There will be plenty of time to ponder what this could do for the Ravens’ season. But in the immediate aftermath of a 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that mixed the exhilarating with the absurd, the Ravens were far too consumed with what they had just witnessed to worry about any of that.
In the final 125 seconds, there was 36 points scored and five lead changes, each team believing it had scored the game-winning touchdown only to see it answered within seconds.
The Ravens never did stop the Vikings. Minnesota just ran out of time.
Quarterback Joe Flacco hit rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score with just four seconds to play as the Ravens escaped snowy M&T Bank Stadium with a victory that saves their season and keeps them in control of the sixth and final playoff spot.
As if the game, which started under heavy snowfall and ended with freezing rain, needed any more drama, Brown’s catch was reviewed. However, the touchdown stood and what remained of an announced crowd of 70,921 finally exhaled.
“I have nothing for you, really,” Flacco said about 30 minutes after the craziness had wrapped up with the Ravens winning their third straight game for the first time this season. “Oh my gosh — I don’t know if there has ever been a crazier minute-and-forty-some seconds ever.”
Added Ravens coach John Harbaugh: “Will we ever see another game like that again?”
It was the first game in NFL history to have six lead changes in the fourth quarter.
How improbable was the ending?
The Ravens went six straight games this season without scoring 22 points. They put up that total in a two-minute, one-second span late in the fourth quarter. And that stretch came after they were held to one touchdown over the first 57 minutes and 55 seconds, their offense slowed by the wintry conditions and a couple of poor decisions by Flacco.
“You really couldn’t even get emotional,” said Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones whose 77-yard kick return for a touchdown had given the Ravens a 22-19 lead with 1:16 to play
The Vikings (3-9-1) took their final lead of the day when quarterback Matt Cassel threw a screen pass to Cordarrelle Patterson and the electric rookie wide receiver zigzagged 79 yards for a touchdown, leaving Ravens’ defenders in his wake.
When the Ravens got the ball back at their own 20, they had 45 seconds and two timeouts with which to work. Flacco hit Brown in the middle of the field for 35 yards. A pass interference call on linebacker Chad Greenway wiped away Andrew Sendejo’s interception and advanced the ball to the Vikings’ 27.
After an incompletion, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for 18 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation. From the 9, Flacco lofted a pass just over the head of linebacker Audie Cole into Brown’s hands in the back of the end zone. It was Flacco’s third touchdown of the day, counteracting his three picks. He was 28-of-50 for 245 yards but he certainly made all the big throws late.
“He didn't panic. He didn't say a word. It was, 'Lets go,' and that's the kind of guy you want to be in battle with in crunch-time situations,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said of Flacco. “There was no teetering off from him. He just lined up, got the play called, got us lined up. It was his show. That was vintage Joe Flacco right there.”
Flacco said that he felt the game was even crazier than the Ravens’ 38-35 double-overtime victory over the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs last year, a game that is now dubbed the “Mile High Miracle.”
“I don’t know how to describe it, this is a very special win,” Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is the best win I’ve ever been a part of besides the Super Bowl.”
With their final three games against first-place teams and two of them on the road, where they are 1-5 this season, the Ravens knew they couldn’t afford to slip up against a Vikings team playing out the string. However, despite the Vikings managing just three points in the first half and losing star running back Adrian Peterson, with a foot injury, the visitors took a 12-7 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter on Cassel’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson.
On their next two drives, the Ravens, which managed only a 1-yard touchdown catch to that point by tight end Ed Dickson, advanced into Vikings’ territory but they turned the ball over on downs and Flacco threw his third interception.
But they finally got into the end zone when Flacco hit Pitta on a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. When Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for the two-point conversion, the Ravens had a 15-12 lead with just over two minutes to play.
“It’s great to be back,” said Pitta, who was playing his first game of the season after having hip surgery in July. Pitta caught six passes for 48 yards after a couple of early drops. “I didn’t think my first game back would be in those conditions, and I didn’t really start the game the way I wanted to. … When the conditions improved, we really started moving offensively.”
It would have been a perfect ending, Pitta returning and scoring a touchdown to save the Ravens’ season. But as it turned out, all it did was set the stage for the frantic finish.
The Vikings needed just two plays and all of 38 seconds to regain the lead as Cassel hit Simpson for 27 yards and Toby Gerhart, subbing for Peterson, powered up the middle for a 41-yard touchdown run.
On the next play after the touchdown, Jones fielded Blair Walsh’s short kickoff and sprinted down the home sideline, not stopping until he had a 77-yard kickoff return touchdown. Jones danced, the crowd went nuts and the Ravens led 22-19 with 1:16 to play.
However, this time Minnesota needed just three plays to score with Patterson taking a bubble screen and doing a dance of his own after he ran by several Ravens’ defenders on his way to the end zone.
“I said some ungodly words that my mother wouldn’t be proud of,” said Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones when asked about his reaction for the touchdown. “But I’m happy to a Raven.”
And he was happy that there was still time on the clock and Flacco had one more chance.
“I’ve never played in a game like that. I’ve never even played a video game like that” said Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. “That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”