This time, the late-game heartbreak belonged to the New England Patriots. And wide left turned into just right.
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker barely kept a 27-yard field goal inside the right uprights as time expired to give the Ravens a frantic 31-30 victory Sunday night in front of an announced 71,269 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Trailing by nine points with 7:29 to play, Joe Flacco threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith, and then led another drive in the final two minutes that set up Tucker for the chip-shot game winner.
Just eights months after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have likely sent the AFC championship game against the Patriots into overtime, Tucker converted, giving the Ravens an improvable victory.
The win left Smith, who learned earlier in the day that his younger brother, Tevin Jones, had died in a motorcycle crash, leaping up and down on the sideline and Ravens coach John Harbaugh standing on the bench with his hands in the air exhorting the fans.
After the first quarter, the Ravens were outgained 143-21. They ran only nine plays to the Patriots’ 24, and they had zero first downs to New England’s 6. They were probably lucky that they were down only 13-0.
The Patriots took the 3-0 lead on Stephen Gostkowski’s 37-yard field goal, a moral victory for the Ravens after Brady took advantage of blitzing cornerback Lardarius Webb and hit Wes Welker on a wheel route for a 59-yard gain.
Safety Ed Reed also jarred a potential touchdown pass loose from Julian Edelman with a crushing hit that forced the Patriots to settle for the Gostkowski field goal.
On the next play, Flacco locked onto his favorite target this year, tight end Dennis Pitta, but safety Steve Gregory stepped in front of the pass and returned it 36 yards to the Ravens’ 6. Three plays later on third -and-2 from the 2 , rookie Brandon Bolden ran it up the middle for the touchdown and a 10-0 Patriots’ lead.
After another three-and-out, the Patriots got the ball back at their own 9 and drove 60 yards on 11 plays to set up Gostkowski for a 49-yard field goal. Again, it could have been worse as the Patriots thought they had first down on the Ravens’ 11 after Edelman’s 19-yard catch. However, the officials called Edelman for offensive pass interference. Two plays later, Gostkowski gave New England the 13-0 lead.
At that point, the Ravens still didn’t have a first down. They finally got one on their next drive, thanks to a defensive pass interference call. Fortunately for them, that spearheaded a long drive that included a clutch 14-yard completion from Flacco to veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin on third -and-13. Ray Rice then rattled off runs of 8 and 5 yards before Flacco hit Torrey Smith with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone.
Smith badly beat Kyle Arrington on the play and then dropped down to one knee in the end zone. He later pointed to the sky and NBC replays showed Smith wiping tears from his eyes as he got to the sidelines and was greeted by his teammates.
Trailing 13-7, the Ravens’ offense got the ball back and Flacco led another extended drive. A 41-yard completion to Jacoby Jones put the ball in New England territory. Two Rice runs advanced it to the 20 where Flacco hit Pitta on the right side. The tight end hurdled Gregory and broke an arm tackle by Devin McCourty to score from 20 yards out and give the Ravens a 14-13 lead.
However, it was short lived. Brady got the ball back at his own 19 and with 1:41 on the clock. He hit Rob Gronkowski for 12 yards and then found Deion Branch for 11 to get the ball in Ravens’ territory. A 28-yard completion to Welker got the ball down to the 7 . On second-and-7 from the 7 with just seven seconds to play, Edelman found a some space between linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Bernard Pollard and caught a touchdown pass.
That allowed the Patriots to take a 20-14 lead into halftime. Brady was 15-for-22 for 214 yards and a touchdown at halftime while Flacco was 12-of-16 for 136 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.