A guest post by Daniel Clark, @DJC_Sports
It had the potential to be one of the most entertaining and important games in recent Monday Night Football history, as the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) visited Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions (also 7-6).
The playoff ramifications for both teams was massive, with the loser of the Week 15 blockbuster having to rely on a series of favorable results to reach the post-season, as opposed to being in control of their own fate.
Just a few weeks ago the Ravens appeared certain to miss the playoffs after last season’s Superbowl victory – Struggling at 4-6 after a third straight loss to the Cleveland Browns. However, three straight wins saw the team bounce right back in to playoff contention and be in a position where should they win their last three games, they would win the AFC North.
On the other side of the ledger, the Lions were 6-3 after their Week 10 win over the Chicago Bears, however three losses in their four games since saw them drop to second in the NFC North standings, just one game behind the Bears.
Needless to say, this game had huge consequences for both teams.
In the first quarter, a 15-yard penalty against Matt Elam (unnecessary roughness) assisted the Lions progression down the field on their opening drive and with 10:57 remaining, Reggie Bush crossed for the first touchdown of the game.
The remaining minutes of the quarter produced a number of chances for both teams, in particular the Lions, however a crucial dropped catch from Calvin Johnson helped ensure the score remained 7-0 at the break.
The second quarter was filled with opportunity for the Ravens and an early field goal, Justin Tucker‘s 28th consecutive successful attempt, made the score 7-3. As the offense of both teams struggled to capitalise on numerous opportunities, the Ravens were next to score again with 2:32 remaining in the half thanks to another field goal – 7-6 Lions.
The Ravens defense, which had been strong all night, again held the Lions at bay and ensured Flacco and the Ravens offense would have one more opportunity with 1:20 remaining. These situations have often been where Flacco excels and as anticipated, the ball progressed down the field quickly. For the third time in the half though, the Ravens came close to reaching the end zone but had to settle for a field goal.
At the half, Flacco was 12/20 with 135 yards whilst Matt Stafford was 8/15 with 70 yards. Reggie Bush had 46 rushing yards for the Lions whilst Bernard Pierce had 17 for the Ravens.
The Ravens failed to generate a scoring opportunity in their first drive of the second half, however when the Lions regained possession the Ravens forced the game’s first turnover thanks to an interception by DeAngelo Tyson. A rushing gain of 19-yards courtesy of Ray Rice‘s carry followed and the Ravens were in great field position once again. Flacco ensured back-to-back big plays when he found Marlon Brown at the Lions’ 35-yard line, however yet again the offense couldn’t progress further and had to settle for a fourth field goal with 8:00 remaining.
The Lions’ next drive was their strongest of the night, moving all the way down deep into Ravens’ territory, however just as the Ravens had done earlier, the Lions also failed to score that crucial and seemingly impossible next touchdown. David Akers made a 40-yard field goal attempt and with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter, the Ravens held a narrow 12-10 lead. The Ravens maintained possession and commenced the last quarter at their own 45-yard line, in a 1st & 5 situation, however the Lions defense came up with another good stop to hand over possession with 13:02 remaining in the ballgame.
Both teams failed to add to the scoring in their next drive however when Dallas Smith forced the second interception of the game at the Detroit 37-yard line, the Ravens had a great opportunity to add to their lead. For a fifth time in the game though, they couldn’t managed a touchdown and it was left to Justin Tucker to extended the lead from 53-yards – Which he did. 15-10 with 8:06 remaining.
It was about then when Joe Flacco suffered an injury concern, with what appeared to be an injured knee, however after an initial examination all seemed to be ok and it appeared he would continue on in the game.
The Ravens defense which had held strong all night started to show signs of fatigue and as the Lions progressed down the field, eventually to the Ravens 15-yard line, they were required to stand tall as the two-minute warning was fast approaching. A somewhat controversial call from the referees on a catch/non-catch ensured the Lions stayed at the 15-yard line. They eventually scored a touchdown to take the lead 16-15. A two-point conversion attempt failed and with 2:21 remaining, the Ravens just needed a field goal to win the game.
Flacco returned to the field much to the pleasure of all Ravens fans and he was he faced with a 3rd & 15 situation. As cool as ever, he found Jacoby Jones at the Lions’ 45-yard line and with 1:55 remaining the Ravens could sense a game-winning field goal. Unfortunately though, they couldn’t gain more than just a few yards and now facing a 4th & 7 situation, they took a huge gamble and attempted a 61-yard field goal…
Justin Tucker, the kid with class, confidence and a whole heap of swagger, needed to create history as no other Raven had ever launched a field goal so far. Despite having been successful on his last 32 field goal attempts, none had the same level of difficulty as this one did.
Not one to be affected by pressure, Tucker stepped up and went BANG – leaving the Detroit crowd stunned as the football sailed through quite comfortably. Ravens ahead 18-16 with under a minute remaining.
As last week showed though, the game was not over yet and the Lions had a slight chance of coming back to win. This however was quickly put to bed when the Ravens forced a third turnover for the night, in the way of an interception by Matt Elam – The somewhat vocal young lad who was under pressure all week for comments made in the media.
The game was over and the Ravens had won another close encounter.
For the winners, Joe Flacco went 20/38 with 222 yards, Ray Rice had 12 carries for 56 yards and Jacoby Jones had 6 receptions for 80 yards. Justin Tucker was once again amazing, going a perfect 6/6 in field goal attempts.
For the losers, Matt Stafford went 18/34 with 235 yards, Reggie Bush had 17 carries for 86 yards and Calvin Johnson had 6 receptions for 98 yards. David Akers was 1/1 in field goal attempts and 1/1 in extra point attempts.
Now with four wins in a row and a much healthier record of 8-6, the Ravens are just one game behind the Bengals with two games remaining in the regular season.
Look out Cincinnati, Baltimore is coming for you!