BALTIMORE - The Bengals' new defensive coordinator was helpless to prevent a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back from rushing for 115-plus yards apiece Sunday and leading the Ravens to a 24-21 victory that diminished the Bengals' playoff chances.
Not even head coach Marvin Lewis, who took over the defense when coordinator Teryl Austin was fired last week after three straight opponents gained 500 or more yards, had an answer for speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson, making his first NFL start, and 240-pound bruiser Gus Edwards.
Jackson gained 117 yards on the ground and completed 13 of 19 passes for 190 yards with one interception. Edwards rushed for 115 yards with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
"We weren't able to get him stopped enough," Lewis said of Jackson.
Overall Lewis said he thought the defense was better, despite allowing 265 yards rushing.
"I thought they played hard," Lewis said. "I thought they played better and did a good job on assignments."
The Bengals (5-5) took their fourth loss in the last five games and now face long odds of winning an AFC wild card in a crowded field of teams with .500 records. If the season ended today, the Chargers (7-2) and the Ravens (5-5) would make the playoffs ahead of the Bengals and three other 5-5 teams - the Dolphins, Colts and Titans.
Fortunately, the Bengals own the tiebreaker over the Colts and Dolphins.
There are six games to go, so bring it on, Lewis said.
"It's a race now, and that's what we're here for," Lewis said. "It's now a race to the finish. And we'll be a better football team coming out of this than we were coming in. That's what's exciting for me."
Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville and a Ravens' 2018 first-round draft choice, started in place of injured Joe Flacco and repeatedly eluded the Bengals rush, turning losses into gains, while Edwards, an undrafted rookie from Rutgers and an October call-up from the practice squad, ran through tackles or dragged defenders with him.
The combination of Thunder and Lightning allowed the Ravens to dominate the game early and late after Andy Dalton touchdown passes to Matt Lengel and John Ross in the third quarter gave the Bengals a 21-13 lead.
Two key defensive plays - an interception and 22-yard return by safety Shawn Williams and a fourth-down stop on Jackson at the Ravens 45 - set up the last two Bengals' scores.
But the Ravens followed with 11 unanswered points on Edwards' 11-yard TD blast and two-point conversion, and Jason Tucker's third field goal. Tucker hit from 28, 56 and 24 yards.
The Bengals had a chance to tie the game with 3:59 to go, but Randy Bullock was wide right on a 52-yard field goal try. On their final drive, with fourth down on the Bengals 37, Dalton's pass to Cody Core was knocked away by Marlon Humphrey, leaving Dalton in disbelief.
"I definitely thought we were going to go down there, we were going to score and win the game," Dalton said.
With Lewis in charge, the Bengals defense snapped its embarrassing NFL record of giving up 500-plus yards over the past three games, but the Ravens still got 403 yards and dominated time of possession 38 minutes to 22 minutes.
Now, what about a new coordinator for the offense?
With A.J Green still sidelined by a toe injury, the Bengals limped to just 255 yards - only 48 on the ground. Joe Mixon managed only 14 yards on 12 carries with one TD. Mixon did catch three passes for 38 yards.
Dalton completed just 19 of 36 for 211 yards.
With the playoff promise of a 4-1 start slipping away, the Bengals host the Browns (3-6-1) next Sunday.
"I had butterflies before the first tackle, but after the first tackle, it was game on," Jackson said.
Jackson missed practice Thursday with a stomach ailment that led to a trip to the hospital, where he was treated and released. Then, sleep eluded him Saturday night.
"I think I stayed up all night," Jackson said. "I was ready to play last night."
KEEP 'EM GUESSING
Though Jackson lacks experience, he certainly knows how to keep a defense guessing. More than Flacco, anyway.
"It's like two different offenses," Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. "With Joe Flacco, he just stands back there and isn't very mobile but throws the ball hard. This guy (Jackson) is very unpredictable."
But can he win a game with his arm?
"I don't know how well he throws the ball," Burfict said. "But I guess we'll find out."
Bengals: WR A.J. Green (toe) was inactive after dressing for warmups.
Ravens: OT James Hurst (back) was inactive for a fourth straight week. ... OT Ronnie Stanley twice limped off the field. He's had ankle issues lately.
Bengals: A matchup next Sunday against visiting Cleveland should be particularly meaningful for former Browns coach Hue Jackson, hired as an assistant by Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Ravens: A three-game homestand concludes for Baltimore against the struggling Oakland Raiders.