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In the first half Sunday, the Ravens’ offense ran out of chances. In the second half, their defense ran out of gas. By the end of a stunning 19-17 win Sunday over the woebegone Lions, it looked they’d run out of time to take back an awful afternoon in Detroit.
Then kicker Justin Tucker arrived, just in the nick of his time, with his golden right leg. An NFL-record 66-yard field goal carried just far enough to doink off the crossbar and through the uprights, capping a wild comeback.
Lions kicker Ryan Santoso’s go-ahead 35-yard field goal with 64 seconds remaining could’ve been the game-winner if not for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finding wide receiver Sammy Watkins for 36 yards on fourth-and-19. Jackson spiked the ball with seven seconds remaining and threw an incompletion out of bounds on a play that could’ve been called for a delay of game. Then Tucker’s kick, 2 yards longer than the longest in NFL history, saved the day and sent the Ravens back home with a 2-1 record.
Jackson finished 16-for-31 for 287 yards and a touchdown and an interception and ran for 58 yards on seven carries. Tight end Mark Andrews had five catches for a season-high 109 yards, while Watkins added 68 yards on four receptions.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff went 22-for-30 for 217 yards and no touchdowns and no interceptions. Running back D’Andre Swift was his favorite target, finishing with seven catches for 60 yards and 14 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens, one of the teams hit hardest by injuries this season, were missing four defensive contributors Sunday — defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike and outside linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Justin Houston — all placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list two days earlier.
They looked like they needed all the help they could get on the Lions’ last drive. Detroit (0-3) covered 62 yards in nine plays and got the potential go-ahead field goal, then two sacks on the Ravens’ first three drop-backs. It wasn’t enough.
The Lions, battered by injuries themselves, came out a renewed team in the second half. After punting on their first six drives and ending the first half with a mercy handoff, Detroit found the end zone on its first two second-half drives and kicked the go-ahead field goal on its third.
And the Lions took their sweet ol’ time doing it, too. They cut the Ravens’ deficit to 13-7 in the third quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard drive punctuated by Swift’s 2-yard plunge. Then running back Jamal Williams scored from a yard out to make it 16-14, ending a 12-play, 75-yard surge. The drives were downright Ravens-esque, taking a combined 14 minutes, 20 seconds off the clock and relying heavily on their running backs.
The Ravens’ response was to give their defense a three-minute break and ask for a stop. Jackson, protected like a foreign dignitary for most of the game, forced a throw over the middle to Brown on third-and-long before he got hit. The ball sailed into no-man’s land and then into cornerback Amani Oruwariye’s waiting hands. The Lions took over at their 21, Ford Field rocking.
Neither team could get out of its own way in the first half. Some of their shortcomings were surprising: Tucker missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt, his first misfire on a kick attempted indoors after 21 straight makes to start his career. Tucker also had made 27 straight field goals on the road, the NFL’s second-longest active streak. The Ravens also converted just one of six third-down opportunities just a week after going 6-for-11 against Kansas City.
But their most glaring gaffes became less and less surprising the more Jackson dropped back. Andrews couldn’t handle a tough first-quarter throw over the middle that glanced off his hands. Then Jackson watched a deep pass down the right sideline bounce off Watkins’ right hand. If the drops were contagious, no one was hit harder than Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Early in the second quarter, he dropped a would-be touchdown pass over the middle. Two drives later, he couldn’t bring in a would-be catch-and-run score. Four plays later, on third down, he got wide open again as Jackson scrambled to his left. But Brown, his back to a beckoning end zone, turned upfield before he had the ball, and he ran away with nothing. He took off his helmet in disappointment, and coach John Harbaugh offered counsel on the sideline.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Brown had never dropped a pass of 25-plus air yards. But all three of his drops fit the type, totaling 97 air yards.
And yet, in terms of missed execution, the Lions somehow one-upped the Ravens. They averaged just 3.5 yards per play on offense. They got called for a false start on two fourth-and-1s on which they appeared ready to go for it. They had penalties on two punts, including a running-out-of-bounds infraction that wiped out a fumble recovery at the Ravens’ 23-yard line. And they blew a third-and-18 in the red zone, letting wide receiver Devin Duvernay get wide open in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard score.
It didn’t matter that it was the Ravens’ only third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. They entered halftime with a 10-0 lead. They left the game in delirium, chasing after their kicker who’d made history and changed their fortunes.