DETROIT — It seems improbable, but the Baltimore Ravens are more than willing to let Justin Tucker kick them all the way to the playoffs.
Tucker’s sixth field goal of the night, this one from 61 yards, pushed the Ravens to their biggest victory of the season, an 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions in front of a raucous and shocked crowd of 64,742 at Ford Field.
The longest field goal in Ravens history, followed by Matt Elam’s interception, secured the team’s fourth straight victory and keeps them in control of their playoff future. At 8-6, the Ravens stayed ahead of the Miami Dolphins and moved within one game of the Cincinnati Bengals for first place in the AFC North.
The Lions, who watched Matthew Stafford get picked for the third time, this one by rookie safety Elam on their final possession, fell to 7-7.
Detroit had taken a 16-15 lead when Stafford hit tight end Joseph Fauria for a 14-yard touchdown catch with 2 minutes 21 seconds to play. The Lions couldn’t convert the two-point conversion, putting Tucker in position to win it.
Quarterback Joe Flacco moved the ball into Lions territory with a 27-yard completion to Jacoby Jones on third and 15. Later in the drive, it was fourth and seven, and the Ravens appeared intent on going for it rather than sending Tucker out for a 61-yard field goal.
However, after a timeout, Coach John Harbaugh reconsidered, and Tucker just sneaked it over the bar. His six field goals accounted for all of the Ravens’ points, and he now has made 33 in a row.
The Ravens took a 9-7 lead into halftime, and they expanded it on Tucker’s 49-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Lions answered those three points on their next drive thanks to Stafford’s 37-yard completion to Calvin Johnson, which put Detroit into Baltimore territory. However, the Ravens’ defense held and appeared to catch a break when cornerback Lardarius Webb got away with holding Kris Durham in the back of the end zone.
David Akers’s 40-yard field goal made it a 12-10 game. The Ravens were handed a big-time opportunity to put the Lions away when Stafford threw his second interception, this one by middle linebacker Daryl Smith.
The Ravens led by two and had the ball at the Detroit 34 with about nine minutes to play. However, they lost one yard over the next three plays and watched Flacco take a vicious shot on his left leg that went uncalled. Tucker’s 53-yard field goal with 8:06 to play made it a 15-10 game.
However, the Lions got the ball at their 20 with just over eight minutes to play and drove all the way to the end zone, where Stafford found Fauria, who beat Smith on the play. As it turned out, Detroit left too much time for Flacco and the Ravens’ star second-year kicker.
At just about the same time their team charter landed in snowy Detroit on Saturday afternoon, the Ravens learned their margin of error to make the playoffs had significantly diminished. The Dolphins’ upset victory over the New England Patriots meant the Ravens had to win to maintain possession of the sixth and final playoff spot.
With the Dolphins finishing with a road game against the Buffalo Bills (5-9) and a home matchup against the New York Jets (6-8), the Ravens knew coming into the night they may have to win out to make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
The Ravens talked about getting off to a good start, which has eluded them in several of their road losses, and taking the crowd out of that game. But a little more than four minutes into the game, they already found themselves down by a touchdown.
With the help of Elam, Detroit marched right down the field on just eight plays, scoring when Reggie Bush broke free outside. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs failed to set the edge, and Bush sprinted into the end zone from 14 yards out.
It marked the third consecutive week the Ravens had allowed a rushing touchdown after surrendering only one over their first 11 games.