By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens had just four scoring plays through the first 57 minutes and 55 seconds of the game. Then the fireworks started as the two teams traded touchdowns with the Ravens scoring last to pull out the 29-26 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens turned a five-point deficit into the three-point lead with two minutes and five seconds remaining on a short touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta. A two-point conversion pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith capped the drive.
On the next drive, the Vikings needed just two passes to re-claim the lead. Toby Gerhart plowed his way through the Ravens defense for a 41-yard score.
Jacoby Jones got the crowd back into the game by returning the ensuing kickoff 77 yards.
Once again the Vikings quickly answered. Cordarrelle Patterson received a wide receiver screen pass from Matt Cassel and ran 79 yards for the touchdown.
Finally, the Vikings defense crumbled again in the final minutes, allowing the opposition to score in the final minute of regulation. Flacco got the drive started with a long pass to Marlon Brown. Flacco failed to connect on the next three passes, but was helped by a questionable pass interference call. Flacco regrouped and completed his final two passes including an nine-yard strike to Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds remaining in the game.
Offense Grade: B-
The Vikings offense held their own in the Baltimore blizzard. Footing conditions were obviously bad for both teams, which usually gives the offense the advantage. However, the players had such trouble keeping their feet, that neither offense really got much going.
When the weather turned from snowflakes to freezing rain, the offenses kicked into gear. The Vikings finished the game with 379 total yards, 114 rushing and 265 passing.
The most encouraging aspect of the Vikings offense was – when they had time – they answered Ravens scoring drives with scoring drives of their own.
The biggest question surrounding the Vikings offense is the health of Adrian Peterson. The star running back sprained his foot while being tackled by Arthur Brown. He writhed in pain on the turf before being carted to the locker room. Vikings Radio Network sideline reporter Greg Coleman announced during the broadcast that he asked Peterson for an update and was given a thumbs up. Vikings staff are still unsure about the extent of the injury and the possible playing time Peterson could miss.
Defense Grade: C-
The Vikings defense struck again. The unit played well but fell apart in the final two minutes. It was the fifth time that the opposition took the lead or tied the game in the final minute of the game. The Ravens totaled 325 yards – 97 rushing and 228 passing.
The Vikings intercepted Flacco three times, including the first career picks by Andrew Sendejo and Marcus Sherels. The defensive unit also had the only two sacks of the game coming from Brian Robison and Jared Allen.
Individually, the rookies – Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes – continued their progression toward becoming future long-term starters.
Linebacker Audie Cole had another strong game in his first start, but could not get deep enough to deny the game-winning touchdown.
Quarterback Grade: B+
Cassel battled the elements, especially early in the game. He finished the day with decent numbers, throwing for 265 yards on 17-of-38 attempts and two touchdowns. He also had an 86.0 quarterback rating.
He gave the Vikings a chance to win the game by taking care of the ball and eliminating the negative. He did not throw an interception nor did he take a sack.
Special Teams Grade: D
The conditions hurt the numbers, but lining up for and executing a pooch kickoff with one minute and 17 seconds remaining in a three-point game is inexcusable.
Jacoby Jones’ 77-yard return for a touchdown was a huge moral breaker in a game that had already seen Vikings spirits get broken a couple of times. The poor tackling and lane assignments allowed him to take the return to the end zone. It was just an all around bad play by the Vikings kickoff coverage unit. Regardless of the weather you have to stop the opponent’s return game and the Vikings couldn’t do it on Sunday.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.