It seems improbable, but the Ravens are more than willing to let Justin Tucker kick them all the way to the playoffs.
Tucker's sixth field goal of the night, this one from 61 yards with 38 seconds to play, pushed the Ravens to their biggest victory of the season, an 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions in front of a raucous and shocked crowd of 64,742 at Ford Field on Monday night.
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The longest field goal in Ravens' history — and the longest ever in NFL history indoors — secured the Ravens' fourth straight victory and keeps them in control of their playoff future. At 8-6, the Ravens own the tiebreaker over the Miami Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot and moved to within one game of the Cincinnati Bengals for first place in the AFC North.
The Ravens and Dolphins have the same record, but the Ravens hold the tiebreak by virtue of their head-to-head victory in October.
“Nobody doubts for a second that we were going to get it done,” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “In a perfect world, we'd like to score touchdowns but we had Tuck and those field goals and a defense that has our back. We had theirs as well.”
The Lions, who watched Matthew Stafford get intercepted for the third time, this one by rookie safety Matt Elam, on their final possession, fell to 7-7.
Detroit had taken a 16-15 lead when Stafford hit tight end Joseph Fauria for a 14-yard touchdown with 2:21 to play. The Lions couldn't convert the 2-point conversion, leaving room for Tucker to win it.
“What can you say about Justin Tucker?,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh whose team improved to 2-5 on the road this season. “He told me when we got the ball, I think at the [Lions'] 45-yard line, I said, ‘hey, are we kicking this?' or should I got for it on fourth-and-10? And he said, “I got it.” He kind of ordered me to kick it.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who took a vicious hit on his left knee earlier in the fourth quarter, moved the ball into Lions' territory with a 27-yard completion to Jacoby Jones on third-and-15. Later in the drive, on fourth-and-7, the Ravens appeared intent on going for it, rather than sending Tucker out for a 61-yard field goal.
However, Harbaugh said all along that he planned on going for the field goal. After a timeout, Harbaugh sent Tucker onto the field and the second-year kicker just snuck it over the bar with perhaps a couple of yards to spare. His six field goals accounted for all of the Ravens' points and set a team record for most field goals in a game. He has also hit 33 in a row since Week 2.
“I wanted [Harbaugh] to know that just by looking at me, he shouldn't have any reservations about sending me out there,” Tucker said. “[The coaches] were talking about it and I normally wouldn't do this but I interjected and said, ‘No, I got this.' Thankfully they gave me an opportunity and the best part of it is I didn't have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”
Tucker said he hit from 70 yards in pregame warm-ups but he initially didn't feel like he got all of the game winner.
“I definitely felt like I got a lot of leg into it, but it jumped up so high that I thought I might have gotten under it just a little bit,” he said. “But when it cleared the crossbar and I saw one of the officials put his hands up, I [was] a little surprised but at the end of the day, I'm just glad it went through.”
The Ravens took a 9-7 lead into halftime and they expanded it on Tucker's 49-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Lions answered those three points on their next drive, thanks to Stafford's 37-yard completion to Calvin Johnson, which put Detroit into Ravens' territory. However, the Ravens' defense held and appeared to catch a break when cornerback Lardarius Webb got away with holding Kris Durham in the back of the end zone.
David Akers' 40-yard field goal made it a 12-10 game. The Ravens were handed a big-time opportunity to put the Lions away when Stafford threw his second interception, this one to middle linebacker Daryl Smith.
The Ravens led by two and had the ball at the Lions' 34 with about nine minutes to play. However, they lost 1 yard over the next three plays and watched Flacco take a vicious shot to his left leg. Tucker's 53-yard field goal with 8:06 to play made it a 15-10 game.
However, the Lions got the ball at their 20 with just more than eight minutes to play and drove all the way to the end zone where Stafford found Fauria, who beat Daryl Smith on the play. As it turned out, Detroit left too much time for Flacco and the Ravens' star second-year kicker.
At just about the same time their team charter landed in snowy Detroit on Saturday afternoon, the Ravens learned that their margin of error to make the playoffs had significantly diminished. The Dolphins' upset victory over the New England Patriots meant the Ravens had to win to maintain possession of the sixth and final playoff spot.
With the Dolphins finishing with a road game against the Buffalo Bills (5-9) and a home matchup against the New York Jets (6-8), the Ravens knew coming into the night that they may have to win out to make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
The Ravens talked about getting off to a good start, which has eluded them in several of their road losses, and taking the crowd out of that game. But a little more than four minutes into the game, they already found themselves down by a touchdown.
With the help of Elam, Detroit marched right down the field on just eight plays, scoring when Reggie Bush broke free outside after rush linebacker Terrell Suggs failed to set the edge and sprinted into the end zone from 14 yards out. It marked the third consecutive week where the Ravens allowed a rushing touchdown after surrendering only one over their first 11 games.
But the Ravens had the Lions stopped earlier in the drive before Elam, who drew unwanted attention to himself during the week by referring to Lions' 28-year-old standout receiver Johnson as old, was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty in hitting Stafford during the quarterback's slide. Stafford would have been a couple of yards short of the first down but the 15-yard penalty put the ball on the Ravens' 31.
On the next play, Stafford hit Nate Burleson for 17 yards as a missed tackle by Elam prevented it from being a short gain. Bush then scored on the next play.
When the Lions forced a three-and-out and then drove into Ravens' territory on their next drive, the visitors appeared to be in trouble. However, Johnson dropped a pass that would have resulted in a long gain on third down, forcing a punt. That became a trend for the rest of the first half for the Lions' offense.