Five thoughts on the Ravens' 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field:
Coming in, you figured that if one thing about this game was a lock, an absolute certainty, it was this: Whatever happened, it couldn't possibly top the Ravens' win over the Chiefs the week before. That was a prime-time spectacular for the ages; this was just another game. And indeed, for 59 minutes and 57 seconds, it lived down to those expectations, depressingly so for the Ravens as they slowly let slip a game they should have won easily. But all that was wiped out by a finish that sent this game sailing right past the Kansas City game on the list of Baltimore wins destined to be remembered for decades. And I'm pretty sure this one can't be topped. Amazing. Stupendous. Historic. All that and more describes the 66-yard field goal that Justin Tucker put through the uprights, with help from a fateful doink, to turn a depressing defeat into a win that will have the entire football world shouting, "Are you kidding me???" It's the longest kick in NFL history. It bounced off the crossbar and went through instead of awry. It won a game. It adds a huge brick to the Hall of Fame candidacy Tucker is building. "That's legendary right there," Lamar Jackson said. Indeed. I'm sitting here typing words about it. But honestly, there are no words.
Equally incredible, just not as historic, was the play that gave Tucker a chance to make history. The Ravens were down to their last gasp, trailing by two points with their offense facing fourth-and-19 on their own 16-yard-line. Twenty-six seconds to play. No timeouts left. Yup, they were marooned in No Hope City. The Lions had all the momentum. Their fans were roaring about an impending, improbable victory. But the ball was in Jackson's hands, which meant they had a chance. He took the snap and settled into the pocket. His protection, which had grown shaky in the second half, was solid now. He had time to gaze downfield and see Sammy Watkins break open. That Jackson tossed a strike was no surprise; he'd been throwing strikes pretty much all day, only to see several dropped. Fortunately, Watkins brought this one in for a gain of 36 yards – just enough to creep into the outer edges of what's realistic for Tucker, who took it from there. And this is why clichés exist. Seriously, just line them up and fire away. You never know. It isn't over until it's over. There's always hope. Do you believe in miracles? (Yes.) They're all right on point today.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game he still believed the Ravens had a shot in the waning seconds, which is understandable when you have Jackson and Tucker. But Harbaugh also admitted that, as he stood on the Baltimore sideline, he was already thinking about what an upset loss would emphasize. "We just have to get better," he said. That is certainly the case. The Ravens were favored by more than a touchdown and easily could have won by more than that. But they ran a clinic on how to succumb to a lesser team. They took the expected early lead but failed to take advantage of several chances to turn the game into a rout. Then, even though they led, they started settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, enabling the Lions to stay close and maintain hope. "We missed a lot of opportunities," Harbaugh said. The defense, depleted by injuries and other subtractions, was not the unit you wanted saving this game. And it didn't, actually; the Lions' offense won that battle late, seemingly winning the game until Tucker intervened. The ending makes it all feel better, but no one should be fooled. I don't think the Ravens were. "Defense, offense, special teams," Harbaugh said, citing areas that need attention.
The Ravens' offense was quite different from the week before. The running backs rushed for just 58 yards on 15 carries, while Jackson attempted 31 passes. But it was understandable. The Lions' defense went all out to keep from being blown away by the Ravens' power running game, and they did a pretty good job, but the effort left them vulnerable on the back end and the Ravens were right to try to exploit that. Jackson found plenty of open receivers and threw strikes, continuing his strong early-season passing performance. Mark Andrews was a difference-maker with 109 receiving yards. Devin Duvernay caught a touchdown pass. But Jackson's favorite wide receiver, Marquise Brown, had the roughest of days, dropping three passes that could have made the game far easier for the Ravens. It was a stunning run of missed opportunities, reminiscent of the problems Brown had last year before he came back with a series of big catches late in the season. The Ravens have to hope he repeats that turnaround, because they're on the way to rolling out a batter passing game in 2021, as they intended, and they need Brown to make plays, not miss them.
Short takes: The Ravens' defensive line rotation consisted of Calais Campbell, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington and rookie Khalil McKenzie, who was called up from the practice squad. That's not how the organization drew it up, but Derek Wolfe is injured and Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike sat out the game after landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Historically, the Ravens have struggled to stop the run when Williams is out. They held the Lions to 93 yards on the ground … Before Tucker made history, he missed a field goal attempt in an indoor stadium for the first time in his career. Sort of became unimportant later … The Ravens were determined not to let tight end T.J. Hockenson beat them, and indeed, he was limited to two catches for 10 yards. But Detroit quarterback Jared Goff completed 20 passes for 207 yards to nine other targets … Tucker's 61-yarder to beat the Lions in 2013 was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in football. Now, it has been topped. Harbaugh just flat-out said it after the game: "He's the best kicker in history." Any arguments? Didn't think so.