With the Ravens trailing the Kansas City Chiefs, 33-28, and the two-minute warning just a second away Sunday, Justin Tucker lined up for a kickoff. The ball was in his hands; he didn’t want a tee. NFL rules prohibit the ball from being punted on kickoffs, so Tucker had to drop-kick it.
When his first drop was unsatisfactory, he gathered it again, as if he were starting over at the free-throw line. The second time, he tossed the ball so that it landed past the Ravens’ 35-yard line and spun back toward him, widthwise, a bigger target for him to blast into the heavens above.
When the ball finally fell to Mecole Hardman at the Chiefs’ 36, there were four Ravens within 5 yards of the rookie. They couldn’t touch him, because he’d smartly called for a fair catch. They could only hope he’d drop it. Which he didn’t. Kansas City took over, and a third-down conversion thereafter put the game away for good.
“It’s a play that we’ve been working on for a while out here,” Ravens special teams coach Chris Horton said Thursday. “We figured, ‘OK, when’s going to be the right situation to kind of pull that out?’ And we thought on Sunday it was the perfect opportunity for it. We didn’t execute it the way we wanted to. Obviously, that ball sailed on us a little bit further than we wanted it to, but it’s a play, I think, moving forward that this league will see. It’s a great play for us, and it gives us an opportunity to recover a ball in that situation.”
Horton acknowledged the clock was a factor in the decision to attempt a drop kick; by forcing a fair catch, the Ravens could earn another timeout through the two-minute warning. But mainly, the Ravens were hoping for chaos — and a taller kick.
Under NFL rules, until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the kicking or receiving team can block within 15 yards of the kicking team’s restraining line (in this case, the 35). With a higher launch angle, a Chiefs player with shakier hands might have tried to catch the drop kick closer to midfield. And the Ravens, running unimpeded to the ball, would have had a numbers advantage.
“With everything, how that play’s officiated, with how the return team can block and when they can block when the ball’s in the air and things like that, it just gives us an opportunity to get a bunch of guys around the ball,” Horton said. “If I’m trying to catch the ball, let’s see what we can do. Hopefully, that ball falls down, we pick it up. It’s our ball.
“Someone’s probably going to signal for a fair catch. Most of the time, it’s going to be the returner. You just rely on a guy that’s really not used to catching the ball like that, just dropping that ball, and the cover guys surrounding him and maybe picking up the ball.”
It didn’t work Sunday. But Horton indicated there would come a time when the Ravens would try it again.
“We’ve got a talented kicker. We’ve got a talented punter," he said. “These guys can do a lot of different things, so moving forward, we’ll just continue to figure out how we can develop that play and make it better.”