Ravens 29, Vikings 26
STRATEGY: The Ravens attempted 50 passes despite a heavy snowfall, acknowledging that the passing game is their primary strength. It was ultimately a successful approach despite quarterback Joe Flacco's being erratic with three interceptions, as he delivered in the clutch with two touchdown passes during an unforgettable finish. The Ravens used the shotgun on 65 snaps with 38 no-huddle plays. The defense concentrated on bottling up Adrian Peterson by crowding the line of scrimmage with strong safety James Ihedigbo essentially acting as an extra linebacker. There were few blitzes and mostly four-man pressure attempts, yielding zero sacks and just two quarterback hits.
PERSONNEL: The game plan featured three-wide-receiver sets, with Torrey Smith playing 80 snaps, Jacoby Jones 78 snaps and Marlon Brown 65 plays. In his first game back from hip surgery, Dennis Pitta got 36 snaps, 13 fewer than Ed Dickson. Ray Rice got 61 snaps and Bernard Pierce was in for 24. Fullback Vonta Leach got a dozen snaps with some balance achieved with 27 runs for 97 yards. The defensive ironmen were safeties Matt Elam and Ihedigbo and middle linebacker Daryl Smith with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb missing just one and three snaps. Weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain's playing time went back up to 37 snaps as Josh Bynes decreased to 16 snaps. With Elvis Dumervil out with an ankle injury, Courtney Upshaw played 60 snaps, but produced one tackle,a pass deflection and drew an unnecessary roughness flag.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Flacco heightened his concentration and accuracy, manufacturing a victory with touchdown passes to Pitta and Brown. Pitta proved his surgically repaired hip is sound, landing on it several times as he knocked off the rust by the second half. Jones provided a boost with a 77-yard kickoff-return touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He got great blocks from Leach, Kyle Juszczyk and Pernell McPhee. Ray Rice had his second-best game of the year, grinding out 43 of his 67 yards in the fourth quarter. Ihedigbo had a dozen tackles, and his pursuit kept Peterson boxed in before he left the game with a sprained foot, having rushed for only 13 yards on seven runs. In a season where he's made few important plays, Elam deflected a two-point pass.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Flacco threw off his back foot, stared down his first read and short-armed throws, leading to three interceptions. One interception was Jones' fault when an accurate throw deflected off his shoulder pads. Interior linemen Gino Gradkowski, Marshal Yanda and A.Q. Shipley didn't budge the Vikings on a failed fourth-and-inches fullback dive by Leach. Spacing and tackling were an issue on two late touchdowns. Chris Canty got blocked and created a huge hole before Toby Gerhart crashed through Ihedigbo and Elam on his path to the end zone. Dangerous rookie Cordarrelle Patterson cut back sharply as Elam fell down in the snow. Jimmy Smith was beaten for a touchdown on an inside move. Terrell Suggs hasn't recorded a sack the past five games.
TURNING POINT: Following what could have been a demoralizing go-ahead touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson, Flacco engineered a game-winning drive in 41 seconds that got off to a fast start with a 35-yard pass to Brown. Fortunately for the Ravens, a potential fourth interception was nullified by a pass-interference call on linebacker Chad Greenway. Three plays later, Brown and Flacco connected in the back of the end zone to cap a dramatic win.
X-FACTOR: The Ravens' pass defense will be tested against Detroit Lions standout wide receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, who blends size, speed and skill at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds and already has 75 receptions for 1,348 yards and 12 touchdowns.
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