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Eisenberg: Justin Tucker Actually Won the Vikings Game Twice

K Justin Tucker
K Justin Tucker

The Ravens boosted their playoff chances when they won Sunday, leaving them as one of just two teams in the AFC with two losses through Week 9.

But there's a fine line between winning and losing when a game gets decided in overtime, with 65 points scored. On multiple occasions Sunday, the Ravens were vulnerable to losing to the Vikings.

When they gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return to start the second half, they trailed by 14 points and had a 12.9 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN. That didn't look promising.

Later, Lamar Jackson was intercepted in overtime; when he turned the ball over in OT earlier this season in Las Vegas, the Ravens lost.

But the Ravens were never more vulnerable Sunday than when Kirk Cousins threw a short touchdown pass to bring the Vikings within one point, at 31-30, with 63 seconds left in regulation.

I don't think I was alone in fearing the Vikings might go for the jugular with a two-point conversion try.

They'd just driven 75 yards to score. They averaged 6.1 yards per offensive play during the game and only needed two to successfully convert. They've got an assortment of playmakers.

If they went for two and got it, the Ravens would be in trouble, down by a point and needing to perform some magic in a hurry.

Asked later about going for two, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said, "I thought about it."

I'm sure he did. The view of risk in the NFL has undergone a radical transformation. Coaches faithfully played it safe in most situations until recently, but now, emboldened by win-probability analytics, they're taking all kinds of chances.

Basically, everyone is going for everything.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley went for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 19 in the third quarter against the Ravens a few weeks ago. Just suggesting that to Vince Lombardi back in the day would have sent the legendary coach to the hospital with heart palpitations.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh went 3-for-3 on fourth-down attempts Sunday, including one at his own 36 in the third quarter. With the dynamic Jackson as his quarterback, Harbaugh is at the forefront of the risk-taking revolution.

That bold approach helped the Ravens rally and take the lead Sunday. Late in regulation, though, it was Zimmer who potentially held the outcome in his hands as he contemplated going for two.

Earlier in the second half, he had called for a fake punt in his own end of the field with the score close – a risky decision, for sure. This time, though, he decided not to go for two.

"They have a heck of a kicker," he explained later, "and there was still a minute left. So I thought we just needed to play some defense."

In other words, Justin Tucker scared him out of being bold. Zimmer sent in his kicker, Greg Joseph, whose extra point tied the score.

Tucker won the game later with a 36-yard field goal in overtime. But with how he influenced Zimmer's decision-making, he actually won the game twice.

With Tucker's extraordinary range in consideration, Zimmer decided the Vikings would be vulnerable to a long kick regardless if they were tied or ahead by one. Either way, their defense had to keep Baltimore's offense from giving Tucker a shot. If they didn't get the two-point try, the Ravens could just run out the clock.

That convinced Zimmer to accept the tie for now, with the hope that the Vikings would find a way to win later.

It's quite a statement about Tucker that he is so strong and accurate with his leg that he can impact an opponent's strategy. There are other good kickers in the NFL, but few, if any, are truly intimidating weapons capable of doing that.

As it turned out, the Ravens' offense didn't drive into Tucker's range at the end of regulation. The Vikings might well have won if they'd gone for two and converted.

But I don't fault Zimmer for playing it safe. Going for two in that situation is truly a colossal risk. I'm skeptical of any decision that flat-out loses you a game if it doesn't work.

Still, Harbaugh and the Ravens were relentlessly aggressive. And they won. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

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