Sunday's NFL: Saints escape as Ravens boot last chance
Baltimore — Justin Tucker has won a dozen games for the Baltimore Ravens with his incredibly accurate right foot.
This one will be remembered as the one he lost.
Tucker missed the first conversion of his career after the Baltimore Ravens scored the potential tying touchdown with 24 seconds left, enabling Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to escape with a 24-23 victory Sunday.
Brees threw two touchdown passes, locked up two more milestones and engineered a fourth-quarter comeback that helped the Saints (5-1) wipe out a 10-point deficit.
It was 24-17 before Baltimore’s Joe Flacco directed a beat-the-clock drive covering 81 yards and ending with a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown.
That seemingly set up overtime, given that Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history in terms of field goal percentage. Not only that, but he was 222 for 222 on conversions since breaking into the league in 2012, and was the only NFL kicker without a miss (112 for 112) since the placement of the ball was moved back in 2015.
This attempt, however, went wide right — the deciding moment in a matchup between the NFL’s highest-scoring offense and top-ranked defense.
“I can’t tell you exactly what happened,” Tucker said, “but at the end of the day I feel like I cost us the game.”
When the ball sailed right, Tucker looked incredulously at the goalposts, eyes wide and mouth agape.
“I thought I hit it well,” he said. “The ball didn’t go through and that’s all it needs to do to keep the game going.”
The Saints were relieved to escape with their fifth straight victory.
“You’re talking about one of the top kickers,” coach Sean Payton said. “I’m sure we’ll watch the tape tomorrow and think it shouldn’t have come down to a missed extra point.”
Brees brought the Saints back against a unit that allowed only 12 second-half points all season. The 39-year-old quarterback threw a 5-yard TD pass to Michael Thomas with 4:58 remaining to put New Orleans ahead 21-17, and the Saints tacked on a field goal just before the two-minute warning.
Earlier, Brees threw his 500th career touchdown pass, connecting with tight end Benjamin Watson for a 1-yard score to put New Orleans up 7-3 late in the second quarter.
The NFL leader in career passing yardage, Brees joined Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks in league history with 500 TD passes.
“It’s a significant benchmark, yet you’re in the middle of the game and you’re not really paying attention to it,” Payton said. “I think more importantly, it’s the final team he needed to beat.”
Indeed, Brees defeated the Ravens for the first time. Previously 0-4 against Baltimore, Brees is one of three quarterbacks — along with Favre and Manning — to beat every team in the league.
“You only get to play these guys once every four years, and not to put the pressure on it each and every time, but every time we play these guys, it’s been a battle,” Brees said. “They’ve had some pretty great defenses over those years.”
Brees went 22-for-30 for 212 yards. Facing a defense that made 11 sacks one week earlier in Tennessee, Brees escaped the tenacious Baltimore rush with the exception of a fourth-quarter sack by Terrell Suggs.
Flacco completed 23 of 39 passes for 279 yards for the Ravens (4-3), including a 56-yarder to Brown that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson for a 10-7 halftime lead.
An 8-yard pass from Flacco to rookie tight end Mark Andrews put the Ravens ahead 17-7 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
L.A. Chargers 20, Tennessee 19: The Chargers’ Adrian Phillips believes the Titans made the right decision to go for a potential go-ahead 2-pointer with 31 seconds remaining — and not just because it failed.
Phillips broke up Marcus Mariota’s pass attempt, the Titans’ second after a defensive penalty on the first attempt.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Chargers (5-2), who weathered the absence of running back Melvin Gordon to a hamstring injury and relied upon their defense to pull out the win.
“It was a great decision,” Phillips said. “That’s the game right there. If I’m the head coach, I go for it, too.
“You have the momentum. You just (went) 70 yards. You’ve got one of the biggest running backs in the game, one of the best running quarterbacks in the game and one of the best third-down running backs in the game — and a receiver corps that had been doing good all game — so why not?”
The Titans (3-4) drove 89 yards over the final 4:55 before Mariota’s 1-yard pass to tight end Luke Stocker pulled them within one point.
Minnesota 37, (at) N.Y. Jets 17: Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) threw two touchdown passes, Latavius Murray ran for two scores, and the Vikings pulled away in the second half for their third straight victory.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen became the fifth player in NFL history to get at least 100 yards receiving in seven consecutive games, catching nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Murray, coming off career-high 155 yards rushing against Arizona, finished with 69 yards on 15 carries to help lift the Vikings (4-2-1) to their first win against the Jets on the road after they lost the first five meetings away from home.
(At) Tampa 26, Cleveland 23 (OT): Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 59-yard field goal, the longest ever in overtime, with 1:50 remaining.
Redeeming himself after missing an extra point, as well as a 40-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, Catanzaro’s kick barely made it over the crossbar to end Tampa Bay’s three-game skid and hand the Browns (2-4-1) a NFL record-tying 24th consecutive road loss.
Houston 20, (at) Jacksonville 7: Blake Bortles fumbled on Jacksonville’s third play of each half, leading to 10 points and his benching.
The Texans (4-3) won their fourth straight thanks to those two turnovers and took a one-game lead in the AFC South.
Deshaun Watson had a touchdown pass despite playing with a bruised lung and injured ribs.
Carolina 21, (at) Philadelphia 17: Cam Newton tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 1:22 left and the Panthers overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Wes Horton sacked Carson Wentz, forcing a fumble on fourth down from the Panthers 14 to seal the victory.
The Panthers improved to 4-2 with the biggest comeback in franchise history. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles fell to 3-4.
(At) Indianapolis 37, Buffalo 5: Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes and Marlon Mack had his first rushing scores of the season.
The Colts (2-5) ended a four-game losing streak and finally won their 300th game since moving to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984. Adam Vinatieri scored five points to move within five of breaking Morten Andersen’s NFL career record (2,544).
L.A. Rams 39, (at) San Francisco 10: Todd Gurley scored three touchdowns and Jared Goff threw two TD passes as the Rams took advantage of four takeaways and a blocked punt.
The Rams (7-0) intercepted C.J. Beathard twice and recovered two fumbles to give them seven straight wins to open the season for the first time since 1985. The Rams began 6-0 for three straight seasons in 1999-2001 before losing the seventh game.
The 49ers (1-6) made sure that wouldn’t happen this year by repeatedly giving the ball away, justifying the decision the NFL made to flex this game out of prime time following the season-ending knee injury to San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
(At) Washington 20, Dallas 17: Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s strip-sack of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was recovered for a touchdown by Preston Smith with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Washington held on when a last-second field-goal attempt by Brett Maher went off the left upright.
What would have been a 47-yard kick became a 52-yarder when Louis-Philippe Ladoceur was called for a snap infraction.
That Kerrigan-Smith play that provided the winning points was Washington’s fourth sack of Prescott, who appeared to use smelling salts after taking a shoulder to his helmet at the end of a run in the first quarter. Prescott lost two fumbles, including one on an earlier fourth-and-1 keeper.
(At) Kansas City 45, Cincinnati 10: Patrick Mahomes threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns, Kareem Hunt finished with three scores and Kansas City rebounded from its first loss to throttle Cincinnati.
Mahomes was 28 of 39 with his only big mistake an underthrown interception, though the Chiefs (6-1) were already so far ahead of Cincinnati (4-3) by that point it didn’t really matter.
Mahomes spread the wealth, too, connecting with eight targets. Tyreek had seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, and Demetrius Harris had the other scoring grab for Kansas City.
The Bengals’ Andy Dalton was held to just 148 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception by the NFL’s worst defense. Joe Mixon managed 50 yards rushing on 13 carries.