Surest thing in the NFL comes through

Tucker per­fect again as Ravens top Bengals for 1st time in six tries

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - By Jeff Zre­biec jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

Justin Tucker wasn’t go­ing to wait to be told to go onto the field. He was go­ing to make the de­ci­sion for the Ravens coaches. As head coach John Har­baugh, spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor Jerry Ros­burg and kick­ing con­sul­tant Randy Brown de­lib­er­ated whether to at­tempt a 57-yard field goal late in the sec­ond quar­ter, Tucker sprinted off the side­line and broke into his pre-kick rou­tine.

Wind and a clumped-up mid­dle of the field be damned.

“If they have to drag me off, that’s fine,” Tucker said. “I feel like that at­ti­tude per­me­ates through our locker room. That is the Raven way. If you want to win, you want the ball in your hands, or in my case, at your feet. If I didn’t think that way, I’d be do­ing a dis­ser­vice to ev­ery­one in this build­ing.”

With the Ravens’ of­fense again strug­gling and the de­fense giv­ing up a good bit of ground, Har­baugh had no eas­ier de­ci­sion Sun­day than to send his pro­lific kicker onto the field. Tucker kicked three field goals from be­yond 50 yards in the first half and made a 36-yarder in the fourth quar­ter as the Ravens held on for a19-14 vic­tory over the Cincin­nati Bengals in front of an an­nounced 70,903 at M&T Bank Sta­dium. Bre­shad Per­ri­man gave the Ravens an early lead with a 14-yard touch­down catch in the back of the end zone. Tucker ex­tended it with his four field goals, and the Ravens de­fense and spe­cial teams put the game away.

Need­ing a touch­down and ex­tra point to tie the game, Andy Dal­ton drove the Bengals down to the Ravens 16-yard line with 1:21 to go. How­ever, Elvis Dumervil, play­ing his first game since Oct. 9, strip-sacked Dal­ton on third down, and de­fen­sive end Lawrence Guy re­cov­ered the fum­ble. The Bengals never got the ball back, as punter Sam Koch took the snap with 11 sec­onds to go and held onto the ball in the end zone while the Ravens held or tack­led ev­ery Ben­gal who rushed.

Be­cause the fouls oc­curred on the field of play and on spe­cial teams, the game was over af­ter Koch stepped through the back of the end zone with no time on the clock. An al­ready un­usual Ravens sea­son got an­other chap­ter with the team will­ingly tak­ing a game-end­ing safety.

“It was the best-ex­e­cuted safety ever taken be­cause we kept him clean the whole time,” Har­baugh said.

Now 6-5, the Ravens re­gained a share of first place in the AFC North with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, who beat the In­di­anapo­lis Colts on Thanks­giv­ing night. They also reg­is­tered their first vic­tory over the Bengals (3-7-1) since Nov. 10, 2013, break­ing a fiveg­ame losing streak to their divi­sion ri­val and Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 4 The Ravens’ Bre­shad Per­ri­man, right, catches a14-yard touch­down pass in front of the Bengals’ Dar­queze Den­nard in the first quar­ter. The Ravens’ other points came on Tucker’s four field goals. pretty much knock­ing Cincin­nati out of the play­off pic­ture.

Given the Bengals’ dom­i­nance over the Ravens, it prob­a­bly shouldn’t have been sur­pris­ing that the game came down to the end. The Ravens of­fense stalled af­ter tak­ing a 16-3 half­time lead, but the de­fense did just enough against a Bengals team that didn’t have two of its top play­mak­ers: run­ning back Gio­vani Bernard and wide re­ceiver A.J. Green.

