Ravens maintain control of playoff fate — just barely — by holding off Colts, 23-16

The two-minute warning gave the Ravens defense plenty of time to think about all that was on the line. If the Indianapolis Colts were able to get 10 more yards and a touchdown — and then what presumably would’ve been a two-point conversion try for the go-ahead points – the Ravens’ season might have been ruined.

While no Ravens player was ready to acknowledge it, there would’ve been no possible way to enjoy Christmas with that on their conscience.


“Obviously, I felt like anybody who was sitting at home rooting for the Ravens to win,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “It’s tough to watch that happen.”

With their playoff hopes in jeopardy and memories of past late-game defensive failures lingering over the final couple of minutes at wet and windy M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens stood their ground. Backed up to their own 10-yard line with 1:57 to play and furiously trying to protect a seven-point lead, the Ravens stopped the Colts on three consecutive plays to preserve a game they couldn’t afford to lose.

How our reporters and editors saw the Ravens' 23-16 win over the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Nickel cornerback Maurice Canady stepped in front of T.Y. Hilton to knock away a Jacoby Brissett fourth-down pass attempt, setting off a wild celebration on the home sideline as the Ravens secured a much-closer-than-hoped 23-16 victory over the Colts in front of an announced 70,590.

“That was a nerve-wracking drive. Our backs were against the wall off the strength of the first play,” Canady said. “We made a point of emphasis that we were going to win no matter what. No matter what situation comes up, we were going to win, and we prevailed.”

The win, their fifth in their past six games, pushed the Ravens to 9-6 and into the fifth seed and first wild-card spot, ahead of both the Tennessee Titans (8-6) and Buffalo Bills (8-6). The Ravens will remain in playoff position heading into the Dec. 31 regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals regardless of how the Titans and Bills fare Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, respectively.

At the very least, the Ravens would clinch their seventh playoff appearance in coach John Harbaugh’s 10 seasons with a win over the Bengals. The Ravens would also get in with a loss next Sunday if the Titans or Bills lose their final two games.


“We have to put everything we have into this game. Everything we’ve done from the beginning, right down until today, you go all the back to training camp and [organized team activities], it all comes down to one game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what the National Football League can be sometimes, and that’s what it is for us.”

Harbaugh was shown on the stadium video board exhorting the fans after Canady’s breakup. Afterward, he chastised himself for not accepting a holding penalty on the Colts’ second-last drive that would have created a third-and-long rather than a 4-and-1 from the Indianapolis 34. Down 10 points with under eight minutes to play, Colts coach Chuck Pagano, whose team was 3-11 and playing out of the string, opted to go for it and Brissett picked up the first down with a 7-yard scramble.

Adam Vinatieri hit his third field goal on that drive to cut the Ravens’ lead to 23-16 with 4:33 to play. Linebacker Anthony Walker then blocked a Sam Koch punt on the ensuing possession, setting up the frantic final two minutes.

“It wasn’t our best game on defense, but we got it done when we needed to the most,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens got it done because their offense again didn’t turn the ball over, sustained drives in wet and difficult conditions and because Justin Tucker went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts.

Flacco completed 29 of 38 passing attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He spread the ball around with one of his top receivers, Jeremy Maclin, sidelined with a knee injury, completing passes to 10 different players. Flacco hit Michael Campanaro for a 6-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to give the Ravens a 10-0 lead and tight end Maxx Williams for a 4-yard score at the 8:40 mark of the fourth quarter to make it a 23-13 game.

During a game in which the defense didn’t force any turnovers and struggled at times to stop the run and get to Brissett, the Ravens offense staged five drives of 10 plays or more, their most in a game since 2011. What kept the game close was the Ravens struggled to finish drives with touchdowns rather than field goals and the defense allowed Indianapolis to answer too often.

“As an offense, I thought we had a pretty darn good night,” said Flacco, who has seven touchdown passes and just one interception over his past four games. “We could have put the ball in the end zone a couple times, but we fought, we did a lot of really good things. We didn’t punt the ball much. We had some big, long drives and eating up the clock and doing some good things.”

It appeared that the Ravens had put the game away when they finalized a 14-play, 75-yard drive that started at the 1:34 mark of the third quarter and ended with 8:40 to go in the fourth with Flacco finding Williams all alone in the end zone. The drive, which resulted in Williams’ second career touchdown, was aided by two Nate Hairston penalties on third down.

“That was a sweet drive,” Flacco said. “We knew those guys were playing good football on the other side, and we knew we had to put six points on the board right there in order to win this football game.”

Terrance West, the former Northwestern High and Towson University standout, has not played for the Ravens since Oct. 8, when he injured his left calf.

At that point, the Ravens led 23-13 with 8:40 to play. Both C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle dropped potential interceptions on the ensuing drive, which ended with Vinatieri kicking a 30-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game with 4:33 remaining.

The Ravens got the ball back and picked up a big first down when Flacco hit Mike Wallace for 14 yards. However, the drive stalled and making matters worse, Koch’s punt was blocked and recovered at the Ravens 27.

Indianapolis needed just three plays to get down to the 10-yard line at the two-minute warning. But on second-and-3, Frank Gore was stopped by Mosley for a 3-yard loss. Za’Darius Smith sacked Brissett on third down and then Canady made the big play on fourth down.

“We didn’t play the perfect game, but that is not us,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs saod. “We played good enough to win. That is all that counts in December football — wins and losses. But we won and we put ourselves in a very fortunate situation. We just have to put together one week of ball.”

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