The scoreboard read 12-7 as the game clock ticked below three minutes.
The scarcity of points was hardly surprising.
The Ravens had not scored more than 22 in a game for two months, and their guests, the Minnesota Vikings, had won just three games going into that second Sunday of December 2013.
The weather, a blanketing snow that in true Baltimore fashion transitioned to pelting ice, made matters far worse. Stadium workers had to run a plow down the middle of the field just to give players any runway to work with.
“It was probably the snowiest game I ever played in,” said former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who made his season debut against the Vikings after missing the first 12 weeks with a hip injury. “The footing was terrible. You could barely plant and cut. The game was played very slowly because of that. It was hard to do anything offensively, really.”
Which is to say, no one had a clue what was coming over the game’s final 125 seconds — five lead changes, 36 points, three touchdowns of more than 40 yards.
No one involved had seen anything like it.
“Probably the wildest game by far I’ve played in,” Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes said.
“It’s ingrained,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team is set to host the Vikings for the first time Sunday since that belief-defying afternoon in the snow. “It’s ingrained in my mind.”
Much like their 2013 forefathers, this season’s Ravens have lived through a series of wild finishes, from Justin Tucker’s 66-yard game-winner in Detroit to Lamar Jackson’s fourth-quarter rally against the Indianapolis Colts. Even so, they don’t have anything to match the events that unfolded on an icy M&T Bank Stadium field eight years ago.
The 2013 Ravens bore only a passing resemblance to the team that won the Super Bowl that February. Ray Lewis was retired. Ed Reed was in Houston, Anquan Boldin in San Francisco. The offense that had run wild in the playoffs sputtered, reaching 30 points only once all season.
Still, the Ravens would not die as they ground their way through a series of one-score games.
They had won several in bizarre fashion just to reach 6-6 going into the matchup with the 3-8-1 Vikings. They beat the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime after A.J. Green caught a Hail Mary touchdown to tie the game with no time on the clock. On Thanksgiving night, they outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-20, in a slugfest best remembered for Mike Tomlin stepping on the field to interfere with a Jacoby Jones kickoff return.
Their playoff hopes were very much alive.
Snow was the story as the Vikings kicked off to start the proceedings in Week 14. Anyone and everyone with a connection to the Ravens tried to scoop white powder off the playing surface.
“There were people from marketing grabbing shovels,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “You’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ But all these people volunteered because they’re just as invested as we are in winning a football game.”
“The opening kickoff, you couldn’t see anything in front of you,” recalled Jones, the former Ravens wide receiver and returner who now coaches at Morgan State. “I was just praying to God. I didn’t know who was who.”
Minnesota’s lone offensive superstar, Adrian Peterson, left the game on a cart after he hurt his foot sliding on the snow. He later fired off a bitter tweet about fans who had lobbed snowballs his way.
Meanwhile, the Ravens scored the only touchdown of the first three quarters after quarterback Joe Flacco, hardly known for his agility, scrambled 22 yards to put them in position. The Vikings answered with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to go up 12-7 and set the stage for bedlam.
The Ravens, aided by a 37-yard pass interference call, drove to the Minnesota 1-yard line with the two-minute warning fast approaching. On fourth down, Flacco zipped a pass to Pitta, his most trusted target, in traffic. A 2-point catch by Torrey Smith put the Ravens up 15-12.
“In that moment, I’m thinking, ‘I just caught the game-winning touchdown pass,’” Pitta recalled. “The way that game had been going, the ineptitude of the Vikings offense to that point, there was no reason to believe they were going to be able to march the entire length of the field and score a touchdown. So we felt good. We’re coming off and celebrating like we won the football game.”
As it turned out, the story was closer to its beginning than its ending.
The Vikings needed just two plays to puncture the Ravens’ festive mood. Quarterback Matt Cassel hit Jerome Simpson for 27 yards. Then Peterson’s fill-in, Toby Gerhart, blasted up the middle 41 yards for a touchdown. With 1 minute, 45 seconds left, Minnesota led 19-15.
All week, the Ravens had practiced returning a pooch kickoff up the sideline, but Jones was distracted as Vikings kicker Blair Walsh lined it up. At the time, he told Harbaugh he was talking to his mother in the stands, but he was actually exchanging insults with a clump of Minnesota fans.
“I didn’t want to tell him,” Jones said, laughing. “I didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“I’m like, ‘Jacoby! Jacoby! Jacoby! Jacoby!’” Harbaugh remembered. “He looks over, and he goes, (makes a shocked face). He starts running over at full speed.”
Jones had built momentum as he caught the ball, and he sprinted 77 yards up the sideline, just like they’d designed it. The Ravens went up 22-19.
“I thought, ‘This is ballgame!’” Jones said. “I’m on the sideline, feeling good, looking up at the Jumbotron smiling, and then, boom.”
On third-and-10, with the Vikings on their own 21-yard line, Cassel flipped a simple pass to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson in the flat. He sprinted around and past half a dozen would-be tacklers for a 79-yard touchdown. Minnesota led again, 26-22.
“I said, ‘This can’t be real,’” Jones remembered.
A television shot captured Harbaugh on the sideline with a mixture of disbelief and exasperation in his eyes.
The Ravens had 45 seconds to answer for a final (?) time. Amid all the insanity, they felt grateful for Flacco’s preternatural calm.
“He doesn’t overreact to anything; that’s one of his best attributes,” Pitta said. “We’re sitting there on the bench, watching Patterson go for 79 after you thought you won the game, and you’re like, defeated. But you look over at Joe and it’s like nothing happened. You just go out and go back to work.”
Flacco started by finding wide receiver Marlon Brown over the middle for 35 yards. The game seemed to end two plays later when another pass over the middle fell into the arms of Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo. A yellow flag said otherwise. Pitta, Flacco’s intended receiver, hit the turf as the ball whizzed by, and the officials called pass interference on incredulous linebacker Chad Greenway. Flacco capitalized on his reprieve with an 18-yard completion to Pitta that took the Ravens to Minnesota’s 9-yard line. Nine seconds remained.
That set the stage for Brown, an undrafted free agent from Georgia, to make his most memorable play as a Raven. He slipped behind the Vikings’ zone coverage to a vacant space in the back of the end zone, where he needed every inch of his 6-foot-5 frame to pull Flacco’s pass down and drag his cleats inbounds.
“He was such a good guy,” Pitta said of Brown, who would play three seasons in Baltimore with diminishing returns. “Not a highly heralded guy when he came to us. Nobody really knew who he was, but he was a well-built kid who could run and was just a hard worker.”
Finally, the Ravens had won the game for real, 29-26. Flacco celebrated with a rare double fist pump.
“I have nothing for you really,” he told reporters 30 minutes later. “Oh my gosh — I don’t know if there has ever been a crazier minute and 40-some seconds, ever.”
“Will we ever see another game like that again?” Harbaugh mused.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs called it the best win that he’d ever been a part of other than the Super Bowl.
“I remember sitting in the locker room next to [special teams coordinator] Jerry Rosburg,” Martindale recalled. “He looked up at me and said, ‘I’m just ready to go home.’”
The season did not get any less weird from there; Tucker beat the Detroit Lions with a 61-yard field goal a week later before the Ravens finally ran out of gas against the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
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Nonetheless, players and coaches remember the finish against Minnesota like it happened last week.
“It’s crazy to think in that game, with those conditions, with all the snow and terrible footing, that you could have an ending like that,” Pitta said. “It’s one you’re never going to forget — your feelings and your thoughts and your observations in those last couple minutes. Having played in a million football games, you’ve never seen an ending like that.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
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Line: Ravens by 6