OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For John Harbaugh, it appeared the season was lost.
The Ravens were facing a fourth-and-5 and trailing by one point with under two minutes left in a critical game against the Browns in Week 14.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson was already in the locker room with cramps and now his backup, Trace McSorley was sprawled on the turf with a knee injury.
“It’s fourth-and-5 and my man Trace is down,” Harbaugh said in a video posted by James Light. “He wound up missing the season with a knee injury. So it’s fourth-and-5 and we have no quarterback and it’s the two-minute warning. Our season, it looks bleak.”
With no other true quarterbacks healthy, Harbaugh was forced to turn to wide receiver Willie Snead to take over. Obviously, it was not an ideal situation with the playoff hopes on the line.
“I regain my footing and who’s the quarterback? Willie Snead is the quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “And Willie is right there. And I look over at Willie and he is looking right at me taking a snap. From the center, he looks me at goes, ‘Coach, this is my time to shine. That’s Willie. Did it make me feel better? No. But I appreciated it.”
Now, Harbaugh was second-guessing a decision to play Snead at quarterback. Harbaugh did have the NFL’s best kicker, Justin Tucker, at his disposal, but a 68-yard field goal would have been difficult in any situation.
“Tucker, who always runs right be me when he wants to kick a field goal, comes clicking by me, spins around and looks at me like, ‘Am I kicking the field goal?’ ” Harbaugh said. “And I look at him, and I go, ‘It’s 68 yards.’ And he looks at me and is like ‘yeah.’ And I go, ‘Can you make it?’ Now, I’m thinking it might be a good idea. He looks at me and says, ‘I think I have a better chance than Willie.’ I’m like, ‘You might be right.’ “
Seconds later, Jackson emerged from the locker room, was fully ready to get back in the game. Harbaugh almost could not believe what was happening.
“Just then, before the decision has to be made, the trainer taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘He’s back,” Harbaugh said. “And I’m like,’Who?’ And here he comes, Lamar, like Willis Reed out of the tunnel. He comes from the back of the bench and says, ‘I got this coach. I got it.’ “
Sure enough, Jackson threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown for a 42-35 lead with 1:51 left in the game.
Jackson then set up Tucker’s 55-yard field goal with seven seconds left for a 47-42 victory.
It was voted as the Game of the Year by the NFL Network.
And it’s certainly a game the Ravens coaches, players, and fans will never forget.
“It’s going to be a game that goes down in history,” Harbaugh said after the game.