MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Well, what do you know? John Harbaugh took the free points on Sunday night – 9 of them to be exact – and for the first time since last November, the Baltimore Ravens walked off their home field with a victory, 19-17 over the Cincinnati Bengals to take over first place in the AFC North Division.

Justin Tucker’s fourth field goal of the night as time expired was right down the middle from 43 yards out and extended his NFL-record streak of made field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime to 61. As Harbaugh and everybody in the free world knows, the guy is money and Tucker’s latest game-winner capped a night in which he had previously hit from 37, 58 and 25 yards.

Thus, in our analysis, we’ll say, using mere-mortal standards, the 58-yarder in the third quarter did not constitute “free points.” But then, when it comes to kicking a field goal, Tucker is no mere mortal. He is the most powerful and accurate place kicker in NFL history (you could look it up), so for him, maybe a 58-yarder does qualify as free points.

Still, if Tucker had missed it, the Bengals would have had great field position within easy striking distance for a go-ahead score. Harbaugh said it was not an easy choice, and kudos to him for making it, as Tucker made it look easy with plenty of room to spare.

So while I do wish I were a bigger person than I am — you know, the type who doesn’t say “I told you so” — I am perfectly comfortable with being the type who loves to say I told you so. So … I told you so.

For the most part, Harbaugh kept his analytics card in his pocket, took the free points and it paid off for him in the end — not, however, without some cause for second-guessing near the end.

On their next-to-last possession, the Ravens drove to the Cincinnati 8-yard line and on fourth-and-inches kicked a 25-yard field goal to extend their lead to 16-10 rather than go for the first down and then the touchdown.

Personally, I felt Harbaugh would go for the first there and I would not have complained one bit (I swear) had he done so. But he did the polar opposite of what he did last week against the Bills and took the points for the six-point lead, which put the Bengals in a position of having to score a touchdown — which they did with a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive to go ahead 17-16 with 1:58 remaining.

As it turned out, that was plenty of time for quarterback Lamar Jackson, as he ran and passed (three carries for 26 yards and two completions to tight end Mark Andrews) for 50 yards in seven plays, which more than comfortably reached Tucker’s joy zone (a Ted Williams term for his favorite spots in the strike zone) and the Ravens won the game playing with old-time math rather than be ruled by the blasted analytics that current-day coaches are in love with.

It was a great night for the Ravens defense as well, particularly the secondary, which limited the Bengals receivers with physical play as well as quarterback Joe Burrow to just over 200 yards passing after giving up nearly 1,000 yards to him in Cincinnati’s two blowout wins over Baltimore last season.

Offensively, left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned for several plays after missing every game since last year’s opener and running back J.K. Dobbins seems to be rounding back into form with a solid night of inside running.

All told, it was a great bounce-back win for the Ravens over the reigning AFC champions and a team that completely handled them twice last season.

There is something in baseball known as the star system. If you have stars, you feed them and you ride them, which is why you pay them. In turn, with the proper management, the team envelopes one for all and all for one through these leaders and around them.

The Ravens have two stars. The Ravens have good management and good coaching.

They need to do the basic math; not the if-dog-rabbit analytics.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT