It’s very difficult to describe the insanity that broke out the last two minutes of the Vikings-Ravens game in Baltimore. A game that started as a slush-beset drudgery suddenly opened up into a big-play bonanza.
The Vikings would end up on the short end, as they have so often this season. Their defense was just not able to make a play late and stop the Ravens, who battled like mad with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance.
The fourth quarter of this game packed enough action for a whole month. The score was 7-6 Ravens when, early in the fourth, Matt Cassel connected with Jerome Simpson for a sweet tip-toe TD in the back of the end zone. The Vikings’ try for two was unsuccessful and they kicked the ball back to Baltimore holding a 12-7 lead.
Baltimore came quickly back behind Joe Flacco, who up until the fourth was having a very un-Super-Bowl-MVP-type game. Baltimore’s drive into Vikings’ territory stalled when Chris Cook stood up Vonte Leach on a fourth-down try, giving the Vikings back the ball.
The Vikes could not get anything going on their ensuing drive and punted back to Baltimore. You felt like now Joe Flacco would gather himself and lead the Ravens on a drive, but the Vikings’ defense again rose up. Marcus Sherels, in for an injured Xavier Rhodes, tipped a pass intended for Torrey Smith to himself and completed the interception. It was the Vikings’ third pick of Flacco on the day and seemed like a game-sealer.
But the craziness was only getting started. After the pick, the Vikes were again unable to get their offense going and gave the ball back to Baltimore. You can only give the Ravens so many chances before they burn you. Joe Flacco this time drove the Ravens down the field, aided by a somewhat ticky-tack PI call on Robert Blanton.
Flacco finished off the drive with a one-yard pass to Dennis Pitta for the TD. A two-point conversion gave Baltimore a 15-12 lead with a little over two minutes left.
The Vikings have not exactly been a great two minute team this year, so there was every reason to believe Baltimore would easily seal the deal. That was not the case however. Matt Cassel hit Jerome Simpson for a quick 27-yard gain, then Bill Musgrave dialed up Toby Gerhart’s number. Gerhart ran right up the gut against Baltimore, busting his way through would-be tacklers for a stunning 41-yard TD.
The Vikings went back up 19-15 now with just 1:27 remaining. The thing you worried about was a big kick return by Jacoby Jones. Mike Priefer and the Vikings elected to combat the possibility of the big return by popping one up. But Jones made them pay for the decision, taking the kickoff 77 yards for the TD.
Baltimore once again took the lead, 22-19. Surely this was the end for Minnesota?
Not so fast. On the ensuing possession, the Vikings struck right back. Cordarrelle Patterson took a bubble screen, picked his way through the Baltimore defense and finally broke away 79 yards for the touchdown. No flags. Vikings led 26-22 now with just 45 seconds remaining.
But as we’ve seen over-and-over this season, late-game defense is where the Vikings really struggle. They fell apart late against Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas and Green Bay in previous games, and they did it again here.
After a huge PI penalty on Chad Greenway – yes, the refs would play a huge role in this one, unfortunately – Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown for the nine-yard TD reception. This left only four seconds for the Vikings, not enough time to get the ball back and try a Hail Mary. Baltimore escaped with an edge-of-your-seat-thrilling 29-26 win.
Though the game ended in another loss for Minnesota, it was an amazingly exciting, one-of-a-kind circus of a contest. Baltimore fought like a team should fight with their season on the line. The Vikings, with nothing to play for but pride, showed plenty of heart themselves, but once again failed miserably in late-game defensive execution.
That kind of madness is what the NFL is all about. Maybe in the future the Vikes will be able to pull out a few more of these and become a relevant team in the standings. Not this year.