Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Ravens primed for another surprising run
By Jamison Hensley
Joe Flacco said the Ravens don't panic in clutch situations, and they proved it again on Monday.
DETROIT -- A month ago, I was convinced the Baltimore Ravens weren't going to make the playoffs. Now, after another can't-believe-it-until-you-see-it moment, I wouldn't be shocked if the Ravens marched to another Super Bowl.
I'm not saying the Ravens are the NFL's best team. Heck, I can't say they're a consistent team. But, when the game is on the line, there is no team I trust more in the NFL right now than the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Ravens' thrilling 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions on "Monday Night Football" provided further evidence that no situation is too unnerving and no stage is too big. Baltimore has gone from a down-and-out, 4-6 team to a suddenly hot, 8-6 team because it believes anything is possible.
Just think about it: The Ravens control their fate in the playoffs and the AFC North because of the right leg of Justin Tucker and their one-legged quarterback. Obviously hurt by a hit to his left knee earlier in the fourth quarter, Joe Flacco completed a 27-yard pass on third-and-15 off his back foot to get the Ravens in range for a winning field goal. Tucker then booted a franchise-record 61-yarder with 38 seconds to lift the Ravens to another improbable victory.
"The thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith," coach John Harbaugh said. "We believe. We trust. Because of that, we'll fight. We will run the race right down to the end. That's something that our football team does. I'm very proud of them for that."
There are times when special moments define special teams, just like the times when the Ravens converted the fourth-and-29 in San Diego and delivered the Mile High Miracle last season. These Ravens are building quite a portfolio of "never say never" moments.
Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-20, by stopping a two-point conversion with 1:03 remaining. Last week, the Ravens outlasted the Minnesota Vikings, 29-26, by scoring three touchdowns in the final 2:05, including the winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with 4 seconds left.
On Monday, the Ravens won for the third straight week on a play in the final 63 seconds. What separates the Ravens from the likes of the Lions at this pressure-filled time of the year is experience.
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"We don't panic. We don't let the situation get too big," Flacco said after his fourth game-winning drive of the season. "I wish it wasn't like that, that we wouldn't have to continue to play these types of games. But we've played a lot of them. We're used to having to make plays in crunch time when you're down a couple of points or up by a couple of points. We've played in a lot of big-time games and a lot of big-time atmospheres. Everybody knows how to handle them pretty well."
The Ravens aren't in the same league as the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos in terms of offensive efficiency. Flacco and the Ravens didn't even get the ball in the end zone Monday night.
This defense can't be mentioned in the same breath as the ones in Kansas City or Carolina. That was evident after the Ravens failed to finish off a team again in the fourth quarter, giving up a go-ahead touchdown with 2:21 left in the game.
Where the Ravens rank among the NFL's best is finding a way to win, however dire the circumstance. It hasn't been that way all year for the Ravens, who lost three of their first four games decided by three points or less. Now, after Monday night's comeback, the Ravens have won four of their past five games by that same margin.
In order to gauge the confidence of the Ravens right now, you just had to be on their sideline in the final two minutes of the game when they stared at a 16-15 deficit. With the Ravens at the Lions' 45-yard line, Tucker told Harbaugh, "I got it."
As Tucker summed it up after the game, "The word 'can't' is not one that we're about, especially in this month of December."
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The only aspect more surprising than how the Ravens are winning is who is helping them do it. On Monday night, the Ravens got an interception from 315-pound backup defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson in the third quarter that stopped the Lions from kicking a field goal and led to another Tucker kick. Then, after Tucker's 61-yarder in the fourth quarter, the Lions' final drive ended with the first career interception for Matt Elam, who took heat all week for calling wide receiver Calvin Johnson "pretty old."
"I don't know how many tight games we've been in or came down to the offense having to make a play or the defense having to stop the other team," cornerback Jimmy Smith said, "but we are coming through at the right time."
As a result, the Ravens maintained control of the No. 6 seed in the AFC and closed to one game of the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore can win the division for a third straight year if it beats the New England Patriots and the Bengals in the final two weeks. A loss, though, could bounce the Ravens from the playoffs.
There's no margin for error for the Ravens, but as the football world witnessed last night, that's probably how these Ravens like it anyway.