As the Ravens tried to mount an unlikely comeback against the Bengals on Thursday night after landing in a 21-point hole twice in the first half, the margin had reduced to five — and the momentum favored the Ravens.
And so the play of the game arrived with 8:08 to play, the home team leading 28-23, and the Bengals facing third and two on their on 33. Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd, lined up in the right slot, ran a short crossing route. Ravens defensive back Tavon Young broke up the pass, putting Baltimore in position to try to take the lead with plenty of time left.
But wait. A yellow flag landed on the field. The officials called Young for holding.
And while Young indeed had a right hand on Boyd’s waist, Young didn’t impede Boyd’s ability to run across the field. Instead, Young’s hand simply was placed in a spot that would have been conducive to holding, if Young had used his hand to slow down Boyd.
Making the call even more questionable was the circumstance. Sure, a foul is supposed to always be a foul no matter the margin or remaining time. But flags often get nudged a little deeper in key moments, and in this specific case it would have given extra reason to not call a penalty.
The first down kept Cincinnati’s drive alive, chewing up clock and leading to a field goal that pushed the margin back to eight points, and in turn setting the stage for a last-gasp effort from the Ravens to potentially force overtime. Bengals defensive back Shawn Williams got to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco before Flacco could uncork a throw that coach John Harbaugh said after the game could have resulted in a long touchdown, the Bengals recovered, and that was that.