Season-saver or not, Sunday's finale was a moment of magic for the Ravens

Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta celebrates a touchdown with Torrey smith during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / December 8, 2013)

The football world is still atwitter about the crazy ending at M&T Stadium on Sunday, but we're going to have to wait and see what it all meant.

Was it a magical launching pad that will help send the Ravens on another exciting playoff run, or just another unforgettable moment in the team's eventful history?

Maybe Ravens fans shouldn't get too greedy after some of the strange and wonderful things that happened last season on the road to the Super Bowl. They still get warm and fuzzy about the "Mile High Miracle" and Ray Lewis' catalytic retirement announcement. They still shake their heads in wonder when they recall Ray Rice making that fourth-and-29 "mad dash" that saved an important game against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12.

That was the only desperate moment during the 2012 regular season that comes anywhere close to comparing with Sunday's triple turnaround, but the situation was decidedly different since the Ravens appeared at the time to be cruising toward the playoffs.

The victory over San Diego improved their record to 9-2, but was followed by a 1-4 slump that cast serious doubt on their Super Bowl aspirations. Rice's against-all-odds redemptive catch-and-run was the key moment of the regular season because it made their AFC North cushion just big enough to render the finale against the Cincinnati Bengals meaningless.

Of course, this Ravens team doesn't have the luxury of backing into the playoffs. They needed Sunday's fantastic fourth-quarter flurry just to peek over the .500 mark and now face three division leaders in their final three games — two on the road. They can only hope that the momentum created by Sunday's unfathomable three-headed comeback can carry them past the Detroit Lions Monday night at weatherproof Ford Field.

The Vikings were supposed to be the ugly sister in a three-game homestand that — by most accounts — the Ravens needed to sweep to have a legitimate chance of a postseason title defense. Sunday's game should have been a breather after a dramatic Steelers' comeback fell short on Thanksgiving night, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that what happened in the last 125 seconds of Sunday's game could have happened on a normal day. The field was slicker than Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas and both teams exploited the clear advantage that offensive players derive from knowing ahead of time which way they are going.

No doubt, the Ravens hope that their ability in the fourth quarter to effectively mix the run and pass will carry over into the last three weeks of the regular season, but there is no good reason to make that connection.

What they can take out of Sunday is the momentum that comes from winning four of their past five games as well as some added confidence that they can get the offense moving earlier and better react to adversity at the end.

What they can't take out of that wild and wintry experience is a reasonable record of success on the road (1-5), which is another reason that this week's game against the Lions is the pivotal matchup of December.

The Lions aren't invincible at home (4-2) and they are coming off a much less invigorating winter wonderland experience in Philadelphia, but they are the fourth-highest scoring offense in the NFC and average 3.3 touchdowns per game while the Ravens barely average two.

If the Ravens can overcome all that, there is opportunity brewing elsewhere. The Miami Dolphins, the only other 7-6 team among the contenders for the second wild-card berth, have to host the New England Patriots on Sunday. The first-place Bengals, who are still within range, travel to Pittsburgh. And the Chargers have to play a Thursday night game in Denver.

Needless to day, a Ravens victory could dramatically improve their playoff chances if a couple of those other dominoes fall in the right direction.

No matter what happens, the miracle on ice in Week 14 will long be remembered as a magic moment in Ravens history. Whether it is remembered with the same affection as Rice's terrific fourth-down save, Jacoby Jones' season-saving touchdown against Denver or Shannon Sharpe's 93-yard touchdown in the 2001 AFC title game depends on what happens next.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

pschmuck@baltsun.com

 
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