By Dave Campbell
AP Pro Football Writer
Forced to punt from deep in their territory with a seven-point lead over Cincinnati and 11 seconds remaining, the Baltimore Ravens weren’t about to risk a fluke fumble or a blocked kick.
So they ordered their linemen to keep the Bengals away from punter Sam Koch by any means necessary, including holding. The plan worked perfectly , with Koch catching the snap at his 15-yard line, casually dropping back toward the goal line, shuffling to his right and then backing out of the end zone to take the safety after draining the clock and avoiding any contact.
The line of scrimmage during the strange play looked like a high school wrestling tournament, missing only the rubber mats. A half-dozen Baltimore blockers each engaged with a Cincinnati rusher with a bear hug that in some cases resulted in a full takedown. Yellow flags flew from the officials like confetti from a crowd, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh knew the rule.
The game can end on a penalty by the offense, unlike an infraction against the defense, and that’s exactly what happened in the 19-14 decision that kept the Ravens in first place in the AFC North.
“I thought our guys did a great job,” Harbaugh said. “Part of the deal was just identifying all of their men, because if we misidentify on the count and leave one guy running through there, he’s going to get to Sam, and there’s going to be very little time off the clock. Everybody did a great job of communicating. They were moving and shifting like they are well coached to do.”
As linebacker Terrell Suggs reminded Harbaugh, the play Sunday wasn’t the best intentional safety in Ravens history. With a 34-29 lead over San Francisco in the Super Bowl four years ago, facing fourth down in the shadow of the end zone and the game almost over, Koch ran around to kill time and was pushed out of bounds with 4 seconds left. That prompted a free kick that essentially put the game out of reach.
“What I meant was that it was the best-executed safety ever taken,” Harbaugh said, “because we kept him clean the whole time.”
Here are three more decisions that stood out from Week 12 around the NFL:
KUBIAK SAYS KICK IT: With Denver and Kansas City tied late in overtime, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a 62-yard field goal on fourth-and-10 instead of punting or going for the first down to extend the drive and try to get closer.
McManus missed from that difficult distance , even in the thin mile-high air. The Chiefs turned around with 1:03 left and drove 40 yards for the winning field goal.
Even a punt in that case would’ve made a tie more likely, rather than the loss that pushed the Broncos into third place behind the Chiefs in the AFC West.
“My thing is that we’re going to try to win around here,” Kubiak said. “I made that decision, and it just didn’t work out. I have a lot of confidence in Brandon. I have a lot of confidence in our football team.”
The Broncos were out of timeouts, which factored into Kubiak’s call.
“B-Mac, he’s one of the best kickers in the National Football League,” linebacker Von Miller said. “I’m with Kube on that one. What are we playing? Are we going to play for a tie or are we trying to win the game?”
RIVERBOAT RON RUNS AGROUND: After Carolina kicker Graham Gano had an extra point try blocked early in the second half at Oakland, the Panthers trailed 24-13. The Panthers scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter to take the lead, which would’ve been bigger had they converted their conversion attempts.
Coach Ron Rivera elected to go for 2 points twice, with Cam Newton’s pass falling incomplete both times; stalwart tight end Greg Olsen dropped the second one. Even though the Panthers reached the end zone again early in the fourth quarter to take a 32-24 lead, they could’ve been ahead by 10 points with a pair of kicks. The Raiders rallied to tie the game with a touchdown and 2-point conversion before making the go-ahead field goal with 1:45 remaining.
“You can’t really dwell on that,” Newton said. “You still have to play the game. With how this game was going, with so many momentum swings, we took their best shot and they took our best shot. We knew it was going to come down to that type of finish, but that’s just what happens.”
AGGRESSIVE SAINTS: New Orleans coach Sean Payton went on fourth-and-short twice during what became a blowout of Los Angeles, at the 10 and the 1-yard lines. Both times the Saints converted on their way to a touchdown. What helped Payton make the decision was that the Saints have had two field goals and two extra points blocked already this season.
One extra point was returned for a defensive 2-point conversion that lifted Denver to victory.
“Those are big momentum swings in games,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “Obviously we have struggled a lot in field goal protection, so let’s be a little more aggressive than usual. We had a really good plan this week.”