee and Kansas City.
Cincinnati then beat both of those tough opponents while Baltimore split its two games and Jackson was injured.
Not a great development for the Ravens, to say the least. But there's no sign of panic.
Aside from one bad quarter at Jacksonville, the Ravens have had a very nice stretch defensively. Baltimore allowed 13 points at New Orleans, three points against Carolina and then 28 to the Jaguars - 18 of which came in the final period.
So the Denver win was the third time in four games the Ravens held an opponent to one touchdown or fewer.
"We're still chasing a goose egg, so we could have played better," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "Some plays I left on the field, but it feels good to be able to have a good defensive day."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Big plays have been scarce in the passing game this year, and the Ravens' offense was bogged down in general Sunday - but they learned the hard way that if they force the issue, it might make things worse.
During one of their few promising drives against the Broncos, they ran a reverse pass in which James Proche II threw deep into heavy coverage and was intercepted.
"Trying too hard maybe to make something happen with a trick play," Harbaugh said. "It was probably time just to grind. I think it turned out to be a grind game, and that was a finesse idea that it wasn't time for that, for sure."
Huntley went 27 for 32 for 187 yards with an interception. His completion rate of 84.4 percent was the highest in a game for anyone in the NFL this season - with a minimum of 30 attempts.
Like Jackson, Huntley is a threat to run, so Baltimore's offensive scheme doesn't change much when he has to play.
"He's probably going to take most of the reps this week," Harbaugh said.
The offensive line, which has injury issues of its own, allowed four sacks, and the running game was not a huge factor.
LT Ronnie Stanley (ankle) did not play, and Patrick Mekari - the next man up at that position - hurt his foot and played only about half the offensive snaps. ... Harbaugh said LB Patrick Queen has a bruised thigh, which was considered good news after he was carted off during the game.
0 - The number of red zone opportunities in the game for the Broncos. Denver never advanced farther than the Baltimore 23.
The Ravens meet Pittsburgh for the first time this season Sunday. It's the first of two straight road games within the division for Baltimore, which takes on Cleveland the following weekend.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated December 5, 2022