BALTIMORE — After their Most Valuable Player candidate put the Ravens in position to win, their kicker did what he does better than anyone else in the history of the league.
Justin Tucker nailed a 49-yard field goal into the windy rain as time expired, giving the Ravens a 20-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers for a franchise-record eighth straight regular-season win. Tucker’s kick came after quarterback Lamar Jackson converted a critical fourth-and-1 from the Ravens’ 44-yard line with 4:39 left in the game, and the Ravens and their ball-control offense made sure the 49ers’ offense never got back on the field.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, which gives the Ravens a 10-2 record for the first time in franchise history:
1. Jackson and the Ravens showed they can grind out a win against an excellent team.
This was a test Jackson and the Ravens needed to pass. Their dominance the past month had been so impressive — with four wins over playoff-caliber teams by 14, 17, 34 and 39 points — that they hadn’t even trailed in more than a month.
This, though, was different. The 49ers, who entered the game with the NFC’s best record at 10-1, scored on their opening possession. The 49ers shredded the Ravens’ solid run defense for 174 yards. Their defense frustrated the Ravens’ top-ranked run game early, especially between the tackles. Jackson lost a fumble for the first time this year, and he struggled to throw the ball in conditions that he described as “horrible.”
In other words, a lot of things went wrong. How would they respond? As Jackson has now done for the 16th time in 19 games as a starter, he found a way to lead this team to a win.
Jackson ran 16 times for 101 yards and one touchdown and was 14-for-23 for 105 yards and a touchdown passing. His fourth-and-1 sneak extended what proved to be the game’s final drive, and his 10-yard pass to Hayden Hurst pushed the Ravens closer to field-goal range.
The defense struggled to contain 49ers back Raheem Mostert, the one-time Raven who finished with a career-best 146 rushing yards on 19 carries. But when they needed a big stop, defensive end Chris Wormley got a hand up and deflected away a fourth-and-1 pass by Jimmy Garoppolo that proved to be the 49ers’ final offensive play.
“It wasn’t pretty,” running back Mark Ingram said, “but we were able to gut it out, and that’s what great teams do.”
2. The Ravens’ aggressive mentality paid off again.
The Ravens faced fourth-and-1 at their own 44-yard line with 4:39 left, and rather than punt and give the ball back to the 49ers, they didn’t hesitate to keep the offense on the field. Stepping under rookie center Patrick Mekari, who was making his first start, Jackson kept the ball and powered forward on a sneak for 3 yards and a first down, extending a drive that proved to be the final one of the game.
From there, the Ravens methodically marched down for the game-winning kick as time expired.
Harbaugh praised the surge the Ravens’ offensive line got against the 49ers’ strong defensive front, and he explained that, even though the Ravens were on their own side of the field in the final five minutes of the game, “We knew we were going to go for it on fourth-and-1 at that point if we got to that situation.”
That probably shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Harbaugh has long espoused the virtues and analytics of going on fourth-and-1, and his team is now 15-for-20 on fourth-down conversions this year. But it also comes down to trust — in the quarterback, in the offensive line, in the running backs, and in the idea that the game can be won with the ball in Jackson’s hands.
The Ravens failed on an earlier fourth-and-5 from the 49ers 35-yard line, but Harbaugh explained that with the conditions, it seemed too long for a field-goal try and too short for a punt. Regardless, when Harbaugh keeps the offense on the field, the players love it.
“We established our identity that we’re going to be aggressive,” Ingram said. “… We believe we can get a yard, so when Coach has that confidence in us, we take it upon us personally to make sure that he’s right.”
3. Justin Tucker gives the Ravens an edge in every game.
Jackson said he was frustrated that the Ravens didn’t get closer to the end zone for Tucker’s final field-goal try, but Harbaugh, with a timeout in hand, calmly let time wind down rather than run another play to try to gain a few more yards.
Tucker promptly ran out, drove through the hold of Sam Koch and drilled a kick through the cold rain that easily cleared the crossbar from 49 yards for the 15th game-winning kick of his career.
Jackson said that Tucker has “that golden leg. I’ve got all the faith in him. I’m on the sideline praying, but at the same time, I’m like, ‘I know Tuck can do it.’ “
The Ravens opened up the bank for Tucker, giving him a four-year, $23 million extension this spring, and the league’s highest-paid kicker once again proved his worth. Tucker is so accurate that any miss — he’s missed one field-goal try and one extra-point kick this season — is met with a sense of shock.
The bottom line is every time the Ravens take the field, they have the edge in the kicking game.
With two field goals in this game, Tucker is now 259-for-286 in his career, a success rate of 90.6 percent that makes him the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
“You wouldn’t rather have anybody else in that situation,” Harbaugh said. “That field, that wind, that rain, all of that stuff that was going on there. That’s the guy you want in that situation. I’m very grateful that we have him on Thanksgiving weekend.”
4. The Ravens still don’t know what pass interference is.
The win will help erase what appeared to be two pass interference situations that went against the Ravens and left players furious.
On the first, a 49ers drive was extended when Marlon Humphrey was called for pass interference on a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders. That drive ended four plays later with a game-tying field goal by Robbie Gould.
On the Ravens’ next possession, facing third-and-11, Jackson sailed a pass for tight end Mark Andrews, and 49ers safety Jimmie Ward appeared to climb over Andrews back to try to make a play on the ball. No flag was thrown as Andrews and Jackson — and most of the announced crowd of 71,029 — screamed for one.
Harbaugh has not been a fan of the reviewable pass interference procedure this year, saying teams are essentially wasting a timeout trying to challenge, implying that the league review office will support the calls on the field in almost all cases, right or wrong. This time, though, Harbaugh challenged.
“I just thought it was so clear and obvious, and the leverage of the game was so certain,” Harbaugh said. “You get there early, with clear contact. I don’t know. That seemed clear and obvious to me, but obviously not enough to overturn it. … I think you had to challenge in that situation.”
5. This is the most impressive in-season run by the Ravens ever.
The Ravens’ schedule over the past six games has included both teams that played in the Super Bowl last year, a trip to Seattle and visits from the AFC South leading Houston Texans and the 49ers, who brought the NFC’s best record to M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens went 6-0 in those games, winning most in lopsided fashion. There hasn’t been a more impressive regular-season stretch in the history of the organization.
After the game, the Ravens were quick to point out that their focus now moves on to the Buffalo Bills (9-3), another strong team that will host the Ravens Dec. 8.
There is still a lot of football left, and Harbaugh said last week that no one is crowned in November or December. But the Ravens have put a chokehold on the AFC North, with a three-game lead with four games to play and remain in play for the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed.
They have earned that with this performance over the past six games.
“I think this might be one of the best teams I ever played on,” Ingram said. “[The] 2011 Saints was a great team, the past two teams I’ve been on were great, but there’s something special about this group of guys.”
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