ATL: What We Learned  

 

Lions up against NFC North ropes after loss to Ravens

After 14 games, the Detroit Lions' 2013 fate might very well have come down to a few inches in the bottom right corner of their very own goal post.

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker booted one of the most clutch regular-season field goals in NFL history, sending it just over the crossbar from 61 yards out to lift the Baltimore to an 18-16 victory over the Lions.

Following Tucker's sixth field goal of the game and his 33rd consecutive try without a miss, the Ravens are suddenly in the divisional driver's seat. They will leapfrog the Bengals for the AFC North title if they win out.

The Lions, on the other hand, have dropped to third place in the NFC North. The Bears take the division if they win out. The same goes for the Packers.

After surrendering control of their fate, Detroit will resort to rooting hard for the Eagles and Steelers in Week 16.

Here's what else we learned in Monday's game:

1. Tucker's night of superlatives illustrates the improvement at the position over the past couple of decades as well as the difficulty in choosing a Pro Bowl kicker this season. Former Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding retired as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history with an 86.2 conversion rate on field goals. That's now an average season for a quality kicker. Tucker, Matt Prater of the Broncos, Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots and Graham Gano of the Panthers all have strong cases for the Pro Bowl squad.

2. Matt Elam backed up his unwitting trash talk with a game-clinching interception, but it was cornerback Jimmy Smith who kept Calvin Johnson under control the majority of the game. Billed as a potential lockdown corner coming out of Colorado, Smith has showed steady improvement over the course of his third NFL season. He's emerged as one of the Ravens' best defensive players since the start of October.

3. Johnson drew twice as many targets as any other player on the roster. Detroit managed just two completions over seven yards in the first half. Outside of underutilized Packers reject Jeremy Ross, there's a distinct lack of playmaking ability from the rest of the wide receivers and tight ends. The Lions have been seeking a second fiddle to Johnson for half a decade. After swinging and missing on Titus Young and watching Ryan Broyles go down with season-ending injuries the past two years, the position will join cornerback atop the team's priority list in 2014.

4. The Ravens entered the game with the fourth-lowest yards-per-carry average since the 1970 merger. A whopping 27 percent of their carries had gone for zero or negative yards. Ray Rice is starting to show signs of life, though. His second- and third-highest rushing figures of the season have come in the past two games. Although he's still stiff in the hips on his cuts, he's finally showing a semblance of burst on straight-ahead runs.

5. If the running game is showing glimpses, the pass protection remains a concern. Joe Flacco has already been under pressure on more snaps than any other season in his career. He took too many hits in the second half of Monday's game.

6. The Lions were once again done in by a lack of discipline. Johnson dropped two easy passes, giving him a career-high 10 for the season. Joique Bell stopped in the middle of the field to impede Kris Durham's route on Matthew Stafford's first interception. Detroit defenders were guilty of four big first-half penalties to help give the Ravens a 9-7 halftime lead. The coaching staff abandoned the run in key situations. The miscues have been a hallmark of this franchise, which is why Jim Schwartz finds himself on the hot seat entering the final two games.

7. The surging Ravens have won four straight and five of their last six games. If they beat the injury-depleted Patriots -- and the Dolphins handle the Jets and Bills -- the season finale at Cincinnati is shaping up as a "loser goes home" game for the Ravens and Bengals.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" broke down the Cowboys' loss and every other Week 15 game.

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