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With the Baltimore Ravens’ offense struggling to move the ball and getting booed throughout Monday night’s game against the Houston Texans, it was up to the defense and the right leg of Justin Tucker to close out an important victory.
That’s the safest proposition for the Ravens these days.
With the game hanging in the balance, the Ravens forced two turnovers in the final five minutes and held on for a 23-16 victory.
The Texans trailed by four points when Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs beat Kendall Lamm and strip-sacked quarterback Tom Savage with C.J. Mosley recovering.
Tucker converted his third field goal to make it a seven-point game with 2:58 to play. Defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. then all but finished the Texans with an interception on the ensuing possession.
The Ravens improved to 6-5 and leapfrogged the Buffalo Bills for the AFC’s sixth seed and second wild-card spot with five games to play.
They did it despite the downfield passing game being virtually nonexistent. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finished 20 of 32 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Flacco actually did more damage with his legs, rushing for 42 yards on six carries. It was his 25-yard run after the two-minute warning that allowed the Ravens to take a knee. The Texans fell to 4-7.
The Ravens held a seven-point halftime lead, but momentum started to slowly go the Texans’ way about midway through the third quarter. Savage engineered a penalty-aided 13-play, 65-yard drive that ended on a Ka’imi Fairbairn 36-yard field goal.
That cut the Ravens’ lead to 17-13.
After the defense forced a three-and-out on the Texans’ next possession, the Ravens took over around midfield and finally made a couple of plays on third down.
The Ravens were 1 for 9 on third down when Alex Collins ran for 12 yards on a third and eight and Flacco hit Mike Wallace for 13 yards on a third and four. That set up Tucker’s 31-yard field goal, which gave the Ravens a 20-13 lead with 10:59 to play.
However, the Texans answered with points immediately. DeAndre Hopkins, who terrorized Jimmy Smith and the Ravens’ secondary all night, caught a 39-yard pass in between Smith and safety Eric Weddle.
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The Texans couldn’t get in the end zone and settled for a 37-yard field goal by Fairbairn to make it a 20-16 game with 8:36 to play.
The Ravens’ first Monday night home game since the regular season opener of the 2012 season started about as poorly as possible.
On offense, the Ravens got the ball first and went three-and-out despite picking up eight yards on a Flacco to Chris Moore completion on the first play from scrimmage. The next two plays were Flacco incompletions.
The Ravens’ defense, which was coming off a dominating shutout of the Green Bay Packers, allowed the Texans to drive 90 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. The Ravens were their own worst enemies on the drive as they gave the Texans 39 yards on three penalties. Lamar Miller ran it in from four yards out for a 7-0 Texans lead.
The Ravens were energized by Coach John Harbaugh calling a fake punt on fourth and six from the Houston 41. Running the same play that they ran successfully two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, punter Sam Koch lofted a pass to the outside to gunner Chris Moore, who made a diving catch to pick up 22 yards.
Two plays later, Buck Allen carried several defenders and Ravens blockers into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens added to their lead on their next drive after they set up in good field position following safety Tony Jefferson’s first interception as a Raven.
Harbaugh again was aggressive on his team’s next drive, going for it on fourth and one from the Houston 37. Flacco pitched it outside to Collins, who picked up 29 yards as the Texans failed to set the edge. On the very next play, Collins powered in from eight yards for his second touchdown in as many weeks to give the Ravens a 14-7 lead.