It was fitting that a great kicker decided a great game.
Justin Tucker loves clutch moments when the Ravens need him to deliver. He did it again Monday night, making a 55-yard game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining, breaking a 42-42 tie and propelling the Ravens to a 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Tucker makes his kicking under pressure look so routine, which is part of what makes him so special. He jogged onto the field with seven seconds left, with the Ravens locked in a classic back-and-forth battle against the Browns. The game featured plenty of heroics by Lamar Jackson, but the Browns kept countering with great plays of their own.
Both teams had gone toe-to-toe for almost 60 minutes, but now the outcome was riding on Tucker's foot. The Ravens were in great hands.
For nine years, Tucker has established himself as the NFL's most consistent kicker who flourishes in pressure moments when other kickers might flinch. The Ravens (8-5) desperately needed this win to improve their wild-card chances, which only added to the pressure on Tucker. It was a cold night in Cleveland with the wind swirling, and players had been slipping all night on the unreliable turf, which might make it difficult for Tucker to plant his left leg while attempting to kick.
No worries. Tucker nailed the kick through the uprights, sending the Ravens' bench into a joyous uproar of celebration. This was no ordinary win, and Tucker is no ordinary kicker. Afterward, he acknowledged this was a game-winning kick that had a high degree of difficulty. As usual, he gave credit to snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch for doing their jobs, which allowed Tucker to do his.
"The wind was definitely whipping around in there going towards the 'Dawg Pound' end pretty consistent right to left, and then of course, left to right the other way," Tucker said. "I'm not trying to talk about how hard the kick was to make it seem like it was way sweeter or anything, but the field was definitely chewed up by that point in the game. So, more than anything, it's just about getting studs in the ground with my plant, seeing the ball spotted – which, of course, is much easier when you have Morgan Cox throwing it back there, and Sam Koch spotting it quickly and efficiently. I've said this before – the ball kicks itself when everything is working the way we expect it. And the ball was trailing right to left pretty significantly throughout the flight path, so I was just glad it stayed, and we were able to make the play to win the game."
What makes Tucker's field goal even more impressive is that Browns kicker Cody Parkey had such a tough time kicking in his own stadium. Parkey missed a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter and an extra point in the third quarter.
The Ravens would have loved to have gotten Tucker closer on their final drive, but after Jackson completed his third pass to Mark Andrews, he had to spike the ball with the Ravens out of timeouts, setting up Tucker's long attempt.
There wasn't anyone on Baltimore's bench who doubted Tucker would make the kick.
"It makes my job a lot easier, the offense's job a lot easier not having to score a touchdown," Jackson said. "Some coaches don't trust their kicker. We put all our faith in ours. We just had to put him in position to kick the field goal. Automa-Tuck. He did the rest."
It was the 16th game-winning field goal of Tucker's illustrious career, and it improved his career percentage on field goal attempts to 174 makes on 188 attempts (92.5 percent), the highest percentage in NFL history. Tucker has made more field goals than anyone since entering the league in 2012, as the four-time All-Pro continues to build a case for being the best kicker who has ever done it.
"I'm a pretty emotional type of person – I kind of wear my emotions on my sleeve – except for when there are like two minutes left in a football game," Tucker said. "I don't have the time or the energy for that. I don't think anybody really needs me to be emotional. They need me to be poised and stoic. My teammates and everybody in this organization just needs me to do my job in that moment."
Tucker doesn't take any kick for granted, which is another thing that makes him so good. He stays in the moment. Asked what he was thinking about as the Ravens were driving to put him in field goal range, Tucker said he was thinking about his routine, instead of thinking about what was at stake.
"Of course, there's a lot of emotion, there's a lot of feeling that goes into any field goal, but especially one that is going to be the difference in the game," Tucker said. "And the only thing that you really can do and should do – just based on my experience playing in this league now for nine years … Your feelings are unimportant; you have to focus on the action of kicking the ball, not the consequence, and we've been able to do that really well for a long time."
There could be more clutch kicks in Tucker's future, not only during the regular season but in the playoffs if the Ravens have their way. Having a kicker like Tucker is a huge advantage for the Ravens, and when he sent Tucker onto the field Monday night, Head Coach John Harbaugh expected exactly what he saw.
"I think at that point in the game, we would've sent him out for anything that was within a chance," Harbaugh said. "The story that he didn't tell you was when the chaos was going earlier, he wanted to go out there on the fourth-and-6, was it? Fourth-and-5? He wanted to go out there for the 64-yarder. He thought that gave us the best chance to win.
"So, you appreciate the confidence; that's just how he is. That was a really tough kick, because the field was really soft. Obviously, they were rushing everything they had, so the guys that protected Sam and Morgan did a great job. But to make that kick, with the crosswind on that field in December in the open end, in the 'Dawg Pound' end, [for] most kickers, that's unmakeable. The only kicker that I know of that you'd feel confident in making that would be Justin Tucker."