Ravens continue to find creative ways to win games

December 17, 2013|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Daryl Smith has been a Raven for a little more than six months, long enough for the veteran middle linebacker to get swept up in the late-season feeling that has seemingly overtaken the organization for a second straight year.

"We believe that the outcome is going to be in our favor," Smith said early Tuesday morning in a celebratory visitor's locker room at Ford Field. "It's just really instilled in us."

Eight days after they beat the Minnesota Vikings by scoring 22 points in the final 2:05 of the game, the Ravens outlasted the Detroit Lions, 18-16, Monday when their dynamic kicker, Justin Tucker, made his sixth and final field goal of the night from 61yards out with 38 seconds to play.

The longest field goal in franchise history punctuated the transition that these 2013 Ravens have made heading into another showdown against the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.

A team that was consistently losing close games earlier this season suddenly is finding historic ways to win them, and a team that looked destined to miss the playoffs four weeks ago suddenly looks like one capable of embarking on another postseason run.

"No one throws in the towel," wide receiver Torrey Smith (Maryland) said. "No one doubts for a second that we aren't going to get it done no matter what the situation is."

Against the Vikings, the Ravens erased three fourth-quarter deficits, two of them in the final minute, 27 seconds of the game. Against the Lions, the Ravens found themselves down, 16-15, with 2:21 to play after Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford hit Joseph Fauria for a 14-yard touchdown pass.

But quarterback Joe Flacco, who was limping noticeably after taking a helmet to the knee earlier in the fourth quarter, hit Jacoby Jones for 27 yards on a third-and-15 from the Ravens' 28. And from there, the Ravens got just two more yards before sending Tucker out to attempt a 61-yarder. He had made one from 70 yards in pregame warm-ups, but when the ball left his foot, he wondered if he had gotten under it too much. Tucker's teammates, however, had no doubts.

"We have complete faith in our team and we had complete faith that he was going to make it," said Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who helped limit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson to six catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns. "The defense was already getting off the bench ready to go. We all believed he was going to make it."

As a result, the Ravens (8-6) have won an AFC-best four straight games. They currently own the sixth and final playoff spot over Miami (8-6) because the Ravens hold the tie-breaker advantage by virtue of their victory over the Dolphins in October. The Ravens could clinch at least an AFC wildcard spot with a victory Sunday, coupled by a Dolphins loss at Buffalo, and a San Diego Chargers (7-7) loss or tie at home against the Oakland Raiders.

However, the wild card no longer is the Ravens' only realistic avenue into the postseason. They trail the AFC North-leading Bengals (9-5) now by only one game with two regular-season contests to play. If the Ravens win out, which would include a Week 17 victory in Cincinnati, they'd capture their third straight AFC North title and likely a home, first-round playoff game.

"We're playing our best football right now and we're going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You look at our football team and the thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith. We believe. We trust. Because of that, we'll fight. We will run the race right down to the end, that's something that our football team does. I'm very proud of them for that."

The Ravens' recent play has drawn the inevitable comparisons to last season, when they peaked in the playoffs to capture the organization's second Super Bowl title. But the two situations are different: Last year, the Ravens enjoyed such a comfortable lead in the division that they coasted into the playoffs despite losing four of their final five regular-season games.

This season, they've been in must-win mode since they lost to the Chicago Bears in overtime on Nov. 17 to fall to 4-6, and they are flourishing — rather than buckling — under the pressure.

"We don't panic. We don't let the situation get too big," said Flacco, who appears to be fine after taking the hit to his left knee Monday. "I wish it wasn't like that, that we wouldn't have to continue to play these types of games. But we've played a lot of them. We're used to having to make plays in crunch time when you're down a couple of points or up by a couple of points. We've played in a lot of big-time games and a lot of big-time atmospheres. Everybody knows how to handle them pretty well."

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