The Ravens seemed poised to tie the New Orleans Saints after a last-ditch touchdown drive brought them within one point. But then the unthinkable happened as kicker Justin Tucker missed an extra-point attempt for the first time in his career and the Ravens lost, 24-23.
Before Tucker’s stunning miss, the Ravens finally ran into an offense they could not smother as record-setting quarterback Drew Brees rallied the Saints from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter.
The Saints (5-1) took a 21-17 lead with 4:58 left when Brees found his top receiver, Michael Thomas, for a 5-yard touchdown. The Ravens drove into New Orleans territory on their ensuing possession but saw their hopes fade when a fourth-down pass trickled off wide receiver Willie Snead IV’s fingertips.
The Ravens (4-3) built a 17-7 lead when Joe Flacco found rookie tight end Mark Andrews in the end zone late in the third quarter. But the Saints quickly answered with a touchdown of their own, the first the Ravens had surrendered in the second half all season.
The question coming in was whether the Ravens’ dominant defense of the first six weeks would hold up against the top scoring offense in the NFL. The answer was generally yes for the first three quarters. They did not maul Brees the way they had Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota the week before. But they did prevent the Saints from beating them in big chunks.
In the end, they missed cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who was out with a thigh injury. Jimmy Smith was forced to play many more snaps than he had in his previous two games, and he did not hold up well in the second half.
On offense, the Ravens again struggled to get running back Alex Collins going, no surprise given the Saints came in with the league’s best run defense. Flacco played a ragged game against one of the league’s worst pass defenses.
Peter Schmuck, columnist: What a way to lose a litmus-test game. The Ravens and Saints punched it out for 60 minutes only to see the game decided by something more rare than a unicorn. Justin Tucker had never missed an extra-point try in his NFL career and he picked a pretty bad time to prove himself human.
If this was supposed to be a referendum on how good the Ravens really are, they showed again that they can go nose-to-nose with anyone. Two solid teams played a close, tough game and one of them had to lose.
The Ravens’ No. 1 scoring defense did slow down the Saints’ No. 1 scoring offense, hold it well below its 36-points-per-game average, but couldn’t stop Drew Brees and the varied Saints attack when it really counted while Joe Flacco’s offense did not take full advantage of the supposed vulnerability of the Saints’ secondary until the final two minutes of each half.
Mike Preston, columnist: It's hard to believe that the most dependable weapon on the team in recent years missed an extra-point attempt. Knowing Justin Tucker, he will rebound will and might not miss anything for the rest of the season.
As for the loss, it will be demoralizing but learned that the Ravens are one of the best teams in the NFL.
When a defense can hold Drew Brees and the Saints down the way the Ravens did, it showed it can compete against and beat any team.
It was a gutsy effort by the Ravens but just not enough. There are no moral victories in the NFL, but this is about as close as a team can get, especially one that hasn't been to the playoffs in the past couple of years.
Edward Lee, reporter: No one could have predicted that the outcome of Sunday's game would turn on an extra-point attempt by Justin Tucker.
But the kicker's first career miss sealed a 24-23 loss for the Ravens, who could only watch a valiant comeback attempt fall one point short.
The defense played decently against Drew Brees and Co. until the fourth quarter. This loss will sting and now heightens the importance of next Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers, who roared back to stun the Philadelphia Eagles with 21 points in the fourth quarter.