Six Takeaways From Ravens' Win Over Cincy
The Ravens reclaimed the top spot in the AFC North with Sunday's 19-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, whose season could now be over. Baltimore's 6-5 record is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the division, but the Ravens currently hold the tiebreaker after a Week 9 win over Pittsburgh.
A bend but don't break defense, an early touchdown by the offense, and a better executed repeat of the Super Bowl XLVII safety were keys to the Ravens' victory. But, kicker Justin Tucker was the hero of the game with his 12 points.
Below are six takeaways from the win:
1) Internet Practically Drooling Over Tucker's Performance
My apologies to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the players in the Ravens locker room, who would like to keep Tucker's ego in check.
This isn't going to help.
The Internet practically drooled over Tucker's historic performance, in which he became the first NFL kicker to nail three field goals from beyond 50 yards in the first half of a game. And it's not just that Tucker is automatic and considered by many to be the team's MVP, but it's the manner in which he does it that has so many people in awe.
Everyone keeled over laughing when Tucker opened his press conference with a hilariously lame dad joke that Jim Halpert and Michael Scott would be proud of. He also said he ran out on the field for the 57-yard try before being told by coaches they were going to attempt it, adding he'd have to be dragged off the field. He "doubled down" on his preseason claim that he could make a field goal from 70 or 75 yards.
He has swagger, and he backs it up.
So, as Flacco said, he's earned all this praise. Here we go …
*Tucker Compared To League's Best Players, Including Tom Brady
*ESPN's Jamison Hensley: "The Dallas Cowboys have Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The New England Patriots have Tom Brady. And the Seattle Seahawks have Russell Wilson. For the Baltimore Ravens, the player who continually comes through time and time again is Justin Tucker. Sure, you wouldn't normally hear Tucker's name in the same conversation as those players. But, on a team devoid of consistent playmakers, the clear-cut Most Valuable Player on this first-place team is Tucker."
*Tucker Is NFL's Best Kicker, And, Yes, He Could've Converted From 70 *MMQB.com's Peter King: "Tucker won this before halftime, with field goals from 52, 57 and 54 yards in the first half against Cincinnati. So he had the wind with him. Watching this game, the kick from 57 would have been good from 65, easy, and the kick from 54, would have been good from 70, easy. Tucker is the best kicker in football right now (18 for 18 beyond 40 yards), perfect on 42 PATs and field goals. It's not up for debate."
Looking Back On 'Best Move Of Year' By Making Tucker Highest-Paid KickerThe Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec: "The Ravens were never in danger of not having Tucker on their roster this year, but there was a time in mid-July when it appeared the two sides could ultimately be headed for a bitter parting. The Ravens put the franchise tag on the kicker, but little progress was being made in negotiations on a long-term deal. On the eve of the July 15 deadline to sign franchised' players to long-term deals, Tucker's camp told the Ravens he wouldn't re-sign with the team if a deal wasn't reached. It became a moot point a day later. … The Ravens made Tucker the highest-paid kicker in the NFL this offseason. Heading into the stretch run of the season, it's proven to be Baltimore's best move of the year."
*Tucker Earned Right To Make Lame Jokes Whenever He Wants *SI.com's Dan Gartland: "While his aim was perfect on the field, he missed the mark with a lousy joke in his postgame press conference. If he keeps making every kick, he can communicate exclusively in knock-knock jokes for all I care."
SB Nation's Hector Diaz: "Tucker is known for joking around. Not only does he have the voice of an angel, but he even starred in a parody of Matthew McConaughey commercials. I hope Tucker keeps having great games. Not only will the Baltimore Ravens appreciate it, but we might be lucky enough to get a nunya mention in the year 2016. Or better yet, bofa! Are you not entertained?"
More Twitter Drooling
2) At Some Point, Ravens Offense Will Need To Play A Complete Game
As nice as it is to have a kicker that is automatic from beyond 50, many are wondering how far the Ravens can go without their offense putting together a complete game.
The offensive unit has scored one touchdown or less in six of its 11 games. Combining that with field goals and a strong defense is good enough against teams like Cincinnati and Jacksonville, but if the Ravens want to be a serious playoff contender, they will need to score more points, says Flacco.
"I'm comfortable in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football, but in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we're not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this," Flacco said after yesterday's win. "We've got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away."
Had the Bengals had two of their top offensive performers yesterday in wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovanni Bernard, the pressure would have been on Flacco and his unit to put up more points.
"At some point, their offense is going to need to put together four quality quarters and put away an overmatched team," wrote Zrebiec.
Added his colleague Peter Schmuck: "Sure, a win is a win, but at some point the Ravens have to start looking like a playoff team if they expect to get to the playoffs. To their credit, they did execute well on offense and, of course, Justin Tucker took care of the rest."
