Ravens beat Colts 23-16 to edge closer to playoff berth

By Jeff Zrebiec - The Baltimore Sun | December 23rd, 2017 8:45 pm - updated: 8:46 pm.

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ failure to make the playoffs in three of the past four seasons has been rooted in Week 16 disappointments.

In 2013, the Ravens faced the New England Patriots in Week 16, armed with a four-game winning streak and in prime playoff position. They were blown out by the Patriots, 41-7, and lost the following week to the Cincinnati Bengals to miss the playoffs for the first time in John Harbaugh’s six seasons.

The Ravens made the playoffs in 2014 despite a Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans leaving them needing to beat the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale and get help, which the Kansas City Chiefs provided with a victory over the San Diego Chargers. Last year, the Ravens went on the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers with the AFC North on the line. They lost in the final seconds and were eliminated from playoff contention.

In position to return to the playoffs with victories in their final two regular-season games, the Ravens couldn’t afford a misstep Saturday against an Indianapolis Colts team that had lost five straight games. They avoided one, but just barely.

The Colts drove the ball down to the 10-yard line with less than two minutes to go, but cornerback Maurice Canady broke up a fourth-down pass, preserving the Ravens’ 23-16 victory at wet and windy M&T Bank Stadium.

With the Ravens’ fifth victory in their past six games, they improved to 9-6 to move ahead of the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills into wild-card position. They’ll remain there no matter how the Bills fare against the New England Patriots on Sunday. Regardless of Sunday’s results, the Ravens will clinch a wild-card berth by beating the Cincinnati Bengals in their regular-season finale.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 29 of 38 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, and Justin Tucker kicked three field goals as the Ravens survived a major upset bid from the banged-up Colts (3-12).

The Ravens seemingly took control of the game with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes and ended with Flacco hitting tight end Maxx Williams for a 4-yard touchdown. That gave the home team a 23-13 lead with 8:40 remaining, but the Colts got the ball back and answered with points.

C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle both dropped potential interceptions that would’ve all but put the game away. Indianapolis got a 30-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri with 4:33 remaining to make the score 23-16.

After one first down, the Ravens went to punt the ball away with under three minutes remaining, but their normally stout special teams group let them down. Sam Koch’s punt was blocked by Anthony Walker, giving the Colts the ball at the Ravens’ 27-yard line.

Indianapolis reached the 10-yard line at the two-minute warning. However, the Ravens stopped Frank Gore for a loss on second down and Za’Darius Smith sacked Jacoby Brissett on third down. On fourth-and-10 on the 17, Brissett targeted his best player, T.Y. Hilton, but Canady stepped in front of the pass and broke it up, setting off a celebration on the home sideline.

The Ravens led by six at halftime and extended their advantage to 16-7 early in the third quarter on Tucker’s 36-yard field goal. But the Ravens’ inability to finish drives with touchdowns and their defense’s failure to consistently get stops kept Indianapolis in the game.

Brissett found Hilton for a 24-yard pass and the Colts settled up for a 48-yard field goal from Vinatieri to make it a 16-10 game. After a three-and-out by the Ravens, the Colts again started a lengthy drive that was highlighted by a 29-yard completion to rookie Marlon Mack. Indianapolis again stalled and Vinatieri’s 38-yard field goal, which banked in off the right upright, cutting the Ravens’ lead to 16-13.

Playing on a wet and windy day in Baltimore, the Ravens got off to a solid start, forcing a three-and-out on the Colts’ first possession and then moving deep into Indianapolis territory on their first offensive series. Buck Allen’s second effort on a fourth-and-1 from the Colts 19 picked up the first down and a 7-yard reception by tight end Benjamin Watson set up a first-and-goal from the 7.

However, the Ravens went backward as Alex Collins lost 1 yard on a first-down run and 4 on a second-down catch. Flacco then threw the ball through the back of the end zone on third down, setting up Tucker for a 30-yard field goal.

The 3-0 lead held despite a lengthy drive from the Colts, when safety Tony Jefferson blocked a 39-yard field-goal attempt from Vinatieri.

When the Ravens got the ball and embarked on a 10-play, 71-yard drive, it appeared the rout was on against a banged-up visitor playing out the string. Flacco picked up first downs on throws to Watson for 15, tight end Nick Boyle for 8 and Chris Moore for 20. On third-and-goal from the 6, Flacco found an open Michael Campanaro (River Hill) for a 6-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Ravens’ lead. The touchdown reception was Campanaro’s first since he caught a 19-yard score on Oct. 12, 2014 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first NFL game.

A stop by the Ravens defense followed by another score could have gone a long way toward putting the Colts away. Instead, the Ravens allowed Brissett to lead a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with the quarterback hitting the ageless Gore for a 14-yard touchdown. Gore carried a heavy load on the drive with runs of 5, 12 and 5 yards followed by the touchdown catch. Hilton also got free for a 21-yard reception.

Their lead cut to 10-7, the Ravens staged another long drive, getting into Colts territory thanks to a 14-yard run by Collins, a 10-yard catch on third down by Allen and a 19-yard Flacco-to-Wallace connection. A 17-yard sack pushed the Ravens back before they picked up enough on the next two downs for Tucker to convert from 39 yards. The field goal made it a 13-7 game, which was the score at halftime after Vinatieri came up just short on a 60-yard field-goal try in the final seconds of the second quarter.

Indianapolis Colts free safety T.J. Green tackles Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace during the second half of Saturday’s game in Baltimore. The Ravens defeated the Colts 23-16.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/web1_Ravens-Colts-2-1-1.jpgIndianapolis Colts free safety T.J. Green tackles Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace during the second half of Saturday’s game in Baltimore. The Ravens defeated the Colts 23-16. Nick Wass | AP photo

By Jeff Zrebiec

The Baltimore Sun