HOUSTON – In an epic collapse that raised major concerns about an inability to finish off opponents, the Baltimore Ravens squandered a commanding lead and transformed a potential rout into a dramatic escape.
It was cornerback Josh Wilson who rescued the Ravens from a nearly disastrous upset with his 12-yard interception return for a touchdown in overtime, securing a 34-28 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night before 71,113 at Reliant Stadium.
The win keeps the Ravens (9-4) in an enviable position to earn an AFC playoff berth.
In surrendering a 28-7 lead, the Ravens allowed the Texans to score on all five of their last possessions during regulation. That included drives of 99 and 95 yards, but finally the Ravens halted the red-hot Texans offense as Wilson jumped in front of a Matt Schaub pass intended for Kevin Walter.
“I still can’t believe that really happened,” Wilson said. “It was man to man and it turned into a little bit of a scramble. He threw it inside. I said, ‘This can’t be happening.’ I was thinking, ‘Catch the ball, catch the ball, catch the ball and game over.’
“It’s all about winning. That’s all we care about at the end of the day. Did we win or did we lose? It doesn’t matter what the score is as long as we keep winning. If we win out, we’re Super Bowl champs.”
If not for Wilson’s clutch play, the Ravens could have fallen two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
Instead, the Ravens would make the playoffs if the season ended today. And the Texans (5-8) lost their sixth game in the past seven.
After the Ravens’ offense stalled and punter Sam Koch boomed a 58-yard punt down to the Texans’ nine-yard line with 4.3 seconds of hangtime, Wilson intercepted Schaub to put the game away.
“Josh Wilson, hero of the game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the former University of Maryland standout.
“Made a play in a crucial situation on the road in overtime in December, in a playoff hunt. I think that’s the critical thing.”
This was the eighth time the Ravens have lost a lead in the fourth quarter this season.
The Ravens’ secondary was burnt repeatedly by Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson as he caught nine passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a five-yard score with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
That led to Jacoby Jones’ two-point conversion reception.
The Ravens’ big lead disappeared as the Texans stormed back into the game by scoring 21 unanswered points.
Obviously, the lead wasn’t big enough.
Not with the Ravens running a conservative defense that had no answers for Johnson.
And not with the offense skidding to a halt after an encouraging first half, albeit against the worst pass defense.
The Ravens generated only 71 yards of offense after halftime, failing to score on any second half possessions. Although quarterback Joe Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, he was sacked a season-high five times.
“Believe me, when we get up like that, we don’t want the game to have to come down to the fourth quarter,” Flacco said. “We like to finish them off and play good football. It just hasn’t happened. We’ll work on that. As long as we’re winning football games, we’re going to be happy. We’re a 9-4 football team right now and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
After falling behind by three touchdowns, the Texans exploited huge holes in the Ravens’ pass defense.
If not for multiple dropped passes, the Texans would have probably won this game.
Johnson turned the Ravens’ secondary every which way but loose in the second half.
Wilson saved the day in overtime with his timely turnover.
“There’s always plays that define where you go, I believe that play ultimately defines where we’re going,” All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “If we lose to the Houston Texans, that puts us in that dogfight of not losing no more games the rest of the year because there are teams under us fighting.
“For us to get that win the way we got it, in the fashion we got it, if you’re not happen, then something’s wrong. If you’ve been in the business as long as I’ve been in the business, you know wins are hard to come by.”
The Ravens built a 21-point lead with 23 minutes remaining in the contest.
Then, the Texans began a strong comeback.
The Ravens won the coin toss for overtime, calling tails.
After halftime, the Ravens gained only 71 yards of total offense. They finished with 253 yards of total offense after 182 yards at the half.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron made an unusual decision late in the game.
In a third-and-2 situation at the Texans’ 44-yard line with 2:54 remaining, the Ravens opted to throw one week after Flacco fumbled on a 2nd-and-5 where he was sacked by Troy Polamalu in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Flacco threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin as Glover Quin broke up his pass.
Harbaugh acknowledged there was some debate about the call.
