As the ball tumbled through Baltimore’s clear night sky late Sunday night, there was no uncertainty in its destination. This was a Justin Tucker field-goal attempt, this was the fourth quarter of a Ravens game, and all the rest was moot. The circumstances may change from kick to kick — the season, the teammates, the opponent, the distance, the pressure. Tucker’s accuracy, as reliable as clockwork, does not.
If the 43-yarder he booted as time expired in the Ravens’ dramatic 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t exactly perfect, it came awfully close. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Tucker’s field-goal attempt was so precise, striped right down the middle, that it would’ve been good on a pair of uprights only a half-yard wide inside M&T Bank Stadium. It was as if Tucker were trying to end a flawed Ravens performance with a flawless kick.
“You know it’s going in,” running back J.K. Dobbins said. “We’re blessed with him. Some people take that for granted, but not every kicker can do what he can do.”
Because of Tucker’s four field goals, because of an offense that had just enough late-game juice, because of a defense that made just enough stops, the Ravens will wake up Monday morning atop the AFC North, happy to have changed the narrative.
In keeping alive his NFL-record streak of clutch kicks — 61 straight made field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime — Tucker terminated a dreary stretch of home defeats. The Ravens (3-2) hadn’t won in Baltimore since late November, a five-game losing streak that had reached absurdist levels in their first two home games of the season. First, there was the historic collapse against the Miami Dolphins. Then there was the late-game sputtering against the Buffalo Bills a week ago. The Ravens were 2-2 despite having trailed for just 14 seconds in their two losses.
They were close to a third defeat Sunday. But at the end of an uneven night in prime time, quarterback Lamar Jackson rescued the team from another week of what-could’ve-beens. Trailing 19-17 with 1:58 remaining, the Ravens’ first deficit all game, Jackson helped escort the offense into field-goal range with three carries for 26 yards and two completions to tight end Mark Andrews. Once Jackson reached the 25-yard line, he stepped aside for Tucker.
Jackson said afterward that he knew his aim would be true; Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, had already hit from 37, 58 and 25 yards. Jackson said a prayer anyway.
“What matters in those 1.3 seconds between the snap, the hold and the kick are the things that are going to help the kick go through the uprights,” Tucker said. “So my feelings, my emotions, for 1.3 seconds, they don’t really matter.”
He added: “All I know is, when I’m being sent out there, it’s to make the kick and put points on the board.”
The alternative would’ve meant another week of misery in Baltimore — more frustrations over another loss to the defending AFC North champion Bengals (2-3), more lamentations over the loss of coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, now heading a revamped New York Giants defense that the Ravens will face next Sunday. Instead, the Ravens got away Sunday with only one major loss: safety Marcus Williams, whose dislocated wrist is expected to sideline him indefinitely.
Still, for much of the night, the team played with fire. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow (24-for-35 for 217 yards, a touchdown and an interception) did not light the Ravens up as he did last season, when his record 941 combined passing yards powered a sweep against an overmatched defense. But he nearly delivered a knockout blow. Burrow’s 1-yard touchdown run capped a go-ahead 13-play, 70-yard drive that handed the Bengals a 17-16 lead with just under two minutes remaining.
What the “Sunday Night Football” showdown offered in the way of drama, it lacked in quarterback polish. Jackson, like Burrow, was far from his best. He finished 19-for-32 for 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception, But his running ability (12 carries for 58 yards) juiced the Ravens’ go-ahead drive, a seven-play, 50-yard march into Bengals territory that erased Cincinnati’s short-lived advantage.
“There’s nobody like Lamar,” Harbaugh said. “There are great quarterbacks, and you can’t take away anything from some of the great quarterbacks in this league, and he is in that group. I’ll take him over everybody. He’s ours; we love Lamar.”
Jackson joked that he’d be “mad at the film” when he got around to watching it. Cincinnati’s defense has made every opposing quarterback uncomfortable this season, and Jackson was no exception. For much of the night, he was uncomfortable against Cincinnati’s blitzes and imprecise on his deep throws. His struggles were best summed up in an opening third-quarter drive in which he missed two would-be touchdown throws.
On second-and-11, Jackson overthrew wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who’d broken free on a deep shot down the middle. On third-and-11, he found Andrews (eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown) for an 8-yard gain. On fourth-and-3 from Cincinnati’s 41-yard line, the Ravens went for it. Jackson had Andrews open in the flat for a first down. He also had wide receiver Tylan Wallace completely unmarked downfield.
Jackson turned down Andrews for the big-play potential. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the pass to Wallace had a completion probability of 65%, the highest odds for any pass over 40 yards by air distance since at least 2016. But the ball soared over Wallace’s head, and the Ravens trudged off the field with nothing.
“I should’ve given the ball a little bit more air,” Jackson said. “We won the game, so we’re good.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Ravens’ defense bent but did not break. On fourth-and-goal from the Ravens’ 2 — the same scenario from which Jackson had thrown a game-changing late interception a week ago in their loss to the Bills — Cincinnati couldn’t turn the 15th play of its eight-minute drive into a go-ahead score. Burrow’s shovel pass ended in the dirt, and the Ravens went 90 yards on the ensuing possession for a field goal midway through the fourth quarter that extended their lead to 16-10.
The Ravens’ first half had all the markings of another early runaway. On defense, they opened the game with a four-and-out, then forced three straight three-and-outs. At one point early in the second quarter, the Bengals had as many rushing yards (3) as the Ravens had hits on Burrow. Their star wide receiver trio of Ja’Marr Chase (seven catches for 50 yards), Tyler Boyd (three catches for 32 targets) and Tee Higgins (no targets) was quiet.
For a while, only one offense was working. The Ravens moved easily into Bengals territory on their opening drive, which ended with a 37-yard field goal by Tucker. On their third drive, Jackson found Andrews unmarked for an 11-yard score and 10-0 lead. It was only the second touchdown the Bengals had allowed since the first quarter of Week 2.
That was the Ravens’ high-water mark in the first half. Their next drive ended when Jackson’s overthrown pass to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson ended in safety Vonn Bell’s hands. Cincinnati, sparked back to life, ended the first half with a touchdown by former Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst and a last-minute field goal.
For the first time this season, the Ravens entered halftime without a lead to protect. Their path to a breakthrough victory from there was not straightforward. It involved retaking the lead, then losing it again, then questing for a last-minute win. Ultimately, their night hinged on Tucker’s right leg. They would want it no other way.
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“He is human. We’re all human. People make mistakes. It’s only natural,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “But as soon as the kick went through ... I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’re good.’ The guy’s clutch. This is what he does.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 5 1/2