With the Ravens offense struggling to move the ball and getting booed throughout Monday night’s game against the Houston Texans, it was up to the defense and the right leg of Justin Tucker to close out an important victory.
That’s the safest proposition for the Ravens these days.
With the game hanging in the balance, the Ravens forced two turnovers in the final five minutes to help the Ravens hold on for a 23-16 victory over the Texans.
The Texans trailed by four points when Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs beat Kendall Lamm and strip-sacked quarterback Tom Savage with C.J. Mosley recovering.
Tucker converted his third field goal to make it a seven-point game. Defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. then all but finished the Texans with an interception on the ensuing possession.
The Ravens improved to 6-5 and leapfrogged the Buffalo Bills for the AFC’s sixth seed and second wild-card spot.
They did it despite the downfield passing game being virtually nonexistent. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finished 20-for-32 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Flacco actually did more damage with his legs, rushing for 42 yards on six carries. It was his 25-yard run after the two-minute warning that allowed the Ravens to take a knee. The Texans fell to 3-7.
The Ravens held a seven-point halftime lead, but momentum started to slowly go the Texans’ way about midway through the third quarter. Savage engineered a penalty-aided 13-play, 65-yard drive that ended on a 36-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbarn.
That cut the Ravens’ lead to 17-13.
After the defense forced a three-and-out on the Texans’ next possession, the Ravens took over around midfield and finally made a couple of plays on third down.
The Ravens were 1-for-9 on third down when Alex Collins ran for 12 yards on a third-and-8 and Flacco hit Mike Wallace for 13 yards on a third-and-4. That set up Tucker’s 31-yard field goal, which gave the Ravens a 20-13 lead with just under 11 minutes to play.
However, the Texans answered with points immediately. DeAndre Hopkins, who terrorized Jimmy Smith and the Ravens’ secondary all night, caught a 39-yard pass in between Smith and safety Eric Weddle.
The Texans couldn’t get into the end zone but settled for a 37-yard field goal by Fairbarn to make it a 20-16 game with 8:36 to play.
The Ravens’ first Monday night home game since the regular-season opener of the 2012 season started about as poorly as possible.
On offense, the Ravens got the ball first and went three-and-out despite picking up 8 yards on a Flacco-to-Chris Moore completion on the first play from scrimmage. The next two plays were incompletions thrown by Flacco.
On offense, the Ravens defense, which was coming off a shutout of the Green Bay Packers, allowed the Texans to drive 90 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. The Ravens were their own worst enemies on the drive as they gave the Texans 39 yards on three penalties.
Included among those three penalties were a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness call on Matthew Judon, who foolishly tossed Braxton Miller to the ground after his progress had been stopped, and a pass-interference call on Brandon Carr, which cost the Ravens 19 yards and a first down.
On the drive, Savage also hit Hopkins for 23 yards and Bruce Ellington for 29 yards before Lamar Miller ran the ball in from 4 yards out for a 7-0 Texans lead.
It was another slow start for the Ravens offense, but the unit was energized by coach John Harbaugh calling a fake punt on fourth-and-6 from the Houston 41. Running the same play the Ravens ran successfully two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, punter Sam Koch lofted a pass to the outside to gunner Chris Moore, who made a diving catch to pick up 22 yards.
Two plays later, Buck Allen carried several defenders and Ravens blockers into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run. It was Allen’s second rushing touchdown on the season and his fourth overall.
The Ravens added to their lead on their next drive after they set up in good field position after safety Tony Jefferson’s first interception as a Raven. Jefferson had lamented in recent weeks being the last of the team’s front-line defensive backs without an interception. However, he changed that by stepping in front of a third-down pass by Savage. It was the Ravens’ league-leading 17th interception this season.
Harbaugh again was aggressive on his team’s next drive, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Texans’ 37. Flacco pitched the ball outside to Collins, who picked up 29 yards as the Texans failed to set the edge. On the next play, Collins powered in from 8 yards, his second touchdown in as many weeks giving the Ravens a 14-7 lead.
The Ravens defense, however, couldn’t get off the field on the next Houston drive. Savage converted three consecutive third-and-longs, hitting Hopkins for 34 yards, Alfred Blue for 14 and C.J. Fiedorowicz for 10. A questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Ravens slot cornerback Maurice Canady on the completion to Fiedorowicz set up a first-and-goal for the Texans.
The Ravens held them to a field goal as Fairbarn connected from 25 yards to cut the home team’s lead to 14-10.
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Two-minute drills have been a struggle all season for the Ravens, and the one at the end of the first half was no different. The Ravens moved the ball to the Texans’ 35-yard line on the strength of a 16-yard completion to tight end Benjamin Watson and a 9-yard pass to Wallace. Flacco followed with three straight incompletions. Tucker bailed the offense out with a 53-yard field goal to send the Ravens into the break with a 17-10 lead.