Ravens Surge Past 49ers in Potential Super Bowl Preview
BALTIMORE -- Until we meet again?
The Baltimore Ravens emerged with a signature victory in a rain-soaked slugfest against the San Francisco 49ers thanks to their MVP candidate and the No. 1 clutch kicker in the NFL.
The game had the feel of a heavyweight bout, but it was kicker Justin Tucker who won it on the final play and then was lifted on the shoulders of his celebrating teammates at midfield.
When it was over, there was a sense these teams might see each other again in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 2 in what would be a rematch not only of this game but Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens and 49ers put on a thrilling show in New Orleans seven years ago - the game the lights in the Superdome went out - with Baltimore winning 34-31 on a last-minute goal line stand in the Harbaugh Bowl.
The stakes were not as high in this game, obviously, but it was as intense as it gets in the regular season.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, considered the front runner for MVP in just his second season, ran for 101 yards with a touchdown and Tucker had the game-winning 49-yard field goal as time expired in a 20-17 victory Sunday.
Baltimore extended its winning streak to an NFL-best eight games, but perhaps more importantly, became further battle-tested as it surges toward the playoffs.
“To win a game like that is really valuable,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We expect every game to be just like that. Our guys approached a week of work exactly that way. They were ready for it.”
Tucker’s game-winning kick was set up when Ravens defensive tackle Chris Wormley batted a pass at the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-one from their own 35 with 6:28 left. Baltimore kept the ball the rest of the way on a 12-play drive, setting up Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
There was never a doubt as the ball sailed went down the middle despite the wind and rain.
“The weather conditions were not ideal throughout the game,” Tucker said. “This is already a tough place to make kicks. To be able to eliminate any question mark, whether the snap was going to be good, whether the hold was going to be there, whether the timing was going to be right, it makes my job so much easier.”
Both teams were determined to impose their will on the ground.
The 49ers (10-2) kept the Ravens (10-2) off-balance with their outside zone blocking scheme that opened up holes for Raheem Mostert, who finished with a career-high 146 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. Overall, San Francisco finished with 174 yards rushing against a Baltimore team that entered the game ranked No. 3 against the run.
While Baltimore has a three-game lead in the AFC North, San Francisco is in a tough battle with Seattle for supremacy in the NFC West. Seattle is 9-2 going into its Monday night game at home against the Vikings. The 49ers play at New Orleans (10-2) next week in a game that could decide the NFC's No. 1 seed.
Still, coach Kyle Shanahan would not be surprised to see the Ravens again.
“I was real proud of the team,” he said. "They played extremely hard in all three phases. We definitely played against a real good team, but I was real happy how the guys played. We had every chance to win the game, but we came up a little bit short at the end. Credit to them.
"Hopefully, we'll earn an opportunity to get a chance to play them some other time."
The Ravens, who have the league’s No. 1 running attack, were equally adept at running ball behind Jackson, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have four 100-yard rushing games in one season. Baltimore also improved to 12-0 when Jackson rushes for at least 70 yards.
Jackson completed 14 of 23 passes for only 105 yards with a touchdown. He admitted the weather conditions hampered his performance.
Even so, he broke the huddle to chants of MVP on the final game-winning drive.
“You seen those balls, horrible,” Jackson said. “I was throwing passes behind my receivers. It was ticking me off. Those passes were getting away from me. With a lot of those, we could have had a lot more success.”
In a high stakes game. neither team was afraid to gamble. The Ravens were 2-of-33 on fourth-down conversions, while the 49ers converted 1-of-2.
Jackson’s first fumble of the season led to a 32-yard field goal by Robbie Gould that tied the score 17-17 with 3:37 left in the third quarter. Jackson seethed on the sideline after the miscue and was still thinking about it after the game.
“I wanted to get back in the field as fast as possible,” Jackson said. “My defense did a great job of holding them and helping me out. It was my fault and I’m hot about that right now. If I keep the ball in my hands, we’re going to score.”
San Francisco set the tone by scoring on the opening drive when Jimmy Garoppolo threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel. It was the first time the Ravens trailed in 18 quarters, dating back to the second quarter against Seattle on Oct. 20.
The Ravens responded behind Jackson, who threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews and ran for another 1-yard score. After the 49ers tied it on a 40-yard run by Raheem Moster, Baltimore regained the lead 17-14 on Tucker’s field goal just before halftime and didn't trail in the second half.
Garoppolo was able to succinctly surmise the feeling in the 49ers' locker room after the game.
"This one hurts," he said.
They're hoping to get another shot at Jackson and the Ravens in Miami in a couple of months.