Ravens hit stride on offense; slam Lions’ playoff hopes

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) walks off the field after injuring his hand in the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

BALTIMORE (AP) In the days leading up to their pivotal game against the Detroit Lions, Ravens safety Eric Weddle predicted there would come a time when Baltimore would have to rely on its offense to win.

Sure enough, that’s what happened Sunday.

Though Baltimore’s ball-hawking defense did its part in a 44-20 win over Detroit, the play of quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense was essential in the Ravens’ season-high third straight victory.

The oft-criticized Flacco threw for two touchdowns and led three scoring drives in the fourth quarter as Baltimore (7-5) held off a comeback bid by Matthew Stafford and Detroit (6-6).

And so, the league’s 31st-ranked offense made Weddle’s prediction come true.

”Everyone looked at me crazy when I said that, maybe rightfully so,” Weddle said. ”But I have belief in this team, our quarterback, what we’re doing offensively, the weapons we have.”

Weddle had a strip-sack and returned an interception for a touchdown to help Baltimore enhance its playoff position.

The Lions lost their second straight following a three-game win streak and now find themselves in a precarious position with four weeks left.

”There have been crazier things that have happened,” receiver Golden Tate said. ”But we’ve got to get this thing popping.”

Stafford set a team record by throwing 20 straight completions, but Detroit couldn’t fully pull itself out of a 20-0 halftime hole.

Stafford wasn’t around at the end, though, having left with a bruised hand after he was cleated in the fourth quarter.

Some things we learned about the Lions and Ravens:

ROOKIE TIME: When Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith went out with an apparent season-ending torn Achilles tendon late in the first half, rookie Marlon Humphrey was forced into a full-time role.

Although the Lions victimized Humphrey with some long gainers in the third quarter, Baltimore’s first-round pick from Alabama grabbed his second interception of the year in the fourth quarter to set up a score.

”When you let up a big play you have to let that go. I let two big ones up today, but I just played on and got to the next one,” Humphrey said.

He’s going to have to make a habit of it down the stretch if the Ravens are to reach the postseason.

”He doesn’t get overwhelmed by situations,” coach John Harbaugh said of Humphrey. ”He’s a very poised, confident guy.”

OPENING SOME EYES: With Stafford directing a pass-heavy attack, there wasn’t much need for the Lions to run the ball. But reserve running back Tion Green had 11 carries for 51 yards and a 6-yard touchdown, easily the best numbers on an offense that gained only 78 yards on 24 rushes.

The rookie out of Cincinnati may have earned himself a longer look.

Stafford said: ”It didn’t seem like it was too big for him. He just stepped in and played.”

O-LINE WOES: Detroit was already without starting center Travis Swanson, inactive for Sunday’s game with a knee injury. But the hits kept coming for what has become a patchwork offensive line.

The right side was especially hard hit. Tackle Rick Wagner went out early with an ankle injury and did not return. Guard T.J. Lang limped off with a foot injury, but returned later in the game.

The fact that the Lions were cobbling together protection for Stafford makes the quarterback’s 20 straight pass completions even more impressive. But the yeoman’s work wasn’t enough to placate anyone after another disheartening defeat.

”You got to be able to adjust and find a way to win,” coach Jim Caldwell said. ”We didn’t do that.”

HEADACHE: Alex Collins was a headache for the Lions, and ended a productive afternoon taking care of a migraine.

Baltimore’s slashing running back had his first two-touchdown game, scoring on runs inside the 10 in the fourth quarter to help the Ravens pull away.

Although held to 23 yards on eight carries in the first half, Collins gained 52 yards in the second half and finished with 75 yards on 15 tries, a robust 5-yard average.

But the Ravens said Collins had a ”significant migraine headache” and was unavailable for post-game questions.

TAKING THE HIT: Caldwell assumed responsibility for an embarrassing gaffe early in the fourth quarter, when the Lions defense had only nine men on the field when Baltimore was driving on a third-and-7 at the Detroit 33.

With numbers in his favor, Flacco completed a pass to Chris Moore for a 23-yard gain. Two plays later, Collins scored from the 7.

”That’s wrong, should have never happened,” said Caldwell, who wouldn’t explain why he didn’t call a timeout. ”That’s my fault.”

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