If Sunday’s game had been played late in the regular season and the Ravens needed an NFL-record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to beat the Detroit Lions, it might be time for a reality check.
Maybe this team isn’t good enough to go far in the playoffs.
But at this point, right here and now, take the win, feel good and move on. Detroit was the perfect opponent. The right place, at the right time.
The Ravens had more than three hours to put away the Lions, one of the worst franchises in modern-day NFL history, and they almost blew a 10-point halftime lead. But they salvaged a win with Tucker’s game-winning field goal as time expired, one of four he made in the 19-17 victory.
Tucker also missed a 49-yard attempt in the first quarter, his first miss in an indoor stadium, and in hindsight it was probably good that he did. Tucker is a perfectionist. When he misses a kick, it’s like NASA failing a mission. He gets mad and irritated and then consumes every piece of data to find out what went wrong.
Then he just crushes the next one, and the next one, and the next one ...
The Ravens weren’t pretty Sunday, and they might have taken ugliness to the ultimate level with receiver Marquise Brown dropping at least two touchdown passes and the defense allowing two touchdown drives in the second half.
But it’s early in the regular season. Who cares?
If this game were late in the year, and the Ravens were jockeying for playoff position and possible home-field advantage, there should be concern. But with 14 games remaining and the Ravens able to get some of their 15 players back from injured reserve, there is ample time to improve. In the first half of the season, it’s all about winning. Quality over quantity comes later.
The Ravens have a lot of things to work on. Their inside linebackers are atrocious at tackling, and their offensive tackles had trouble in pass protection again. Regardless if it’s a coaching decision or the scheme, they don’t have a top running back or a dominant pass rusher because they still can’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
Some of these issues are the same problems the Ravens have had for the past three years. Will they be able to fix them? Maybe. Maybe not.
“We just have to get better. We talked about it in the locker room, it’s our responsibility,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “When you’re granted that kind of favor, then you’re responsible to respond. Our responsibility is to improve. We’ve got to go to work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and become a better team, defense, offense and special teams.
“Every area. Blocking, tackling, taking care of the football, route-running, everything. That’s what our guys are going to tell you. Our defense is going to be tackling. We’ve got to become a better tackling team, and we know that.”
There is time for that, but this is the time to be stacking wins, getting some breathing room in the AFC North and gathering momentum heading into the stretch run in late November and early December. If there is disgust because the Ravens barely beat Detroit, imagine if they had lost.
The apocalypse would have been upon us.
Instead, this turned out to be the perfect time to play the Lions, with 15 Ravens already on injured reserve and four more out because of COVID-19 protocols, including starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Justin Houston and top defensive line reserve Justin Madubuike.
Tucker is the ultimate weapon because he covers up a lot of Ravens’ flaws. But Lions coach Dan Campbell erred when he decided to kick a 35-yard field goal with 68 seconds left instead of trying to score a touchdown. That would have forced the Ravens to score a touchdown with less than a minute left instead of sending out Tucker.
The Lions had success rushing Jackson with four players, but rushed only three in the second half, which gave Jackson time to complete a 36-yard pass to Watkins on fourth-and-19 with 26 seconds left. Jackson also appeared to not get the snap off in time before his final throw according to the play clock shown on the CBS broadcast, which would have resulted in a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty and made it a 71-yard field-goal attempt.
Poor Detroit Lions. Another classic heartbreak.
In their first two games, the Ravens lost in overtime to Las Vegas and then upset Kansas City. If there was going to be a letdown, it probably was going to come against the Lions, even though Harbaugh seemed to have the pulse of this team.
Shortly after Tucker’s game-winner, there was euphoria on the Ravens’ sideline, but Harbaugh had very little reaction. Maybe he couldn’t believe the miracle finish or was stunned about how poorly his team had played.
But this is the time of the year when a win is a win, as the old saying goes. If nothing else, the Ravens are proving to be resilient, and that’s a needed ingredient for the future, especially when the schedule gets tougher.
“It’s the type of thing that will be remembered forever,” Harbaugh said of the win. “That’s what you do, you build these things. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. That’s how you’re remembered, by what you do. Lamar and the whole team, they’re doing that. But we know we’ve got to go to Denver.
“We’re going to a hostile environment. It’s going to be crazy. We have another huge challenge in front of us. That’s what we’re going to be thinking about, the next opportunity.”
As long as the Ravens have Jackson on the field, they have a chance in any game, regardless of the score. On that final drive, when the Ravens got lucky, Campbell made some poor decisions and Tucker trotted onto the field, you had to ask yourself that old Ray Lewis question.
Where would you rather be than right here, right now?
As Tucker’s field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over, the answer was perfect.
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