getty images

Maybe it was because Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale opined that Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase weren't exactly Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams when he addressed the media on Thursday. Maybe it was because the Ravens ran the ball down the Bengals' throats for 404 yards in Week 17 of last season when the home team could do nothing to mitigate it.

Maybe it was because Joe Burrow was an odd Pro Bowl snub, despite an excellent season coming off an ACL tear last November, and lost out to Ravens struggling and injured quarterback Lamar Jackson. Maybe it was just to show a longtime AFC North bully they could punch back. Maybe it was an indication they were sick of hearing about being the Bungles and squandering opportunities to secure a spot among the AFC's elite. Maybe it was just because.

Whatever the reasons for the Bengals' unrelenting beatdown of the battered and tattered Ravens on Sunday, this was a butt kicking that never let up. Cincinnati picked up where it left off in the second half of their Week 7 beatdown of the Ravens in Baltimore, and made a point to keep throwing the ball all over the field deep in the second half, of a blowout, against an opponent utterly devoid of starting caliber defensive backs. There was something decidedly personal, and visceral, about this 41-21 unmasking that wasn't nearly as close as the score.

Consider that at halftime the Bengals led 31-14 and had rolled up 333 yards of offense on 33 plays (10.2 yards per play!), with four touchdowns and a field goal in their possessions, compiling 10 plays over 15 yards and two over 50 … And we had only just begun. Burrow was 18-for-21 for 299 yards with three TDs (a perfect QB rating of 158.3), but he was anything but done emasculating what was left of Baltimore's secondary and Martindale's scheme. In a season of humiliations for this once-proud defense, this was to be the most profound. 

Burrow would go on to throw 25 times more in the second half, despite the lead and despite having Joe Mixon in the backfield. At one point in the fourth quarter, already leading 34-21, Burrow dropped back 13 straight times. This was no accident. This was a signal of intent. He was taking deep shots, spreading it around, rubbing it in, en route to a franchise record 525 passing yards. Four Bengals had 85 receiving yards or more by the time the Bengals did take a knee.

This was about embarrassing an opponent; putting them in their place. Cincy got the ball back off an interception with about three minutes to play, and Burrow hit Mixon downfield for 52 yards, their seventh passing play over 20 yards on the day and, shockingly, third of 52 yards or greater. Young coach Zac Taylor was letting John Harbaugh know this wasn't the Bengals of old. And this rivalry will certainly have more spice when they meet next.

But the reality is, the Bengals hung 82 points and a staggering 941 passing yards in two blowouts over the Ravens, and Baltimore had plenty of its top defenders available in Week 7. The Bengals have a potentially bright playoff future. The Ravens, at 1-4 in the AFC North and 5-6 in the AFC, can start packing up their lockers.

Saints' Payton deserves more credit

Not enough was made of Sean Payton winning his 150th game with the Saints recently. Frankly, not enough has been made of the job he has done this season under the most adversity of any team, arguably, and having to cobble together makeshift lineups from week to week.

Few care to remember where the Saints franchise was before he arrived. Because they were nowhere. The Aints were back. Huge questions loomed about whether the team would stay in New Orleans. They were moribund. This was not a destination job. Payton has transformed them. And it goes beyond the Super Bowl few could have envisioned when he arrived in 2006, just before Hurricane Katrina was about the alter the landscape there.

Payton is 150-88 since arriving (he missed one season when the team sagged due to his suspension from the "Bountygate" investigation that fell apart upon further review by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue), for a .630 winning percentage. Only the Patriots, Packers and Steelers have won more games since he took over the Saints. Only the Patriots have scored more points.

Seems to me his milestone last week fell through the cracks. But that shutout victory over the Bucs, at a time when injuries and COVID-19 had ravaged his roster, had the hallmarks of his teams. He is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

Texans' Mills keeps impressing

Davis Mills continues to impress. His decision making and makeup are excellent and even with the roster crumbling around him and facing consistent talent imbalances from week to week, this kid looks like a gamer. I'm not sure he is a starting QB for the long term, but I'm also not sure he isn't and he certainly merits every look possible.

Mills churned through a suspect Chargers defense and took advantage of the absence of Joey Bosa to lead the Texans to victory. Not more you could ask of him than going 21-for-27 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. Mills splayed the ball around, with seven teammates each catching two balls or more. His efficiency, coupled with the Chargers' inability to stop the run, has the Texans on a rare winning streak. True, Mills is not the most special athlete to play the position. Sure, he has some limitations. 

But he's also been a revelation that warrants further evaluation, and not just for the duration of this season.

More insider notes from Week 16

  • If the Dolphins knock off the Saints on Monday night, they will shoot up the AFC standings. The Chargers dropping to 8-7, the Ravens getting crushed and the Browns losing a close one would put an 8-7 Dolphins team in position to make a real push. One of the craziest stories of the season that did not look possible in October … 
  • Cruel reality for Mac Jones, as rookie QBs tend to struggle this time of year, especially as game flow and game conditions change. Having to play from behind against a quality opponent isn't bringing out the best of him, and things have looked pretty constricted for him in losses to the Colts and Bills. No shame in his struggles, but lately he has defaulted to launching the ball in desperation, rather than throwing it away, and his interceptions Sunday were too much to overcome. A recalibration is certainly in order … 
  • Mark Andrews is having the greatest receiving season in Ravens history, and oddly flourishing the last three weeks with Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson subbing for Lamar Jackson. From Weeks 7-13 Jackson was the worst QB in the NFL throwing to tight ends, with a QB rating of just 45.5, constantly forcing balls to Andrews. The last three weeks, with Jackson out, Andrews has caught 29 of 34 targets for 376 yards with four touchdowns. He has at least 115 yards and eight catches in each of those games … 
  • Safe to say the Bucs bounced back, and they get to feast on a soft schedule from here on out with the hapless Panthers still to come again … 
  • The Rams and Cardinals look like teams going in completely different directions right now. The bottom is falling out for Arizona, with an offense with no ideas these days … 
  • All those weird losses and issues closing things out early in the season seem to have paid dividends for the Colts. Winning that game Saturday night with the players they lost to COVID at the last minute is another indication of Frank Reich's influence on that team and their fortitude. They won't go out easy in the playoffs, even with Carson Wentz's limitations.