Revisiting the Ravens-Bengals Hail Mary play

A.J. Green tied the game up with time expiring after James Ihedigbo mistakenly tipped the football into the air. - Patrick Smith

James Ihedigbo called his mistake a "bone-head" one.

Knock the ball down.

That's what is said to all players in end-of-game situations. Knock it to the ground. Don't try to intercept it. Don't risk a tip in the air. Get your hands on it and swat it downward.

That didn't happen Sunday. With no time on the clock, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton heaved a pass around midfield to the end zone, with hopes that one of his receivers could come down with an improbable tying score.

To Dalton's delight, and to the Ravens' disbelief, A.J. Green did just that. After the ball was initially tipped, it floated near Ravens safety James Ihedigbo, who had played by far his greatest game as a Raven to that point.

Instinctively, Ihedigbo jumped to knock it down. But this was after he decided to move up since the ball wasn't traveling as far as he thought due to it catching the wind. Moving up is not what you want to do because it can allow a tipped ball to get behind you. Think of it like a center fielder would. You take a step up and you risk the ball going behind you to the wall. That's exactly what happened, with Ihedigbo not in position to knock the ball downward.

"I knew it was going to be short, so I moved up, bone-head move, I moved up a little bit," Ihedigbo told reporters after the game. "I just should have stayed back. It probably would have fell right in my lap. I saw it drifting, tried to slap it to the ground. It went up in the air; easy touchdown."

It was as if Green knew something like this would happen. He didn't join everyone else near the end zone line on the initial throw. He positioned himself behind the group in case of a tip going backward.

So now the game's tied and Ihedigbo's to blame. Teammate Jimmy Smith chewed him out on the sideline. What could Ihedigbo say in that moment? He potentially just cost his team the game if all goes wrong in overtime.

As a professional, Ihedigbo had to forget about the costly play and regroup for his team, which is exactly what he did. The Ravens forced Cincinnati into a fourth-and-2 in overtime, with the Bengals electing to go for it instead of punting or attempting a long field goal into the wind.

The Bengals called a quick pass to Giovani Bernard in the flat. The first defender there was Ihedigbo, who forced Bernard to cut back against the field. The Ravens made the play and would wind up winning the game with a game-winning field goal from Justin Tucker.

"I look at myself as a great player, and that's what I aspire to be," Ihedigbo said. "When you have a heck of a day, and you get two interceptions, and then I made a bone-head play to kind of put us in the position that we were, you can do one of two things. You can [drop] your head and [say], ‘Oh, man, and give up another one.' Or you can say, ‘Hey, the next time they'll throw the ball in my vicinity, I'm going to make a play. That's what I did. The fourth down was, you know, a key stop there. The defense rallied, ran their butts off to the ball, and we bottled them up to give our offense great field position. That’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to make plays. That’s what people remember."

Ihedigbo hung in there after the tipped pass and helped his team get a win. It's still somewhat fresh on everyone's mind, but since the Ravens got the win it's not that big of a deal.

Mistakes happen in sports. It's how you respond that matters. Ihedigbo went from drawing the ire of every armchair quarterback in Baltimore for one bad play to the city remembering all of the other good plays he made in a Ravens win. Ihedigbo had his best game as a Raven and perhaps his entire career on Sunday, even with the tipped pass.


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