3) Flacco Earns High PFF Grades Behind Strong Offensive Line
The good news is there are signs the offense can take off and live up to its potential.
For the first time since Week 3, the offensive line featured the same starters in back-to-back games, and Flacco was one of the beneficiaries of the newly found stability. Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Flacco the second-highest grade on the Ravens' offensive side of the ball, despite throwing a pick that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
After early season struggles, Flacco has put together three solid games dating back to the Ravens' win over the Cleveland Browns.
"[Rick] Wagner posted the highest overall game grade for either roster, as he allowed just one hurry and posted an excellent 87.2 run-blocking grade," wrote PFF's Josh Liskiewitz. "As a whole, Baltimore's offensive line gave up just four QB hurries with no sacks or hits (the lone sack for Cincinnati was charged to Flacco). Another sign of the strong O-line play was the fact that 42.7 percent of the Ravens' yardage on designed runs came after contact, compared to last week's 71.0 percent against the Cowboys."
Top offensive grades:OT Rick Wagner, 84.6*QB Joe Flacco, 81.6 C Jeremy Zuttah, 81.2 FB Kyle Juszczyk, 79.9 *OG Vladimir Ducasse, 76.2
Top defensive grades:
S Eric Weddle, 80.8
ILB CJ Mosley, 80.0
S Lardarius Webb, 78.4
OLB Elvis Dumervil, 77.9
NT Brandon Williams, 77.3
4) Harbaugh Receiving Praise For Intentional Safety
Head Coach John Harbaugh employed a very well-known play in Baltimore for the second time as the Ravens'* *head coach. In Super Bowl XLVII, he took an intentional safety to tick precious seconds off the clock and give San Francisco 49ers less time for a potential game-winning play.
He did it again Sunday, but this time the Ravens did a better job of intentionally holding, which resulted in the Bengals coming nowhere close to getting to punter Sam Koch before all the time rolled off the clock and he stepped out of the back of the end zone.
Several flags fell to the ground, but it didn't matter because offensive penalties can't extend the game. The Ringer listed Harbaugh in its NFL's Week 12 winners, and explained why the refs (and Bengals) were unable to do anything about Harbaugh's trickery.
"ESPN's Kevin Seifert says the officials could hypothetically rule an intentionally committed foul like this 'a palpably unfair act' and force a replay of the down, but they would need to issue a warning first," wrote The Ringer. "If you're trying something sneaky like this on the last play of the game, there's nothing the officials can do besides throw their (meaningless) flags.
"Soccer fans scorn intentional handballs to save goals, and basketball fans roll their eyes when teams repeatedly foul bad shooters. But in those situations, there's some punishment for the team's actions: A clear handball leads to a red card, and a poor shooter might hit free throws. Harbaugh has found a rare instance in sports where an obvious violation of the rules doesn't result in any consequences. Maybe it's unsportsmanlike, but I don't think any NFL coach would care. Until the rulebook changes to disincentivize this, coaches can and should do it. Harbaugh deserves credit for his craftiness."
5) Vontaze Burfict 'Rebranding,' But Still A 'Jerk'
Just like The Ringer deemed Harbaugh a winner, the website also said Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was a winner for his Oscar-worthy flop when wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. bumped Burfict with his helmet as he was standing up from being knocked down.
The Ringer reviewed Burfict's history as a "dirty player," but said maybe now he's "rebranding."
"Burfict is still a jerk — flopping like this requires calculated disrespect for your opponent," the website wrote. "But at least now he's a jerk we can laugh at. Flopping is funny! Trying to win via fooling referees is much, much better than trying to win by injuring your opponents' knees.
"We can tolerate this level of jerkery. Burfict is a winner, at least until the next time he launches himself at a defenseless wide receiver's head."
6) Another Game, Another Defensive Back Talks Smack To Smith Sr.
Here we go again …
Add Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to the list of defensive backs who don't care for Smith Sr. Anthony Brown (Dallas Cowboys) and Jalen Ramsey (Jacksonville Jaguars) both said they lost respect for the potential future Hall of Famer after playing him earlier this season.
After helping hold Smith to four receptions for 20 yards Sunday, Kirkpatrick sounded off.
"Eighty-nine said I was trash," Kirkpatrick said of Smith, per The Baltimore Sun. "If I'm trash, what did he do today? [Expletive], clean that up. Who was trash today? He said what he had to say last year. I just wanted to let him know, am I trash now? Eighty-nine looked to trash me, but he didn't do anything."
After catching his second touchdown in last year's loss to Cincinnati, Smith was caught on camera calling Kirkpatrick and cornerback Adam Jones "trash," per The Sun.
Smith didn't talk with reporters after the game, but he's never one to bite his tongue, so I'm sure we'll be hearing his response sooner rather than later.