coach John Harbaugh straddled the line between brilliance and dumb luck Monday evening.
The clock showed less than a minute remaining. The Ravens trailed the Detroit Lions by one level and their offense was situated on the far outskirts of place-kicker Justin Tucker’s vary.
What did Harbaugh do? He determined that the Ravens’ greatest likelihood to win, and to keep alive their playoff hopes, was to play for one of the longest recreation-winning field goals in NFL history. So from the Lions’ 45-yard line, and to the chagrin of quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens ran two safe passes and then a draw on third-and-10 that gained 2 yards.
Out went Tucker – who moments earlier had emboldened Harbaugh by telling him, “I’ve got this” – to aim a 61-yard field objective. There had been only three cases in league history of a profitable go-ahead kick from no less than 60 yards with lower than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. It’s true that Tucker is the NFL’s hottest kicker, however that was secondary to the enormity of the moment.
To salvage a win, Harbaugh needed Tucker to do nothing lower than catapult into the league’s file e-book. Tucker made him look brilliant, sneaking the ball inside the precise upright for an 18-sixteen Ravens victory that turned each the AFC and NFC playoff races the other way up.
“I used to be assured,” Harbaugh said. “I assumed we had a real good shot at it.”
If anybody had a shot, after all, it was Tucker. He has the NFL’s longest streak of consecutive subject goals (33) and had accounted for all 15 of the Ravens’ points up till then. He has been correct from long distance this season, changing six kicks from at least 50 yards. And testing his range earlier than the sport, Tucker hit the crossbar from 70 yards – just missing an ESPN digital camera perched on it.
As soon as the Ravens moved the ball into Lions territory, Tucker positioned himself near Harbaugh “just in case he looked my approach,” he mentioned.
“I wanted him to know, simply by looking at me, that he should not have any reservations about sending me on the market,” Tucker mentioned.
As the Ravens confronted third-and-10, Harbaugh requested Tucker, “Are we kicking this or are we going for it [if there’s a] fourth-and-10?”
Tucker responded: “I bought this,” and so the Ravens ran that seemingly head-scratching draw play. It’s one factor to believe in a sizzling kicker. It’s another to attempt a protracted kick if you simply run out of time to get nearer. But that’s an altogether different method from settling ahead of time for a pressure-packed kick from such an unlikely distance.
In any case, there have been solely three discipline objectives within the lengthy and winding historical past of the NFL from the distance (sixty three yards) that Harbaugh was keen to kick from had the third-down play not gained a yard. There have now been a complete of six from at the very least 61 yards.
As it turned out, Flacco seemed to the texture the same method.
“We in all probability settled slightly bit,” he said. “I do not like to try this. We might probably admit to that, that we most likely settled slightly bit. [But we] had confidence that he was going to hit the kick.”
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith concurred. “We had complete religion in our team and complete religion he was going to make it,” Smith stated.
We like to assume there’s a right and unsuitable answer for each coaching choice in sports activities. We obsess over black and white, but within the heat of a playoff race, Harbaugh surveyed the grey in between. He put statistics and probability apart and made a judgment based mostly on knowing his players and their potential for max performance.
The Ravens hadn’t scored a landing within the sport. The Lions’ defense had been getting after Flacco, who took a helmet to the knee in the fourth quarter, and in all actuality Tucker was Harbaugh’s finest offensive weapon.
It helps that Tucker is a delightfully even-keeled personality who felt compelled, at the beginning, to joke Monday night time about his impression on fantasy soccer playoffs. He doesn’t look like an individual easily affected by stress.
“I am glad to come via after all for my reality team but in addition for all my fantasy homeowners,” he said amid a flurry of postgame interviews.
Tucker will get loads of attention in the coming days, but to me it was Harbaugh who confronted probably the most intense strain. Tucker wouldn’t have been the goat had the ball fallen quick or sailed wide. Harbaugh would have taken the criticism for his endgame approach. Brilliance? Dumb luck? It worked, and I suppose that’s the one factor that matters.