BALTIMORE – It took Ray Lewis’ mighty grip, the instincts of Ed Reed and a prolific offense for the Baltimore Ravens to avoid the embarrassment of losing to the winless Buffalo Bills.
If not for Lewis aggressively ripping the football out of the hands of tight end Shawn Nelson in overtime and Reed intercepting two passes in his season debut, the Ravens probably would have suffered an epic defeat to arguably the worst football team in the NFL.
It was about survival, not excellence Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens squeaked past the Bills, 37-34, with kicker Billy Cundiff knocking in a 38-yard field goal for the game-winner four plays after Lewis’ pivotal forced fumble and fumble recovery.
With the Super Bowl championship squad in the building for an anniversary celebration, this was an escape more than a victory to savor heading into a bye week.
“A win’s a win, I’m not going to stand up here and say that we played well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We obviously had some things that we didn’t do very well at all, but that’s a good football team. I’m disappointed in the yards. I’m disappointed in the points.
“I’m disappointed with the coverage. I’m disappointed with the pressure in some ways. We have to play better than that to be the team we want to be, but I’m proud of the win.
Despite being torched for four touchdown passes from Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and allowing 505 yards of total offense for the most surrendered in a decade, the Ravens (5-2) did just enough to prevent being toppled by the Bills (0-6) and their 30th-ranked offense.
It’s the most yards the Ravens have surrendered since a decade ago against the New York Jets.
They gave up three touchdown catches to wide receiver Lee Evans with starting cornerback Fabian Washington struggling so badly that he was benched and replaced by Josh Wilson.
Fortunately, there are no style points in football.
A sluggish offense initially and a defense that never really stopped the Bills’ passing game combined as the Ravens fell behind 24-10 in the second quarter.
“Sometimes, we have a tendency to make things too hard,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We like to give our fans and our coachers a heart attack and then win in the last minute. That’s just how we like to do it. We like it keep it entertaining for the fans.”
In the Harbaugh era, the Ravens improved to 14-1against teams with losing records and 9-0 when favored by double digits.
Installed as a 13-point favorite, the Ravens were dominated until the second quarter when tight end Todd Heap caught the first of his two touchdown passes from quarterback Joe Flacco to close the gap to 17-10.
“This was very crushing for us,” Bills safety Donte Whitner said. “We fought and fought and fought, and we came up short. We had an opportunity and didn’t get it.”
After trailing 24-10 late in the first half, the Ravens wound up scoring 24 consecutive points to build a 34-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“It was a game of momentum,” said Heap, who played through the pain of a right shoulder stinger aggravated against Buffalo and initially suffered last week on an illegal hit by Brandon Meriweather. “At times, they had it. At times, we got it back. We were just happy to get it at the end.”
In the first half, the Ravens were booed after a Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to Steve Johnson.
That score was preceded by a field goal set up by Wilson fumbling a kickoff after Fitzpatrick’s first touchdown pass to Evens, a 33-yard score in the left corner of the end zone.
“We got through it,” wide receiver Derrick Mason said.
However, the momentum really began to swing in the opening seconds of the second half.
First, Reed intercepted a Fitzpatrick pass intended for Roscoe Parrish after Lewis tipped the football.
On the ensuing play, oft-criticized offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reached into his bag of tricks.
He called a flea-flicker.
Flacco handed it off to running back Willis McGahee, who pitched it back to the quarterback. And Flacco launched a 34-yard spiral to Boldin for the touchdown to give the Ravens a 27-24 lead 16 seconds into the second half.
“I think it was a great play call by Cam,” Boldin said. “We had just gotten a turnover, so we wanted to take a shot at it. I came in motion and Willis sold it.
“As soon as I came off the line, I saw two defenders biting on the run. Willis got it out of his hands and Joe made a great throw.”
Cameron had drawn criticism for his seemingly conservative approach last week in an overtime loss to the New England Patriots.
“The flea-flicker was a heck of a call,” Harbaugh said. “When I first heard it, I kind of cringed a little bit. When you think about it, that’s what you do in that situation.
“It was executed so well by Joe, by Anquan and by Willis. When it works, it’s aggressive. When it doesn’t work, it’s something else.”
However, the Ravens allowed another touchdown pass to Evans.
The 17-yard score with 5:46 remaining and a 50-yard Rian Lindell field goal with four seconds left in regulation tied the game and sent it into overtime.
After winning the coin toss, the Ravens went three-and-out on offense.
Lewis’ turnover and an unnecessary roughness flag on Buffalo set the Ravens up at the Bills’ 29-yard line.
"There’s an old saying: Keep playing until you hear the whistle," Lewis said. “When we hit him, everybody just rallied to the ball. I was up under him and just saw the ball there and sort of reached up and just snatched it out of his hand, knowing that he was just trying to go forward."
After three consecutive runs, Cundiff connected on the game-winning kick as his field goal stayed just inside the right upright.
It was his third field goal of the game.
“I felt like I was in a good rhythm,” Cundiff said. “So when I got out there, I just did exactly what I did on the previous two tries.”
Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 43 passes for 373 yards, hitting Evans for three scores and finding Steve Johnson for another touchdown.
It’s the most touchdown passes against the Ravens since Peyton Manning did so for the Indianapolis Colts in December 2007
“You know we didn’t play our best game, but we got the win,” safety Dawan Landry said.
This marked Reed’s first game back after missing six weeks on the physically unable to perform list following offseason hip surgery.
Besides the two interceptions, he forced a fumble with a helmet strike on a Roscoe Parrish catch.
“Oh man, it was beautiful just getting back out there with the guys,” Reed said. “Coming out here and knowing the fans were going to be how they were, that was just a dream come true. It was like being a rookie all over again.”
Before the Ravens get the week off, they’ll work for a few days and return the following week against the Miami Dolphins.
It was a rough game for the defense, but the Ravens will take the win.
“Yes, it was a surprise,” Reed said. “I knew it was an explosive offense. We gave up a lot of plays. At the end of the day, the W that’s what counts. They probably should’ve won, but we’ve got a good team over here, too.”