Justin Tucker has emerged as the Ravens' top offensive weapon lately, and been one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL.
Tucker delivered in the clutch again during a 22-20 victory Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, connecting on all five field goals to tie a single-game franchise record previously reached by Matt Stover (four times) and Billy Cundiff (twice).
With made kicks from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards against the Steelers, Tucker has connected on 27 consecutive field goals. That is the longest active streak in the NFL, ahead of the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski (21 field goals) and the Seattle Seahawks' Steven Hauschka (15).
"I don't think I'd say anything about being at an all-time high. … I really don't even acknowledge when people tell me that I'm on some sort of streak or anything," said Tucker, who credited holder Sam Koch, long snapper Morgan Cox and his coaches for his success, as he always does. "I just feel like I'm doing my job. We feel like we're unique. We put in some hours. We pay very close attention to detail, and as long as we're doing those things, we know we always have a chance to be successful. We increase that chance by the way that we work."
With the Ravens converting one of four red-zone appearances for touchdowns against the Steelers and zero of four against the New York Jets during a 19-3 win Sunday, Tucker has five field goals in the past two games when the offense has been shut down inside opponents' 20-yard line.
"What more can you say?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the reigning AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. "He has gotten every accolade, and it's been well deserved."
Tucker has hit 29 of 31 field goals (93.5 percent) this season, and hasn't missed since a Sept. 15 game against the Cleveland Browns. He trails Stover, who made 36 field goals in a row spanning the 2005 and 2006 seasons, for the franchise consecutive field-goals record
"I do feel like I'm just hitting the ball well," Tucker said. "I feel like I'm hitting my ball. I feel like I've been hitting my ball all season long, aside from one game [in which] I had two that I didn't like. As long as we have this continuity between snap-hold-kick that we have had over the last several weeks, we know we're going to be coming back with points, no matter what."
The Ravens' streak of 19 consecutive games with at least two sacks is over, undone by elusive Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger dodged and darted around the Ravens' pass rush Thursday. He wasn't sacked, and was hit only three times, buying himself enough time in the pocket to complete 28 of 44 passes for 257 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, for a 94.6 passer rating.
"He had, like, that sixth sense," said rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who hit Roethlisberger once. "He knew when we were there. He knew when we were close. He just keeping getting the ball away at the end of the day."
Roethlisberger has a knack for keeping pass rushers at a distance, stopping and starting his 6-foot-5, 241-pound frame and still throwing in rhythm.
"The game plan was to get to him," Harbaugh said. "We wanted to get to him. Early in the game, he was stepping up and making too many plays stepping up inside. So we got pushed away from him a little bit. He does such a great job moving around. He's just hard to keep in the pocket. He may be the toughest guy to defend in the pocket in football."
Suggs has nine sacks for the season, but none since sacking Jason Campbell during a Nov. 3 loss to the Browns.
"At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is wins and losses," Suggs said. "Do I really want the sacks, especially on him? Yes, but we got the 'W.' As long as we keep winning, I'm just going to stay the course and continue to work."
The Ravens have learned the hard way not to underestimate the skills of Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell.
He rushed for a career-high 93 yards against them in October. And on Thursday, he followed up with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, including a 43-yard run. Bell also caught seven passes for 63 yards before leaving the game with a concussion after a hit that also caused a head injury for cornerback Jimmy Smith.
"We respected him as a running back, but maybe the first game we didn't respect him as much because we didn't know as much about him," strong safety James Ihedigbo said. "But this game, we definitely respected him."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun