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Tyler Huntley gave the Ravens a chance against the Bengals, until he didn’t

Tyler Huntley was about to be the hero, then he hero’d too hard.

Syndication: The Enquirer The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Not many gave the Baltimore Ravens much of a chance to upset their divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Bengals were riding a seven-game winning streak into the postseason and were 8.5-point favorites. The Ravens, meanwhile, were without star quarterback Lamar Jackson and sputtered down the stretch with backup Tyler Huntley behind center.

Yet the Ravens outplayed the Bengals for much of Sunday night. They outgained their rivals 364 to 234 yards, they averaged far more yards per play (5.5) than the Bengals (4.3), and Huntley was even outdueling All-Pro Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

After shaking off an early interception, Huntley gave the Ravens offense life. He led the Ravens on an impressive 17-play, 75-yard drive bringing Baltimore within two points early. A few minutes later, he was able to orchestrate a two-minute drill to give the Ravens an improbable 10-9 lead at the half.

When the Bengals came out firing in the second half, Huntley was up for the fight. After Burrow retook the lead for Cincinnati late in the third quarter, the Ravens quarterback answered just three minutes later with a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Demarcus Robinson to tie the game up.

Then came the pivotal drive in the game. At first, the drive had all the makings of a career-changing moment for Huntley. He dropped a pass right in the bucket to tight end Mark Andrews for a 25-yard gain on third-and-1. On the very next play, he took a read option for 35 yards all the way down the the Bengals 2-yard line. He was six feet away from giving the Ravens a touchdown lead over their division rivals with less than 13 minutes left in the game.

Three plays later, it was the Bengals who had a lead in which they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Between those moments, Huntley made a critical error that cost the Ravens their season. Facing a third-and-goal from the one, the Ravens dialed up a quarterback sneak. But rather than put his head down and push forward, Huntley made his own decision to try and leap over the pile. There, Bengals linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson were waiting for him. Wilson punched the ball out of Huntley’s hands, and it conveniently landed in Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard’s hands, who turned and ran 98 yards for the go-ahead score.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed after the game that the design of the play was to go low.

“It wasn’t executed just the right way,” Harbaugh said. “Tyler went over the top. That’s a burrow play. He’s got to go low on that. That’s the way the play’s designed.”

Huntley said he thought the defense was giving him enough room over the top, but he wishes he had gone low on the play.

“Yeah, maybe they wouldn’t have returned it all the way,” Huntley said. “But at the time, I just felt like everyone was packed in, they shot for our linemen’s legs, the (line)backers just felt pretty good up on the line, and I just tried to make a play.”

The Ravens are in the midst of a quarterback crisis. Jackson is on an expiring contract, and Baltimore has failed to reach an agreement with the former MVP in two offseasons of negotiations. While Baltimore has insisted they will re-enter negotiations when the time is right, some have questioned Jackson’s interest in returning based on him sitting the past six games with a knee injury. More questions were raised on Sunday night when the NBC broadcast reported Jackson did not even travel with the team for the Wild Card game.

Harbaugh didn’t comment on Jackson’s situation after the game, only offering praise for Huntley—who was dealing with a pair of injuries on his own—for a gutsy effort in a tough position.

“I think coming off the shoulders and the wrist injuries and fighting his way back onto the field and just giving it everything he had (in) that kind of a performance.”

The Ravens head back to Baltimore to figure out where to go from here, and the Bengals advance to face the Bills in the Divisional round.