DETROIT — In April when the NFL released its slate of games, the Week 15 Monday matchup foretold an intriguing plot line.
The Super Bowl champions were to face an opponent whose many cornerstone pieces had some believing this would be the year the Lions finally put it all together for an extended postseason run.
The game was unsightly, producing two touchdowns and seven field goals. The drama within the game, as was promised eight months ago, was riveting.
In a tussle between teams clinging to playoff hopes, the Ravens prevailed 18-16 behind six field goals from Justin Tucker. Tucker’s 61-yarder with 43 seconds left stunned a crowd of 64,472 who spent much of their team’s first Monday game of the season booing an ineffective offense.
The Lions, who have played mediocre football for a month, now have a mediocre record to show for it. At 7-7, Detroit’s postseason outlook swivels on its ability to climb upward from third place in the NFC North. The Lions, who could have tied Chicago for the division lead, now trail the Bears by a full game and the Packers by one-half game.
The loss, Detroit’s fourth in five games, snaps into focus the job security of coach Jim Schwartz. Coaches who miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons with talent like Detroit’s — the pass-catch tandem of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson is a good start — rarely are afforded a third year to get it right.
Stafford, who was off the mark all night, marched the offense 80 plays in the fourth quarter for a go-ahead touchdown, a 14-yard strike in the end zone to Joseph Fauria with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left. Fauria, who got behind linebacker Daryl Smith, gave the Lions their first touchdown since Reggie Bush’s 14-yard run on the opening drive. A conversion pass to Johnson failed after Stafford led his intended target out of bounds.
Stafford, who was intercepted three times in the second half, threw for all but two yards on the 81-yard drive. In there was a 21-yard hook-up with Johnson, who earlier in the night became the first player in NFL history to accumulate 5,000 receiving yards over a three-season span.
Baltimore responded, with Flacco on 3rd-and-15 finding Jacoby Jones for 27 yards to Detroit’s 45 on the final play before the two-minute warning. With Tucker’s booming foot, the Ravens didn’t need to do much else. Tucker earlier in the quarter made a kick from 53 yards to go ahead 15-10. He mixed in a 49-yarder in the third quarter after making three kicks in the first half.
Stafford was intercepted on Detroit’s final drive, marking his third pick of the half.
The Lions, who host the New York Giants next week before closing the regular season at Minnesota, are now 2-7 in their last nine Monday games. They’ve also lost six straight prime-time games.
Baltimore is moving in the opposite direction, winning its fourth straight and fifth of its last sixth to close to within one game of AFC North-leading Cincinnati (9-5).
Detroit’s red zone defense kept the dam together in the first half, forcing three Justin Tucker second-quarter field goals. Tucker made from 29, 24, and 32 yards to cap drives of 81, 76, and 71 yards.
Devin Taylor pressured Flacco into an incompletion on third down for the first two field goals.
The Ravens went ahead 9-6 on the final play before halftime, prompting an irritated crowd to shower their beloved team in boos. Stephen Tulloch’s failure to bring down Flacco on a third-down blitz set in motion a deflating sequence for the Lions. Louis Delmas was flagged for unnecessary roughness for striking intended receiver Marlon Brown in the helmet, giving the Ravens new life at Detroit’s 29. The next play Flacco found Dennis Pitta for a 15-yard gain.