Ravens storm past Vikings in frantic finish
By Todd Karpovich, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 26 Baltimore 29
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco may now consider the "Mile High Miracle" tame compared to the Ravens' furious finish Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in snowy, slippery conditions.
In one of the most frantic, final two minutes in franchise history, Flacco found rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown on a 9-yard pass with four seconds left to give Baltimore a 29-26 victory.
Minnesota had taken the lead 19-15 on a 41-yard run by Toby Gerhart with 1:27 left in the game. However, the Ravens' Jacoby Jones ran back the ensuing kickoff for 77 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
And just as it appeared Baltimore was going to pull out an improbable victory, Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel threw a 79-yard pass to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with 45 seconds left to give the Vikings a 26-22 lead. The Ravens did not quit and finally sealed the win with the late score, capping the fifth touchdown in the final 2:05.
After an unsteady game, Flacco came up big in the end, just like last year's playoff game in Denver when he found Jones for a 70-yard game tying touchdown in the final minutes to force overtime. The Ravens won that game and surged to their second Super Bowl championship.
With the victory Sunday, the Ravens (7-6) own the final playoff spot in the AFC.
"You're just in complete shock," Flacco said. "I don't know if you get super-low, but you just get really high when you score to take the lead. You take the field and see what you can do. It was probably unlikely that we win the game today, but we did."
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson had to be helped off the field early in the second quarter after Ravens linebacker Arthur Brown landed on him while making a tackle near the Vikings' sideline. Peterson was carted to the locker room with a right foot sprain and later returned to the sideline in street clothes. He will get an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury.
Flacco overcame some mistakes, completing 28 of 50 passes for 245 yards with three touchdown and three interceptions.
Vikings backup quarterback Matt Cassel started in place of Christian Ponder, who suffered a concussion last Sunday against Chicago. Cassel effectively managed the game and completed 17 of 38 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was a really hard-fought game," Cassel said. "We have to take out hats off to Baltimore. That was one of the craziest games I've ever been a part of."
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Marcus Sherels and safety Andrew Sendejo each ended potential Baltimore scoring drives with interceptions.
After trailing 7-3 at the half, Minnesota (3-9-1) pulled to within one on its first possession of the third quarter on a 40-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.
After Flacco was intercepted on his own 34 by Sendejo, the Vikings took the first lead, 12-7, on an 8-yard pass from Cassel to Jerome Simpson with 14:22 left in the game. A 2-point conversion failed when safety Matt Elam knocked down a pass from Cassel intended for wide receiver Greg Jennings.
Minnesota's defense played effectively until safety Robert Blanton was called for pass interference on the Vikings' 17 with 5:03 left. The Ravens capitalized when Flacco found tight end Dennis Pitta for a 1-yard touchdown.
"I think the first half, the conditions were pretty brutal," Pitta said. "The footing was terrible and the game was just slow. It made it tough to do anything offensively. The second half, they kind of cleared the field off, I think the snow let up and it was more of a freezing rain. The footing was much better and the game picked up, certainly in the last two minutes."
After the Vikings appeared to snatch the victory with Gerhart's run, Jones answered for the Ravens. However, Cassel surprised the Ravens' defense with his long strike to Patterson.
In the end, it was Flacco's pass to Brown that was the difference that was helped by a pass interference penalty.
"We lined up and it was a Cover-2 (defensive scheme)," Brown said. "I just kind of slipped my guy and it was a great ball by Joe. It's pretty simple."
Baltimore went three-and-out on five of seven drives midway through the game that allowed the Vikings to stay within striking distance.
The Ravens opened the scoring after Elam forced a fumble by Gerhart on his own 25-yard line. Flacco then engineered the scoring drive by scrambling for 22 yards and then finding Dennis Dixon two plays later for a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings appeared to be on the verge of tying the game with 5:51 left in the second quarter when Cordarrelle Patterson gained 18 yards on an end-around that placed ball at the Ravens' 2-yard line. However, an illegal block by center Joe Berger negated the play and Minnesota had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Walsh.
"The conditions were tough on both teams," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The players competed. They played hard throughout. Both teams battled right down to the end, and then the last two or three minutes of the ball game had both teams fighting to get a win."
NOTES: Ravens TE Dennis Pitta had five catches for 30 yards in his first game back since dislocating his hip in training camp. ... Baltimore LB Elvis Dumervil, who leads the team with 9 1/2 sacks, did not play because of an ankle injury. Courtney Upshaw started in his place. ... Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph was inactive so John Carlson got the start. Rudolph has not played since fracturing his foot Nov. 3 against the Cowboys. Coach Leslie Frazier said Rudolph could begin practicing this week. ... Vikings DE Jared Allen and DE Brian Robison each had a sack and are tied with the team lead with seven.