Justin Tucker will, undoubtedly, wear a gold jacket at some point in the future.
Tucker kept his Ravens’ playoff hopes very much alive with a clutch kick in amid some of the more difficult circumstances you’ll see in an NFL game that doesn’t involve precipitation. Tucker drilled a 55-yard attempt through the eastern goal posts at FirstEnergy Stadium, overcoming Cleveland’s notorious swirling wind that makes things wacky in the end-zone area known as the Dawg Pound, and lifted Baltimore to a 45-42 lead with just 0:02 left in a thrilling Monday night contest.
“That was a really tough kick, because the field was really soft,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said following the 47-42 win. “Obviously, they were rushing everything they had, so the guys that protected Sam [Koch] and Morgan [Cox] did a great job. But to make that kick, with the crosswind on that field in December in the open end, in the ‘Dawg Pound’ end, [for] most kickers, that’s unmakeable. The only kicker that I know of that you’d feel confident in making that would be Justin Tucker.”
FirstEnergy Stadium is notoriously difficult to kick field goals in, especially once the weather turns. Longtime Browns kicker Phil Dawson had a flag installed in a corner of the stadium specifically so he could measure direction of wind and make his own mental calculations to convert field goals, and one needn’t look far for examples of the Dawg Pound end hijacking kicks and sending them to hilarious destinations.
The wind in Cleveland is wild 💨
📺 #LVvsCLE on FOX pic.twitter.com/6gzV5pG3FU
Tucker calmly drilled the kick with the same confidence he displayed earlier in the fourth, just moments before Lamar Jackson made his latest highlight play of his fantastic career, when Tucker appealed to Harbaugh to try a field goal from 64 yards out.
“He thought that gave us the best chance to win,” Harbaugh said as he laughed. “So, you appreciate the confidence; that’s just how he is.”
Tucker and the rest of the Ravens sensed the importance of the moment from the beginning of the night, responding to Cleveland’s opening-drive touchdown with a score of their own before running out to a 20-14 halftime lead, a 28-14 advantage early in the third, and a 34-20 lead later in the quarter. Even when the Browns mounted a furious comeback with Jackson in the locker room, Baltimore responded as soon as Jackson returned, setting up for a fantastic finish that Tucker capped with his right foot.
“I love these guys,” Harbaugh said. “I love these guys. They have the hearts of lions.”
Baltimore weathered multiple injuries on the defensive side of the ball as things seemed to be falling apart amid Cleveland’s comeback, with cornerback Marcus Peters going down with an apparent injury on Rashard Higgins’ 21-yard, fourth-down touchdown reception. Before Harbaugh could even get an update on Peters, the veteran was sprinting back out on the field.
“Marcus Peters, he ran out there and the trainers didn’t even tell him it was OK,” Harbaugh said. “‘Is Marcus cleared?’ Our trainer said, ‘Marcus is out there?’ Then he blitzed and almost got a sack. It was just one of those wild games that’s gonna be hard to explain and define.”
Tucker’s attempt was a kick in the gut for the Browns (9-4) and might be a kick in the pants for the Ravens (8-5), who have won two straight and suddenly have the look of a serious threat in the AFC once again. They’ll need to extend their winning streak into the end of the season and will likely keep their eyes trained on Cleveland, who hosts the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 17 game that could determine the postseason fate of multiple teams.
“I think this was, obviously, a huge win for us,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “All these games coming up are playoff games. That’s the type of mindset we had today. We can’t let one slip, and it started with the Cleveland Browns. We’re looking to next week and to get better against the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
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