CINCINNATI (AP) — With a playoff spot assured and only a No. 5 or 6 seed at stake, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested several starters and went with undrafted rookie Anthony Brown at quarterback in a 27-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Harbaugh's strategy, which he described on Friday as a two-game plan, could pay off now that the Ravens and Bengals are set for a rematch in Cincinnati next week in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
“We did what’s best for our team and our season,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens are still without star quarterback Lamar Jackson and placed Jackson's backup, Tyler Huntley, on the inactive list along with running back J.K. Dobbins, tight end Mark Andrews and cornerback Marcus Peters.
Brown threw a pair of first-half interceptions and lost a fumble in the end zone that was recovered by the Bengals for a touchdown just before halftime. He settled in later in the game and finished finished 19 of 44 for 286 yards.
Next week, the Ravens expect to have Huntley available — and possibly Jackson, who has missed five games since suffering a PCL sprain in Week 13.
The majority of the Ravens' defensive starters played Sunday.
“I don’t really think about that too much,” linebacker Roquan Smith said when asked about the Ravens resting players.
Unlike the Bengals, who still had a shot at the No. 2 seed with a win and a loss by Buffalo, the stakes weren't very high for Harbaugh's team. Baltimore finished as the No. 6 seed. Moving up to the fifth seed and earning a home playoff game would have required a win over the Bengals, a win by the Los Angeles Chargers over Denver, and a successful coin flip.
The Bengals played all their regulars on Sunday and suffered a couple of injuries. Right guard Alex Cappa departed with a left ankle injury in the third quarter. Receiver Tyler Boyd was evaluated for a concussion but later returned.
“We needed this win,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “There’s just too much on the line. You had to block that out and just play whoever they put out there.”
The Bengals won the AFC North after the NFL canceled their Monday night game against Buffalo following Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest.
The Bengals and Ravens split two meetings this season with the Ravens winning 19-17 on Oct. 9.
As division rivals, the teams are familiar with each other, with the Ravens leading the all-time series 28-26. The Bengals have won three of the last four meetings.
“Obviously playing an opponent that we're kind of familiar with is interesting,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “We're 1-1 against them. When you play three times, usually the best team will show. Obviously, this is a playoff game, so it's exciting.”
Neither team wanted to tip its hand on Sunday, knowing a rematch was likely. Taylor said the Bengals did not want to “put it all out there” on Sunday. The Ravens' offense will look much different next week.
Harbaugh downplayed the novelty of playing the same team back to back weeks.
“I don't gauge that," he said. "What matters is how we come out and prepare for the playoff wild-card round. Our guys have earned that opportunity and we're looking forward to it.”
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