The Ravens defense was reeling. The unit that has carried the team all season had given up three touchdowns in the span of four second-half possessions and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had completed 20 consecutive passes in trimming a 20-point halftime deficit to seven.
Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs called the defense together on the sideline for a pep talk, imploring his teammates to stay in the game and focus on getting the next stop.
As it turned out, the Ravens had nothing to worry about. The offense was on the field and on this day, the Joe Flacco-led group was in complete control. The Ravens flipped the season-long script of offensive struggles by scoring a franchise-record-tying 24 fourth-quarter points and putting away the mistake-prone Lions, 44-20, in front of an announced 70,500 at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Those are our brothers. We know what they can do,” Suggs said. “We know how hard they work. It was just momentum. Once they get rolling and start feeling good about themselves, good things can happen for you.”
The Ravens defense had two fourth-quarter interceptions, including one that safety Eric Weddle returned 45 yards for a touchdown, but by then, the much-maligned offense had already left its imprint on the game. Two touchdown runs by Alex Collins and a 51-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, all in a nine-minute span of the fourth quarter, thwarted any Detroit comeback hopes in the Ravens’ third straight victory.
“The fact that the offense was able to answer when the defense got on the ropes a little, I think, is what makes it such a great team victory,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The offensive line really stepped up and gave Joe time to get the ball down the field. We ran the ball well, the backs ran hard, and we did it in a situation where we felt pressure. All of a sudden, you felt like you weren’t going to get them stopped … but the offense kept answering. That’s what team victories are all about.”
Tucker converted all three of his field-goal attempts and the defense forced three turnovers and had three sacks after losing top cornerback Jimmy Smith to a season-ending Achilles injury in the first half. With the Buffalo Bills losing Sunday, the Ravens (7-5) strengthened their grip on the second AFC wild-card spot heading into next Sunday’s prime-time matchup against the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
Of greater importance, they suddenly have some semblance of offensive momentum after a game in which they didn’t turn the ball over, converted five of 12 third downs and totaled 370 yards of total offense.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace had five catches for 116 yards, and it was his 66-yard connection with Flacco early in the second quarter that seemed to breathe life into the offense. On the next play, Flacco hit tight end Benjamin Watson for a 1-yard touchdown pass and the Ravens were well on their way to their best offensive performance of the season.
“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” Wallace asked after the game. “Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams has been incredible. The offense, not so much. Today, we made strides and this game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”
Flacco also hit undrafted rookie defensive tackle-turned-fullback Patrick Ricard for a 3-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter as the Ravens built a 20-0 halftime lead. The quarterback finished 23 of 36 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, his 105.0 quarterback rating representing his second highest of the season.
His best work probably came in the fourth quarter as he led three consecutive scoring drives after the Lions had cut the Ravens’ lead to 20-13 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Tion Green. Flacco responded by hitting Jeremy Maclin for 12 yards, Danny Woodhead for 8 and a wide-open Chris Moore for 23 on third-and-7. Two plays later, Collins scored from 7 yards out.
After Stafford’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Nick Bellore that again made it a one-score game, Flacco took advantage of good field position and put the Ravens in range for Tucker’s 51-yard field goal with a 14-yard completion to Collins.
After rookie Marlon Humphrey, who played extensively following Smith’s injury, picked off Stafford, the Ravens ran the ball on four of five plays with Collins scoring from 6 yards out to give the home team a 37-20 lead.
“The offense really picked us up today,” Humphrey said. “That was the best offensive performance we’ve had all year. I don’t think many people were expecting that. I didn’t hear many boos from fans either.”
Weddle then completed the scoring with his interception return of a pressure-induced pass from Jake Rudock. Rudock was in the game after Stafford hurt his hand while landing after throwing the pass that Humphrey intercepted.
It was Weddle who predicted six days earlier after the Ravens’ 23-16 victory over the Houston Texans that there would be a time this season when that the offense would have to bail out the defense. Despite another punchless offensive performance against the Texans, Weddle said he had full confidence the offense would be able to get the job done.
“Everyone looked at me crazy when I said that — maybe right so, maybe not. But I have belief in this team, our quarterback, what we’re doing offensively, the weapons we have,” Weddle said. “Confidence is a big deal. We were reeling there for a little bit in the second half. We didn’t match their intensity at all defensively. So kudos to our offense for not just standing up to the Lions, but extending our lead when we needed it.”
Flacco, who looked visibly frustrated and annoyed last week in answering the weekly questions about the offense’s struggles, declined the opportunity to gloat.
“Part of what we do is dealing with stressful situations and people saying that we’re not good enough, so no, I’m not relieved,” he said. “I feel good that we won a football game because we went out there and played well. There’s not much better in the world than winning a football game. We know how hard it is each week. We’re doing the most we can. It’s not just relief for a week. We’ve just got to go out there and continue to play well.”