John Harbaugh walked into the postgame interview room after Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and asked which network had just broadcast the game. When a reporter told him CBS, he stepped to the podium and smiled.
"Well they got their money's worth today," he said.
The Ravens' bizarre 20-17 overtime victory over the Bengals had a little bit of everything, including one of the most unusual finishes in the NFL this season. A 46-yard field goal from Justin Tucker ended the game in overtime, and put the Ravens (4-5) within striking distance of the AFC North leading Bengals (6-4).
The finish was set up by an improbable Hail Mary by the Bengals at the end of regulation, where wide receiver A.J. Green hauled in an ill-advised tipped ball by safety James Ihedigbo in the back of the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown as time expired.
The score sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens stopped the Bengals on the opening possession, then converted a pair of first downs to get Tucker in position to boot the game winner on a windy afternoon.
"It was one of those [games] where afterwards you wipe your forehead and go, 'Phew,'" quarterback Joe Flacco said. "'Thank God we won this one.'Having said that, it's a big win, and you take them no matter how you get them."
The game was a roller coaster for the Ravens, as they jumped out to a three-score lead, then allowed the Bengals to come all the way back. The touchdown by Green left the Ravens stunned, and several defenders laid face down on the turf in shock after the score. The home crowd of 70,992 went silent.
The Ravens had to quickly regroup to avoid what would have been a crushing loss at this point of the year.
"That's why we have guys [like] Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, who kept our head in the game," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "They said, 'Look, the play is over, let's move on.' Elvis Dumervil was like, 'We're not going to lose this game.' That was their mindset and that made everyone's mindset that we were not going to lose that game."
The Ravens defense overcame the miscue in overtime to give the offense a chance to win the game. Cincinnati drove down the field to get to the Ravens' 33-yard line, but the defense stopped them on third and fourth down. On fourth-and-2, Ihedigbo got a little redemption by bringing down explosive Bengals running back Giovani Bernard for an 11-yard loss.
"The defense rallied, ran their butts off to the ball, and we bottled them up to give our offense great field position," Ihedigbo said. "That's what it's all about. You've got to make plays."
Outside of the Hail Mary, the defense dominated a potent Bengals offense and kept the Ravens in the game. Baltimore held the Bengals to 364 yards of total offense, and also came up with three critical interceptions.
The secondary blanketed the Bengals receivers and the pass rush pressured Dalton for much of the afternoon.
"Defense got the game ball, along with Justin Tucker," Harbaugh said. "And they deserved it, one play notwithstanding."
It was a collective effort by the defense, as Ihedigbo notched his first two career interceptions and Webb came up with his first pick of the season. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had 2.5 sacks, defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson had his first career sack and Arthur Jones also got to Dalton.
"Defensively we played lights out today," Ihedigbo said. "I made the reference to the 2000 [Ravens] defense – they didn't give up anything to anybody. And when you go with that mindset, you know it shows on the field."
The Ravens needed a strong showing from their defense on a day where their offense struggled. The unit finished with just 189 total yards and three turnovers, but the group was opportunistic.
After starting slow in nearly every game this season, the Ravens struck quickly on Sunday. With the aid of some critical Cincinnati miscues in the form of penalties and a turnover, the Ravens scored on two of their first three drives.
Flacco, who finished with a season-low 140 passing yards, scrambled to extend the play and connect with tight end Dallas Clark for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter and then Tucker followed it up a 36-yard field goal on the next drive. The Ravens extended their lead to 17-0 in the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to wide receiver Torrey Smith.
"We took advantage of opportunities and the biggest thing offensively is that we scored touchdowns early," Smith said. "We just executed a little more, made some plays, left some out there, but we did enough to get the win today. And our defense played their tails off, and there's nothing like being an offense that's kind of trying to find your way at times, and having a defense like we do."
To jump-start the offense, the Ravens turned to some trickery in the first half. They used quarterback Tyrod Taylor on a reverse, put in Haloti Ngata as an extra blocker, ran a flea flicker and operated out of the pistol formation. The changes are part of a continued transition for the offense, which has struggled throughout the season.
"You have to do that," Harbaugh said. "You have to cause problems for a defense, and those plays got some yards for us."
The win for the Ravens has the potential to change the course of the season. They are now just 1.5 games back in the division race with seven games to play, including another matchup with Cincinnati in Week 17.
"Where this leads us we will find out," Harbaugh said. "We have to get better in a whole lot of areas, individually and collectively, and we have to improve as a football team. But these are the games you have to win in order to have a chance in this league, and we did it, and I'm proud of our guys."