“We had a conversation about that and Cam felt strongly,” Harbaugh said. “I wanted a first down there. It wasn’t so much about the clock. It was about getting the first down, and our offensive coaches felt that was the play.
“We had a chance and we just didn’t get it done. You know you can run and get stuffed, too. We need to convert. Offensively, we need to stay on the field and convert and all that stuff.”
Derided inside and outside their building all week after an emotional setback, the Ravens’ offense began the game with a fairly strong rebuttal.
Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason was at the center of the resurgence, catching two touchdown passes to build a large enough lead to survive a late comeback attempt.
It was fitting that Mason was heavily involved as the Ravens victimized the worst pass defense in the league.
He was the loudest, most blunt voice about the failures of the offense during a heartbreaking 13-10 loss to the Steelers, comparing the Ravens to the Bad News Bears.
And it was Mason who dropped a deep pass over the middle in the first quarter as the football glanced off his hands as he tried to gather it into his body.
He redeemed himself minutes later in the second quarter as he darted over the middle on a skinny post for a nine-yard touchdown pass, extending his fingertips and getting both cleats down in the back of the end zone.
“I’m disappointed, especially after I was critical of myself as well as the offense last week,” Mason said. “I have to be held accountable and I’m the first one to admit that. I was more pissed off at myself than anyone else was.
“Even after the second touchdown, I was still pissed off. That was one I let get away and I owe that to the whole team as well as the organization to catch that. That’s all on me and I take full responsibility of it especially after I was so critical last week of the offense and myself.”
Following a deflected Schaub pass that bounced off of tight end Owen Daniels’ hands and was intercepted by cornerback Chris Carr, the Ravens’ offense went back to work in a hurry.
They manufactured a crisp 34-second drive, marching 38 yards to capitalize on the turnover.
Flacco connected with Mason on a clutch 3rd-and-16, hitting Mason in stride up the right sideline as he scooted into the end zone to stake the Ravens to a 21-0 advantage.
That represents their largest lead of the season in the first half.
The Texans would answer, though, ending the Ravens’ shutout bid with a speedy drive of their own.
Schaub heaved a 46-yard bomb to wide receiver Andre Johnson behind safety Ed Reed, who was flailing in the air in vain as the football sailed over his head.
There appeared to be a miscommunication on the play as Wilson seemed to release the Pro Bowl wide receiver to Reed. Reed looked like he was caught off guard.
In the second half, it only got worse as Johnson did whatever he wanted.
“Concerned is probably a good word,” Harbaugh said. “They were closing the gap. I was concerned that they were going to tie it up and they did.”
The Ravens created some excitement on the opening kickoff of the second half as rookie wide receiver David Reed scampered 103 yards into the end zone for the longest kickoff return in franchise history.
Reed caught the football three yards deep in the end zone, took it out and broke a few tackles to sprint up the right sideline.
Reed was allowed to play by the coaching staff after being investigated by Baltimore County police for potential drug activity at his apartment. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, pending further investigation.
“David Reed’s kickoff return to the start the half was huge,” Harbaugh said. “It gave us a little bit of a cushion, which we ended up needing every single bit of it.”
The Texans scored again on a long drive that lasted 7 minutes and 37 seconds.
They drove 70 yards in 16 plays, but the drive stalled out as wide receiver Jones dropped a potential touchdown pass in the end zone.
Schaub completed 33 of 62 passes for 393 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We really wanted to stop them, but they are capable,” Wilson said. “They have a dynamic offense and they are capable of putting up points and getting yards. Unfortunately, that’s what happened at the end of the game. But I don’t really care. We won.”
Yes, they did.
The Ravens have won six games by seven points or less.
“I think finding a way to win in overtime is big for us,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys overcame a tough situation and they found a way to win and in December that’s really what matters.
“Do we have things we are worried about? Do we have things we need to work on? Absolutely. At this point in time in the season, you’ve got to find a way to win.”
Now, the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium for Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
The Saints have an extremely dangerous offense headlined by quarterback Drew Brees.
“We know that’s the defending champs,” Lewis said. “We’ll be waiting on them. It’s going to be one of those shootouts next weekend, and I think we’re up for it.”