Five thoughts on the Ravens' 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions Monday night at Ford Field:
This Is Getting Ridiculous
You're not supposed to resort to hyperbole when you write about these games, but come on. The Ravens are putting that theorem to the test with these weekly miracles. As a matter of fact, they're tearing that theorem into a thousand little pieces. I thought there was no way for them to top their triple-comeback win over Minnesota, but this came close. In a way, it was more amazing. You're going to tell me the Ravens scored their biggest win of 2013 on the road, in deafening noise, against some of the game's top offensive and defensive talents, without scoring a touchdown? You're going to tell me Justin Tucker kicked the longest indoor field goal in the history of the NFL (his sixth of the game and 33rd straight without a miss) to win it in the final minute? Sorry, that is just ridiculous. Whoever is scripting this stuff, I'm crying uncle. You win. The opposing coach almost trips a player. Five touchdowns in the last 125 seconds. Now this. Adjectives fail. Let the crazy hyperbole roll. It is entirely warranted.
Defense Prevents High-Scoring 'Track Meet'
The game I envisioned didn't materialize. The game I envisioned was a high-scoring "track meet," the kind the Lions often play at home. Had it materialized, it would have favored the Lions. And it almost materialized early. The Lions offense took the opening kickoff and blew down the field for a touchdown, then came roaring back down the field again a few minutes later. It seemed the game might get away from the Ravens when the Lions' Matt Stafford found Calvin Johnson running free in the middle of the field and hit him with a perfect pass. Incredibly, Johnson, the game's best receiver, dropped the pass. That changed the game's momentum and enabled the Ravens defense to find a rhythm. From then on, the secondary kept Johnson from breaking a big play, and the front seven stuck to its run-game lanes, leaving Detroit's runners less room to maneuver. The secondary punished Detroit's receiver after many catches. Thanks to the Ravens defense, a Ravens-style, relatively low-scoring game materialized instead of a track meet.
Jacoby Jones Heroics … Again
Before Tucker performed his heroics, Jacoby Jones performed his yet again. After the Lions took a one-point lead with two minutes, 21 seconds to play, Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards, giving the Ravens hope that they could get into Tucker's range. Then, after two incompletions on which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw off his back foot, seemingly favoring a knee that took a hit late in the game, Flacco fired a rope over the middle of the field that Jones reeled in for a 27-yard gain. Do the math. Between the kickoff return and long reception, Jones moved the ball 63 yards to set up Tucker's kick. Add those plays to his growing collection of game-changers, the kickoff returns against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, the long catch against the Jets. His impact is huge every week.
Wasn't Johnson Supposed To School Elam?
The Calvin Johnson angle was supposed to turn out a certain way. Johnson was supposed to school Matt Elam, his young rival, who dared to call him old, even if he didn't mean for it to come out the way it did. But like the game itself, the angle did not turn out as expected. Johnson dropped a couple of balls early on, looking kind of, well, old, and though he did eventually get into a groove, he never dominated, not even close. The Ravens' Jimmy Smith played him heads up, tough and even; Johnson's catches mostly came in zone coverage. Meanwhile, Elam, under intense scrutiny, played his best game as a Raven by far with a team-high 10 tackles (seven unassisted) and then a game-sealing interception, his first as a pro, in the final minute. Talking to reporters after the game, he chattered on with eyes wide, clearly energized by the experience. "We just played our game," he kept saying. When you least expected it, he grew up.
Playoff-Caliber Performance From Ravens
That was a playoff-caliber performance from the Ravens, a win against a talented opponent in a challenging environment. Although they're struggling in the red zone and that almost cost them Monday night, their offense is definitely moving the ball more, rounding into shape. The maligned offensive line isn't blowing people away, but it's keeping Flacco upright for the most part, giving him time to make plays. On the other side of the ball, the defense is scrappy, not dominant, but it battles, does not go down easily. The secondary is physical, the interior stout. One of the biggest differences in this game was the pressure the Ravens continually put on Stafford, who did not react well to it, unlike Flacco. And as for the final piece, special teams play, what can you say? Tucker is otherworldly. Before he put the 61-yarder through the uprights, I thought it was the right call to let him try. He's so good, that was the Ravens' best shot. Otherwise, the return game is producing, the coverage units strong. Winners of four in a row now, the Ravens are playing better and better football. A lot still has to go right for them to make the playoffs, but things are starting to get interesting.