Crazy days like Sunday are why America loves football, proof that the NFL is the best reality show going.
Heavy snow, at least by Baltimore standards, covered the field before the game and was so thick during it that all the Ravens could see on the other sideline -- and just barely -- were the purple pants worn by the Minnesota Vikings. The air was cold. Limbs were numb. The playing surface was so slick that a Zamboni or three would have come in handy. Mother Nature dominated the first three quarters before hitting the showers so the Ravens and Vikings could play maybe the most exciting fourth quarter in franchise history.
The desperate Ravens, who squandered opportunities all afternoon, found themselves down by five points midway through the final quarter when they embarked on what at the time appeared to be a game-winning touchdown drive. But amid the lingering snow flurries came a flurry of thrills, chills and touchdowns that players from both teams were trying to wrap their heads around a half hour after the ride came to a stop.
“I have nothing for you, really,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, a knit Ravens cap on his head and a wide grin across his face after he walked up to the podium. “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if there has ever been a crazier minute-and-forty-some seconds ever.”
Technically, it was five touchdowns in 125 seconds, the final score coming with four seconds on the clock, giving the Ravens a huge 29-26 win over the Vikings.
The Ravens pulled ahead when tight end Dennis Pitta caught a one-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to cap off a nine-play, 64-yard drive put the Ravens up, 15-12. As Pitta jogged to the sideline, he thought to himself that he had just scored the game-winner. Actually, the two teams were just getting started. After all, what has transpired throughout this odd season showed us that no lead is apparently safe when the Ravens defense is on the field late in the fourth quarter.
It would take the Vikings two plays and 38 seconds to reclaim the lead, the touchdown coming when running back Toby Gerhart, in for the injured Adrian Peterson, took an innocent-looking draw play 41 yards for a touchdown. He ran right through the heart of the defense, splitting safeties Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo.
The Ravens responded immediately. Jacoby Jones took the ensuing kickoff 77 yards down the Ravens sideline -- where no opposing coaches were there to trip him up -- for a touchdown, bringing the M&T Bank Stadium crowd back to live. The return took just 11 seconds. If only Jones could have stalled for 76 more seconds.
The defense got another shot at redemption, but let it slip through its grasp when electrifying rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson caught a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage and weaved through the defense. Elam, the last line of defense, slipped and fell on his butt as if he thought it was a good time to make an impromptu snow angel. Patterson cruised by him on his way to the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown pass that put the Vikings up, 26-22, with 45 seconds left.
“We thought the game was over four times,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said.
So did many of the fans, including the ones who blew up my Twitter feed in those frantic final moments. I’m sure there were a few folks watching at home who turned off the TV and stormed outside to furiously shovel the walk.
The drama was not yet done, though. Flacco, Mr. Clutch again, led the Ravens 80 yards in the final minute, an incredible accomplishment in itself on most other Sundays, and put the Ravens ahead for good when he found rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown, who tapped both feet in the back of the end zone after the catch.
As the Ravens ran off the field and down the tunnel to the locker room, right guard Marshal Yanda summed up the day when he said, “Jesus Christ. Best game ever.”
Asked if he had ever played a game like this one before, defensive tackle Arthur Jones quipped, “Yeah. On ‘Madden.’”
The crazy win kept the Ravens in control of their playoff destiny, a notch ahead of the Miami Dolphins, who are also 7-6 after knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It also kept fans -- from Baltimore to Minneapolis and beyond -- on their edges of their seats for what will probably be remembered as the craziest game in 2013. Games like this one, with lead changes, long touchdowns left and right, and the elements making things interesting, are why the NFL is the best show on television.
Sorry, Ron Swanson and Don Draper.
One thing that I learned
The return of Pitta will be huge for Flacco and the Ravens. The Ravens were without the services as their emerging 28-year-old tight end/slot receiver for the first 13 weeks of the season, and not having him -- and the loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin -- really effected Flacco, who has struggled on third down this season. In the second half Sunday, Pitta and Flacco started to click and Pitta was clutch. Five of his six catches came after halftime. Three of them moved the chains. And one was his go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also drew a big pass interference penalty on the game’s final drive. Pitta played about 35 snaps and after the game he said he felt fine, so look for him to play more and more down the stretch. Don’t be surprised if he is their leading receiver from here on out.
Handing out game balls