Ravens place kicker Justin Tucker, middle, is greeted by punter Sam Koch (4) and tight end Dennis Pitta (88) following Tucker’s winning field goal in overtime. Tucker also forced overtime with a field goal as time expired in regulation. (DENIS POROY/AP)

When Ray Rice caught the ball and looked upfield, his challenge — and the Baltimore Ravens’ chances of pulling out a victory over the San Diego Chargers — seemed pretty close to hopeless.

There were defenders rushing toward Rice and about 20 yards that he still needed to cover if he were going to get a first down.

Running down the sideline, Rice made two defenders miss and then outran a couple more as he cut across the field. He contemplated taking it all the way to the opposite sideline before ultimately deciding to keep inching forward.

When the mad dash was over and Rice was knocked down at the San Diego 34-yard line, the Ravens had their first down on a fourth and 29.

And later they had a victory that looked so improbable for much of the afternoon. Rice’s 29-yard catch-and-run set up Justin Tucker’s tying 38-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

Tucker then hit again from 38 yards with 1 minute 7 seconds remaining in overtime as the Ravens fought back from 10 points down with less than eight minutes to go to defeat the Chargers, 16-13, in front of 57,822 at Qualcomm Stadium.

“We have a football team that has the biggest hearts that I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to go overboard here but how can you not?” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. “Have you ever been part of a game like that? Have you ever seen a game like that? I never have.”

With the victory, the Ravens (9-2) took a three-game lead in the AFC North over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers, who lost earlier in the day to the last-place Cleveland Browns, will be in Baltimore on Sunday and a victory would go a long way toward sewing up the division.

While several Ravens stopped short of declaring the victory a potential season-defining moment, all of them agreed that they have never seen anything quite like Rice’s play, which came on a dump-off after quarterback Joe Flacco decided against throwing the ball up for grabs from his 37 with 1:59 to play in the fourth quarter.

“It was really kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Flacco said. “We were running down the field and I was hoping because they were playing so soft, sometimes you can kind of get in behind one of those guys and catch them flat-footed and maybe find a soft spot and rip a ball real quick into somebody. I didn’t really see anything like that. I didn’t want to just throw a Hail Mary. I wanted to give somebody a chance.”

What followed was a play that Rice labeled “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle.” Wide receiver Torrey Smith and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata called it the best play that they’ve seen live.

“I was thinking we needed a miracle,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. “I was thinking we have Jacoby Jones and he can jump there and catch it or we have Anquan Boldin with the best hands in the world. But then I saw the check-down to Ray Rice and I thought he was going to pitch it or something but he kept it and made an amazing play to get it done for us.”

The Ravens trailed San Diego (4-7) by 10 points with less than eight minutes to play and at that point, they hadn’t scored a touchdown since the 9:24 mark of the third quarter of their Week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders.

However, Flacco led his team down the field and hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a four-yard touchdown with just more than four minutes to play in regulation; it ended the offense’s touchdown drought at more than eight quarters.

The Ravens forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive and got the ball back with 3:09 to play to set up Rice’s heroics.

— Baltimore Sun