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Will Lamar Jackson be enough for injury-depleted Baltimore to snap skid in Cincinnati?

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    Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff WriterSep 15, 2023, 06:00 AM ET

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Eight months ago, the Baltimore Ravens played at the Cincinnati Bengals and Lamar Jackson was thinking more about breaking a household item than a big play.

Jackson watched the wild-card game from home because of his sprained left knee. With 4:15 left in a 17-17 game, Jackson saw Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard return quarterback Tyler Huntley’s fumble 98 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore’s 24-17 loss.

“I almost hit my [TV] screen,” Jackson said.

While all the talk heading into Sunday’s game against the Bengals (1 p.m. ET, CBS) will be about how shorthanded the Ravens are, Baltimore has its biggest X factor healthy, as Jackson will play in his first game in Cincinnati since the 2020 season.

With Jackson, Baltimore is 2-0 at Cincinnati, scoring a total of 87 points. Eluding defenders and hitting receivers in the end zone, Jackson has thrown six touchdowns and one interception in his two career starts at Paycor Stadium. He’s averaged 81 yards rushing and ran for one touchdown.

Without Jackson, the Ravens have lost their past three trips to Cincinnati. Jackson’s replacements at quarterback — Josh Johnson, Anthony Brown and Huntley — have produced more turnovers (five) than touchdowns (four).

"Of course it’s a big difference [with Jackson],” Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen said. "You got the unanimous NFL MVP out there.”

It was in Cincinnati where Jackson delivered the signature moment of his 2019 MVP season. He pulled off a 360-degree spin move for a 47-yard touchdown run in Baltimore’s 49-13 victory.

A year later in Cincinnati, Jackson threw three touchdowns and ran for 97 yards before sitting out the fourth quarter in a 38-3 win.

The past three games at the Bengals haven’t been as memorable for the Ravens.

In 2021, Johnson was pressed into starting a 41-21 loss just 10 days after signing with the team because Jackson injured his ankle and Huntley tested positive for COVID-19.

In the 2022 finale, another third-stringer in Brown made his first career start in a 27-16 loss and completed 43.2% of his passes (19-of-44) as Baltimore rested many of its starters.

And in last season’s playoff loss, Huntley made the costly turnover on a play that was designed for him to run low instead of leaping over the pile at the goal line.

“With Lamar back, we have our leader back,” Ravens running back Gus Edwards said, "and it’s going to be a lot more big plays.”

Jackson is fully healthy, but a good number of Baltimore’s impact players are not. In addition to placing running back J.K. Dobbins (season-ending torn Achilles) on injured reserve this week, the Ravens are expected to be without four more starters: left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot) and safety Marcus Williams (pectoral).

The odds are stacked against Jackson, who is an underdog for the 13th time of his six-year career. The Bengals were 3.5-point favorites as of Thursday afternoon.

Jackson has the second-best outright record as an underdog in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He’s 8-4 (.667) when not favored. The only quarterback with a better outright record as an underdog is Jimmy Garoppolo (13-5).

“I love being the underdog,” Jackson said. "I really don’t care to be hyped up or people displaying that we’re on top of the league. I’d rather be the underdog because we always have something to prove. We always have a chip on our shoulder to go out there and win a game.”



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The Bengals may be the odds-on favorite but based on how both teams are currently playing I think Baltimore has the advantage with the momentum. They still have plenty of weapons on offense and that defense is still a top 10 unit, IMO. The Ravens are definitely looking for some get back after the loss in the playoffs last year and I know the Bengals will be ready to go after last week's debacle, so it should be a great game. 

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