How the trajectory of Tyler Huntley’s first playoff start changed with 1 play
A fumble at the goal line turned into a momentum-swinging touchdown return the other way, spoiling an otherwise solid performance from the quarterback
Tyler Huntley, in his first career playoff start, stood 1 yard away from giving the Baltimore Ravens a touchdown lead in their NFL wild-card playoff matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night with just under 12 minutes to play.
When the quarterback Huntley leapt over the pile near the goal line with the game tied 17-17, however, the trajectory of that night changed in a heartbeat of an eventual 24-17 Bengals victory.
Instead of the former Utah quarterback giving the Ravens the lead on the quarterback keeper on a third-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1-yard line, the Bengals’ Logan Wilson popped the ball loose from Huntley’s grip short of the goal line.
The ball then bounced to Cincinnati’s Sam Hubbard, who rumbled 98 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown, giving the Bengals the go-ahead score on the longest fumble return for a touchdown in playoff history.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said the play call wasn’t executed correctly.
“We felt we had a good call, it’s a push sneak play. It wasn’t executed the right way,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh told reporters, per the team’s website. “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.
“It was two (plays) to get it there from inside the 1. We felt like that was the best call. We just didn’t execute it right.”
Huntley, while bemoaning the game-swinging fumble, explained that his decision to go high — instead of low, as the play design called for — was because of how he saw the defense line up on the key play.
“I saw everybody packed in, just tried to go over the top. I thought I cleared the line,” Huntley said. “They just made a play and just happened to take it all the way back.”
“... At the time, I just felt like everybody was packed in, they shot for our linemen’s legs, the ‘backers felt pretty good up at the line. I just tried to make a play.”
That was hardly the end of the drama for Huntley and the Ravens in what was a tight game throughout the second half.
Huntley had a chance to lead Baltimore for the tying score late in the game, as Baltimore took over possession at the Cincinnati 46 with 3:14 to play.
Huntley picked up a first down on fourth and 1 at the Bengals 37 with a 4-yard carry to extend the series, but poor clock management later in the drive hampered what Baltimore and Huntley could do.
After the Ravens picked up a first down at the Cincinnati 17, there was around 1:10 to play, but Baltimore allowed nearly 40 seconds to tick off the clock before their next snap. It left Huntley and the Ravens in desperation mode.
That, combined with a 10-yard penalty, put the Baltimore offense on its heels and Huntley being forced to look far downfield to try to make a play with under 30 seconds left on the clock.
Then with eight seconds left, Baltimore faced fourth and 20 at the Cincinnati 27. Following a timeout, Huntley backpedaled further into the pocket, tripped and nearly fell down before launching a pass from near midfield as the clock ticked down to zero.
The pass reached the end zone and was tipped by a trio of Cincinnati defenders, primarily Mike Hilton, and hit the fingertips of Baltimore wide receiver James Proche II.
The Ravens nearly had a miracle of their own, but Proche couldn’t pull in the pass that ultimately fell to the ground, putting an end to Baltimore’s season.
“I’m going to be thinking about that the whole offseason, how just one play, they won the game. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to motivate me to grind hard, work hard, and be ready for next year,” Huntley said.
The third-year pro Huntley, who filled in for injured starter Lamar Jackson and was limited in practice earlier in the week because of shoulder tendinitis, earned his first playoff start after starting four games late in the season.
It got off to a rough beginning, as his second pass of the game was intercepted and led to a Cincinnati touchdown.
For the better part of the next two and a half quarters, though, Huntley played an efficient game.
He ended the night completing 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Huntley also ran for 54 yards on nine carries.
“He played his heart out,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who caught five passes for 73 yards, both team highs, from Huntley.
Huntley led Baltimore on two second-quarter scoring drives — a touchdown and a field goal — to give Baltimore a 10-9 halftime lead.
The touchdown drive covered 17 plays and 75 yards, helping the Ravens fight their way back into the game when Huntley connected on a 2-yard pass to running back J.K. Dobbins.
On the field goal drive, Huntley turned a broken play into a big gain. After a shotgun snap went awry, he recovered the ball, scrambled to his right and completed a 19-yard pass to tight end Josh Oliver.
After the Bengals retook the lead with a touchdown and two-point conversion early in the third quarter, Huntley responded with an impressive five-play, 81-yard drive.
In addition to turning what looked like a sack into a 27-yard pass to Dobbins, he also threw a 41-yard game-tying touchdown pass to a wide-open Demarcus Robinson.
Cincinnati was forced into a three-and-out on its next possession, and the Ravens took over at their own 19 with a chance to take their first touchdown lead of the night.
Huntley got the Ravens past midfield, then broke off a career-long 35-yard run that put Baltimore at the Cincinnati 2.
Three plays later, though, came the goal line fumble that changed the complexion of the game and put the Ravens playing from behind the rest of the way.
“I think anybody that watches this game is going to look at Tyler Huntley and say, ‘Wow, this guy is playing hard and playing good ball.’ You have to take your hat off to him. He’s just going to continue to learn and get better and better and better. I love that guy,” Andrews said.
Here’s a look at how other Utah ties on active rosters performed on Sunday in the wild-card round:
Bills 34, Dolphins 31
- Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State: Johnson had seven tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry on a third-down incompletion and a pass deflection.
- Eric Rowe, S, Utah: Rowe had seven tackles and forced a lead-changing fumble on a strip sack in the third quarter. Teammate Zach Sieler picked up the fumble and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown to give Miami a 24-20 lead.
Giants 31, Vikings 24
- No Utah ties on active roster.
- Khyiris Tonga, DT, BYU and Granger High: Tonga had an assisted tackle in his first playoff appearance.
Bengals 24, Ravens 17
- Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State: Davis was not active for the game.
- Jay Tufele, DT, Bingham High: Tufele had two assisted tackles in his first-ever playoff appearance.
- Tyler Huntley, QB, Utah: See above.
- Marcus Williams, FS, Utah: Williams had two tackles and a pass deflection in his first playoff appearance with Baltimore.