All the details seemed to be pointing to a valiant effort but a disappointing loss for the Ravens to the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
The offense was 0-for-3 inside the red zone in the first half and could only muster field goals in trying to go toe to toe with the league’s second-ranked offense, leaving the Ravens defense with little breathing room before it finally buckled and gave up a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown as it has on more than a few occasions this season.
A last-minute drive orchestrated by a gimpy Joe Flacco moved the Ravens to the Detroit 45 before they inexplicably handed the ball to Ray Rice for a 2-yard gain on third-and-10 and called timeout with 43 seconds remaining. Already 5-for-5 on field goals for the night, Justin Tucker trotted onto the field to attempt a 61-yarder to put the Ravens ahead 18-16.
Really? They couldn’t be serious, right?
John Harbaugh explained after the game that his second-year kicker had told him he would be successful kicking a field goal from that great distance before the Ravens called for the unorthodox run to Rice on third-and-10. The coach would have justifiably faced weeks — and likely an entire offseason — of criticism and second-guessing had Tucker not made the longest kick in franchise history to give the Ravens their fourth consecutive win to improve to 8-6 and retake their current spot as the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Having faith in your players is one thing, but to willingly attempt the third-longest field goal to win a game in NFL history — and to have made up your mind to do it a play earlier — bordered on lunacy.
Yet it worked.
Of course, much has failed to make sense for these Ravens over the last calendar year except the all-too-familiar outcome of winning when it matters most.
They can thank their 24-year-old kicker who is already entering the previously-unspoken territory of comparisons to Matt Stover, a Ring of Honor member and one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Even the great Stover never had a night like Tucker had Monday in booting a franchise-record six field goals — three from 49 yards or longer — and providing one of the wildest finishes in franchise history.
Tucker has now made 33 straight field goal tries — three shy of Stover’s team record — and his 61-yard field goal to win the game was the longest ever made in a dome and only the 14th of 60 or more yards in NFL history.
The discussion centered around a kicker being a team’s most valuable player is typically absurd when acknowledging how few plays in which he’s actually involved over the course of a game, but it’s impossible to overlook how important Tucker has been for the Ravens as they’ve battled offensive inconsistency all year. Teams never want to settle for field goals in lieu of touchdowns, but a guaranteed three points is wholly valuable with an above-average defense that put forth an exceptional effort against All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson and the high-octane Detroit offense on Monday.
Yes, the Ravens collected another win that could only leave you scratching your head and asking how they did it at the end of the night, but that’s nothing new with Harbaugh’s team.
There is still plenty of work remaining as the Ravens return home to face Tom Brady and New England on Sunday before a potential Week 17 trip to Cincinnati for the AFC North title if they can win their fifth straight in Week 16 against the Patriots.
Baltimore is healthy and appearing poised to make a run once again if they can complete the difficult task of overcoming a 4-6 start to make the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.
But perhaps the best quality the Ravens have is their faith in one another as Harbaugh inexplicably showed in his young kicker to make one of the longest kicks in league history to win a game they desperately needed. It didn’t make sense in the seconds leading up to the try and left you still shaking your head after the ball sailed between the uprights at Ford Field.
The Ravens failed to score a touchdown against the Lions and have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. The defense once again played well before surrendering a late-game touchdown that threatened to doom them for the third straight week.
And, still, Baltimore has won in each of the last four weeks despite their imperfections and shortcomings.
The Ravens certainly went against the book on how to beat a quality team on the road Monday night as Tucker did his best to earn a key to the city. Even so, the Ravens won’t and shouldn’t apologize for the win, either.
They’ve shown time after time that the unconventional works perfectly for them.