“Man, if it ain’t tough, it ain’t the Raven way,” rush line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said. “I re­ally wish we could have got off the field in­stead of scar­ing ev­ery­body and hav­ing Elvis make a fan­tas­tic play. But that’s the Raven way. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

Suggs then grudg­ingly gave credit to Tucker, who has hit 34 straight field-goal at­tempts dat­ing to last sea­son, in­clud­ing 27 in a row this year. On Sun­day, he hit from 52, 57 and 54 yards in the first half, be­com­ing just the ninth kicker since1960 to makethree field goals of 50-plus yards in a sin­gle game.

“We got the best kicker in the league. There’s no doubt about it, but we’ve got to keep the young kid hum­ble,” Suggs said. “I told him when I came back, I’ve never seen a kicker make some con­tract de­mands, but I guess when you’re the best kicker in the league, you can do that. It’s great to have a kicker with ice in his veins.”

The Ravens were never in dan­ger of not hav­ing Tucker on­their ros­ter this year, but for a time in mid-July it ap­peared the two sides might be headed for a bit­ter part­ing in the fu­ture. The Ravens put the fran­chise tag on the kicker, but lit­tle progress was be­ing made on a long-term deal. On the eve of the July 15 dead­line to sign “fran­chised” play­ers to long-term deals, Tucker’s camp told the Ravens he wouldn’t re-sign with the team if a deal wasn’t reached.

It be­came a moot point a day later, when the two sides reached agree­ment on a four-year, $16.8 mil­lion deal that in­cluded $10.8 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money and a $6 mil­lion sign­ing bonus. Both the guar­an­teed money and the sign­ing bonus are the big­gest in NFL his­tory for a kicker.

So far, Tucker has been worth ev­ery bit of it. Tucker’s team­mates love to re­mind him that kick­ers in the NFL are tra­di­tion­ally seen and not heard (the opera-singing and celebrity-im­per­son­at­ing Tucker does not fit that mold). But even they had to ac­knowl­edge Tucker’s achieve­ments Sun­day.

Asked whether he’d be able to keep Tucker hum­ble, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said, “There’s no way. He’s earned the right to feel the way he feels about him­self. I mean, he’d feel that way any­way. There’s no way to keep him down, man.”

Tucker, who never minds a good-na­tured rib­bing, joked af­ter­ward that “it’s re­ally great to have the sup­port of your team­mates.”

All jokes aside, it’s fair to won­der where the Ravens would be with­out Tucker this sea­son. Five of their six vic­to­ries are by seven or fewer points, and their of­fense con­tin­ues to strug­gle to put a full game to­gether. Fol­low­ing Sun­day’s game, Flacco lamented losing “of­fen­sive tempo” in the sec­ond half and get­ting too con­ser­va­tive.

“I def­i­nitely wasn’t feel­ing great about what kind of po­si­tion we put our­selves in,” said Flacco, who fin­ished 25-of-36 for 234 yards, one touch­down and one in­ter­cep­tion. “I’d love to be able to fin­ish them off, go put a touch­down or two or three on the board in the sec­ond half and just get this game over with for sure.”

Luck­ily for the Ravens, they had Tucker. With kick­ers league-wide strug­gling to con­sis­tently make kicks and ex­tra points — Bengals kicker Mike Nu­gent missed his fourth ex­tra point in as many games Sun­day — Tucker con­tin­ues to pro­duce points on a weekly ba­sis.

It’s fair to ques­tion how far the Ravens can go when their most pro­duc­tive and re­li­able of­fen­sive weapon is their kicker. Pre­dictably, Tucker wasn’t back­ing down from the re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“To be on this sort of roll that we are on now is good, but it doesn’t end to­day; it hope­fully will not end at the end of De­cem­ber or the first part of Jan­uary,” Tucker said. “Hope­fully, this is some­thing that would help carry our team all the way to the play­offs and hope­fully to a cham­pi­onship.” Read Childs Walker’s “Five Things We Learned” from the Ravens’ win Sun­day against the Bengals.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Sam Koch holds as Justin Tucker kicks a 57-yard field goal in the sec­ond quar­ter. Tucker made three 50-yard-plus field goals in the first half.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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