The Minnesota Vikings have been playing football for 53 years and perhaps never has there been a finish like the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens had Sunday in one of the craziest games with ever-changing turning points in a 29-26 Ravens win.
With snow and freezing rain coming down at intermittent times during the game, the sloppy conditions led to a low-scoring game … for 57 minutes. The Ravens led 7-6 heading into the fourth quarter. Few could have predicted that the fourth quarter would involve six lead changes and 42 points to be scored – 35 of those in the final 2:05 of the game.
“Our hats go off to Baltimore. They played really well, especially considering the conditions all day. It was a crazy game, probably one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Vikings QB Matt Cassel said.
The fourth quarter started with the Vikings on the Baltimore 7-yard line and Cassel made short work of giving the Vikings their first lead of the game, throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson to give the Vikings a 12-7 lead. It looked as though that lead would stand up until things got nuts in the final minutes and the groundswell of emotion jumped from one sideline to the other.
The Vikings defense had done its part to keep the Vikings in the lead, stuffing the Ravens on a fourth-and-1 carry by fullback Vonta Leach on the Vikings 21-yard line and got an interception from Marcus Sherels on the Vikings 10-yard line to keep the Ravens out of the end zone. But two three-and-out drives by the Vikings offense gave Baltimore the ball with 6:32 to play.
With 2:12 to play, Baltimore was faced with a third fourth-down situation, this time from the Vikings 2-yard, but after not converting on two previous fourth downs, Joe Flacco got the job done, hitting tight end Dennis Pitta for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion pass to Torrey Smith, Baltimore had a 15-12 lead with 2:05 to play, but the fireworks were only beginning.
Opening the ensuing drive on their own 32-yard line, the Vikings struck lightning with a 27-yard pass from Cassel to Jerome Simpson to the Baltimore 41-yard line. Wanting to conserve their two timeouts, the Vikings hurried to the line and gave a handoff to Toby Gerhart, who shook off a tackler, broke into the open field and rumbled 41 yards for a touchdown, leaving Ravens fans stunned with the Vikings ahead 19-15 with 1:27 to play.
Looking to avoid allowing return man Jacoby Jones to have a big kickoff return, the Vikings called for a directional pooch kick that came down on the 21-yard line. Jones got a wall of blockers in front of him and tiptoed down the sidelines until he broke free for a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and, with 1:16 remaining, the Ravens had a 22-19 lead.
With Vikings fans dreading yet another late-game collapse, the Vikings faced a third-and-10 play from their own 21-yard line. Cassel threw a bubble screen to Cordarrelle Patterson and, after getting a couple of early blocks, Patterson broke loose into the open field and was gone, scoring a 79-yard touchdown that looked to give the Vikings an improbable 26-22 win. The only problem was that there was still 45 seconds left on the clock. Considering that four touchdowns had been scored in the previous 100 seconds, that seemed like too much time. As it turned out, it was.
The Vikings opted to kick deep and got a touchback, setting up the Ravens on their own 20-yard line. It didn’t take long to get Baltimore in scoring position. On the first play of the drive, Flacco completed a 35-yard pass to Marlon Brown to get the ball into Vikings territory. Two plays later, a phantom pass interference penalty on Chad Greenway negated Sendejo’s second interception and gave the Ravens a first down on the Minnesota 27.
After completing an 18-yard pass over the middle to Pitta, the Ravens called their final timeout with 10 seconds to play. A sack would end the game. A tackle short of the end zone in bounds would end the game. But Flacco found Brown in the back of the end zone and he dragged both feet in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with four seconds to play, giving the Ravens the 29-26 win.
For a game that had a half-dozen turning points in the final couple of minutes, it was the inability of the Vikings defense and special teams to secure the win in the closing seconds that created a turning point of the game Vikings fans have never seen before and may never see again.
“It was a heart-breaking loss,” Cassel said. “I don’t think you can put into words how you feel after a game like this, especially the emotion that goes into it – the preparation, the hard work that goes in each and every week.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.