In Monday night's 34-28 win over the Houston Texans (5-8), the Ravens (9-4) hung on for yet another squeaker of a victory needing overtime to hold on to their wild-card playoff spot.
It took cornerback Josh Wilson's 12-yard interception return for a touchdown to keep the Ravens ahead of the postseason contenders.
"I still can't believe that really happened," Wilson said. "I was in man-to-man and it turned [into] a little bit of a scramble. He ran out and ran in and went back out. Quarterback threw it inside and I said this can't be happening. I was saying, 'Catch the ball, catch the ball, catch the ball.' And game over."
Playing against the NFL's 29th-ranked defense, the Ravens won the all-important toss in overtime but fizzled at midfield. Even though the offense couldn't garner any points, the possession allowed the defense to rest after being on the field for most of the second half.
Josh Wilson's Game Winning Pick-6
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Sam Koch pinned the Texans on their own 9-yard line with a booming 58-yard punt. On second down, Haloti Ngata pressured Houston quarterback Matt Schaub up the middle and Wilson jumped a short route.
With the football in his hands, it was all daylight for Wilson.
"[Wilson's] the hero of the game," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He made a play in a critical situation on the road in overtime in December in the playoff hunt."
But in hanging on for the close win, the Ravens showed why their offense must move the chains more consistently to keep their defense fresh and maintain the lead.
Through all of the Ravens' four losses, they have given up a fourth-quarter lead. Baltimore has also won three other games in which a fourth-quarter lead was erased. With a history like that, quarterback Joe Flacco was elated to see Wilson come up with the game-winning play.
"It was a lot of joy to see Josh pick that ball off," said Flacco, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 235 yards and a 107.5 rating. "He made a huge play. When you're up by the amount of points that we were, you don't like to have these types of games. To be able to win that after giving it up is pretty big for us."
In this one, Baltimore racked up three touchdowns in the first half, and it could have been four if Derrick Mason didn't let a bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco slip through his fingers. The Ravens offense didn't score any points after the second quarter, while Houston posted 16- and 10-play scoring drives coming out of the break, following that with 99- and 95-yard marches in the fourth quarter.
Schaub led the four second-half scoring drives and tied the ballgame with a touchdown pass to an open Andre Johnson and subsequent two-point conversion with 24 seconds left.
But even though the Texans scored on their final five series – including a Johnson touchdown with 42 seconds left in the first half – Baltimore's defense answered the call.
"When you got a team beat, you've got to put them away," said running back Ray Rice. "It just so happens our defense had to do it today. When you see a game unraveling the way it did, I'm sure our defense was tired. They had to play a lot.
"But we can't force the issue. We just have to keep plugging away. A win is a win, especially at this time of year."
Ravens rookie wideout David Reed returned the second-half opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown to set a franchise record and jump out to a 28-7 lead, but all three ensuing Baltimore drives ended in punts.
With the Ravens defense gassed from their extended time on the field, Houston ate up yards in chunks, whether it was running back Arian Foster, who logged 20 carries for 100 yards, or Schaub hitting on intermediate routes through coverage.
In doing so, the Texans inched closer with 24- and 42-yard field goals from kicker Neil Rackers and a late touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones.
Eventually, Johnson was the Texans' hero, getting open in the back of the end zone for the game-tying grab.
After Mason's drop on the Ravens' opening offensive possession, the Ravens took their next possession 52 yards in eight plays, getting help from two penalties on Houston linebacker Brian Cushing, including a pass-interference in the end zone.
That set up running back Willis McGahee's one-yard touchdown plunge, his second score of the season.
The Ravens then turned Lardarius Webb's 22-yard punt return in the second quarter into a 9-yard touchdown dart to Mason, who toed the back line to make an impressive grab.
The game should have been over when Mason tacked on a 26-yard touchdown catch, doubling back to secure the ball and waltzing across the goal line with one shoe missing, but it wasn't.
Even after Reed broke several tackles with the second-half kickoff, zig-zagging through defenders and kicking into an extra gear once he saw daylight, the Texans kept pushing back.
Now, the win helps Baltimore stay one game behind the 10-3 Pittsburgh Steelers and moved Baltimore into the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoff picture.
"Our guys overcame a tough situation and found a way to win," said Head Coach John Harbaugh. "Do we have things we have to work out? Absolutely. But at this time in the season, you are what you are and gotta find a way to win."
The Ravens head back to Baltimore with a matchup against the defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints.
Considering the Saints' high-powered attack, the Ravens should expect to have to match some points next week, as well.
"We know that's the defending champs," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "We'll be waiting on them. It's football. When the ref blows the whistle, guess what, a new game starts. 60 minutes. It's going to be one of those shootouts next weekend and I think we're up for it."