CINCINNATI – The Baltimore Ravens' season ended with Lamar Jackson not in uniform, not on the bench — not even in Cincinnati with the team.
An argument could be made their season ended on Dec. 4, when the star quarterback suffered a knee injury that ultimately sidelined him until the Ravens were eliminated from the postseason.
Backup Tyler Huntley had some strong moments for the Ravens in their 24-17 loss to the Bengals in a wild-card playoff game on Sunday night, but his fumble on a quarterback sneak attempt early in the fourth quarter ended up being the decisive play.
Sam Hubbard recovered the fumble and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, and Huntley was unable to lead Baltimore to a tying score in the closing seconds.
Huntley, who has been dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries and was limited in practice this past week, started for the fifth time since Jackson sprained a ligament in his left knee. The Ravens (10-8) went 2-3 in those games. They lost their regular-season finale, also at Cincinnati, with third-stringer Anthony Brown starting in place of the banged-up Huntley.
Baltimore can't help but wonder how differently things might have gone down the stretch with a healthy Jackson.
“It's going to be hard because we've got the offseason now,” the 24-year-old Huntley said. “I’m going to be thinking about the whole offseason. Just one play.”
Huntley threw an early interception that led to a Bengals touchdown, but he responded with some inspired play, throwing two TD passes — the first time the Ravens had scored two touchdowns in a game since Nov. 27, the last full game Jackson played.
He drove his team into position for the go-ahead score when, on third-and-goal from the 1, he extended the ball trying to reach for the goal line. Logan Wilson knocked the ball out of his hand directly to Hubbard, who got enough of a head start to beat the chasing tight end Mark Andrews to the end zone.
Coach John Harbaugh said the play was designed for Huntley to go low, but the quarterback had a different idea.
“Just thought I could go over the top,” Huntley said. “I thought I cleared the line.”
Replays showed he clearly didn't.
Huntley still had another chance. The Ravens took over at the Cincinnati 46 with 3:12 left. But a holding penalty and four incomplete passes sealed it. Huntley threw a desperation pass on fourth-and-20 that was deflected in the end zone, just out of the reach of Ravens receiver James Proche.
Huntley finished 17 for 29 for 226 yards.
“He played his heart out,” Andrews said. “I think anybody who watches this game is going to look at No. 2, Tyler Huntley, and say, ‘Wow, this guy is playing hard, and playing good ball.’"
Until Sunday, the Ravens hadn't scored more than 16 points in a game since a loss at Jacksonville on Nov. 27 — the last full game Jackson played.
“He just told me to go do my thing,” Huntley said. “I wish he had been able to come to the game with us.”
Jackson tweeted Thursday that his PCL sprain hadn’t healed enough for him to play. He did not travel with the team, and he now faces an uncertain future in Baltimore
Jackson could become a free agent after negotiations on a long-term extension fell through last offseason. The Ravens could try again to reach a lucrative deal with the 2019 MVP, or they could use the franchise tag to keep him for another season.
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