DETROIT - Justin Tucker's powerful leg kicked the Super Bowl champions into playoff gear.
Tucker made six field goals, including a franchise-record 61-yarder with 38 seconds left that lifted the Baltimore Ravens to an 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions last night in a matchup with major postseason implications.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh chose to let Tucker try the longest kick of his career — by 5 yards — instead of going for it on fourth-and-8 from the Detroit 43.
"If they send me out there, they have reason to," Tucker said. "It's because they think I can make the kick."
Rookie safety Matt Elam sealed the victory with an interception — Matthew Stafford's third of the night — after raising eyebrows during the week by calling 28-year-old Calvin Johnson "pretty old" and saying the plan was to make the star receiver uncomfortable by getting physical with him.
Stafford threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria with 2:21 left, putting Detroit up 16-15. But the Lions were unable to make a 2-point conversion and couldn't prevent Baltimore from setting up its sensational kicker for his 33rd successful field goal in a row.
Tucker's kick went just inside the right upright and barely had enough distance — eight days after Denver's Matt Prater broke the NFL record with a 64-yard field goal.
"I definitely felt like I got a lot of leg into it, but it jumped up so high I thought I might have gotten under it," said Tucker, who mentioned in a television interview right after the game that his six field goals also benefited his fantasy football team.
Tucker, who hasn't missed a field goal attempt since he was 0 for 2 in Week 2 at Cleveland, has the NFL's longest streak since Matt Stover made 36 in a row for the Ravens from 2005-06, according to STATS.
"What can you say about Justin Tucker?" Harbaugh said. "When we got the ball there, I think at the 45-yard line, I said, 'Hey, are we kicking this?' ... He said, 'I got it.'"
Detroit (7-7) has hurt its playoff chances by losing four of its last five, falling out of sole possession of first place in the NFC North to third place behind the division-leading Chicago Bears and Green Bay.
"This is a setback, no question," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We had control and now we need help. We have to get two wins and let the rest shake out."
Stafford's three interceptions followed a troubling trend for the franchise.
He has 12 interceptions in his last five games. Not coincidently, the Lions have been able to overcome those miscues well enough to win only one game during the slump.
Joe Flacco, meanwhile, didn't turn the ball over and made enough subtle moves in and around the pocket to get sacked only once. He has been sacked a career-high 42 times this season, but he stayed upright enough to move the ball into position for Tucker's big kick.
Flacco was 20 of 38 for 222 yards, including a 27-yard pass to Jacoby Jones to convert a third-and-15 from the Baltimore 28 on the game-winning drive. Jones had six receptions for 80 yards, and returned Detroit's last kick to the Baltimore 33.
Stafford was 18 of 34 for 235 yards with a TD and three interceptions — increasing his five-game total to 10 — for a season-low 48 quarterback rating.
"This was certainly not my best game," he acknowledged.
Johnson had six receptions for 98 yards and dropped two possibly pivotal passes thrown his way in the first half.
"We just put every guy on him to try to stop him," Elam said. "It was no disrespect meant to Calvin. He's the best in the league, so why would I challenge him? Words just got stirred up."
The Lions started strong, with Reggie Bush running for a 14-yard touchdown on the opening drive.
Detroit, though, got in its own way as it often has this year.
Johnson dropped a pass that would've converted a third-and-15 deep in Ravens territory.
On the ensuing drive, Tucker kicked his first of three field goals in the first half — two of which were set up by penalties against Detroit.
Tucker's next field goal was set up by a pass-interference call against safety Don Carey.
Johnson couldn't catch another pass in Baltimore territory thrown at him late in the first half.
The Ravens took advantage of that mistake and one by Detroit's defense on the next drive.
Flacco threw an up-for-grabs pass on third-and-8 from the Lions 44 after avoiding a sack, and the incomplete pass was negated by Louis Delmas' helmet-to-helmet hit on Marlon Brown with 16 seconds left in the first half. That flag put the Ravens 15 yards closer to Tucker's field goal that gave Baltimore a 9-7 lead at halftime.
Detroit drove to the Ravens 31 on its first possession of the second half, but Stafford threw a pass behind Bush that was picked off by defensive end DeAngelo Tyson.
Baltimore went ahead 12-7 on the next drive on Tucker's 49-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
The Lions scored on the ensuing drive — on David Akers' 40-yard kick — for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. The field goal came after Stafford's pass into the end zone fell incomplete. A replay showed Detroit receiver Kris Durham had his arm held on the play by Lardarius Webb, but there was no penalty flag for pass interference.
Tucker's 53-yard field goal — matching his previous season high — put the Ravens ahead 15-10 with 8:06 left.
Detroit responded with its best drive since its first one. The Lions might have caught a break from the officials when Brandon Pettigrew's catch was upheld after review.