The Baltimore Ravens needed a clutch drive in the final minutes to avoid another loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and a 2-3 start to the season.
Good thing they have an MVP candidate at quarterback and perhaps the greatest kicker ever.
Lamar Jackson led the Ravens into field goal range, with the key play coming on an 18-yard run that not many quarterbacks can make. That got the Ravens into range for Justin Tucker. Tucker hit a 43-yard field goal as time expired for the 19-17 win that will be enormous in the AFC North race. It was right down the middle, as most of Tucker’s kicks are.
It was a huge drive for Jackson, who wasn’t perfect on Sunday night. Neither were the Ravens. Jackson missed some throws in a close game and the Ravens defense couldn’t get the stop it needed in the fourth quarter. But when the Ravens needed Jackson to get them downfield he delivered. So did Tucker.
Bengals and Ravens play a tense game
The game felt like a playoff game. It already has big implications in the AFC North. Last season the Bengals blasted the Ravens in both meetings and went on to win the division title.
It was clear early on Sunday night that there would be no blowout this time. It was a close, hard-fought game from the outset.
The Bengals had a key sequence in the third quarter. They had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Cincinnati threw incomplete, then tried “Philly Special” with Tyler Boyd looking for quarterback Joe Burrow in the end zone. The Ravens played it perfectly and Boyd was dumped for a sack. The Bengals got back to the 2-yard line on a Ja’Marr Chase third-down gain, but that caused the Bengals to go for it on fourth down instead of tying the game with a field goal. Cincinnati tried a shovel pass that had no chance, mostly because right tackle La’el Collins seemed to miss an assignment (coach Zac Taylor had words with him when he came to the sideline) and the Ravens took over possession. Those missed points were big by the end of the game.
The Ravens took a 16-10 lead not long after the Bengals left points on the board. And ironically enough for John Harbaugh, who was criticized for going for it on fourth-and-goal last week against the Buffalo Bills, perhaps the Ravens should have gone for it instead of kicking the field goal. He could have gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the Bengals’ 3-yard line, but took a delay of game penalty and kicked the field goal.
That left the door open for the Bengals.
Bengals take a late lead
The Bengals pushed forward, getting deep into Ravens territory with less than four minutes to go. A back-shoulder throw to Chase got the Bengals inside the 10-yard line, when Chase made a great adjustment on the pass to pull it in. Joe Burrow scored on a quarterback sneak, getting a push from behind, and after the extra point — which was barely good as it went just over the right goal post; the call was so close that NBC brought on rules analyst Terry McAulay to explain why it counted — the Bengals led 17-16 with 1:59 to go.
The drive was 13 plays, 75 yards and took 7:49 off the clock. It was the type of drive the Bengals were getting late last season, when they went on their run to the Super Bowl. In that drive, they looked like that team that had so much confidence late last season.
But the Ravens still had plenty of time to answer, and a great kicker in Tucker.
Jackson had a huge run of 18 yards to get the Ravens into Tucker’s range. The Ravens picked up another first down to get Tucker closer and bleed time off the clock. Tucker had already hit a 58-yard field goal earlier in the game. Tucker from 43 yards out was just about automatic.
The Ravens had already blown two double-digit leads in losses over the first four games of the season. They didn’t need to worry about answering for blowing a third one on Sunday night thanks to Jackson, and then Tucker.