The Vikings could have a winning record and a lead in the division if not for their five late-game collapses. The problems looked familiar Sunday, as did the result. Plus, get more than 20 notes that help tell the tale of the game.
It's like having the same recurring nightmare over and over again. On a day when winter weather limited the combined scoring between the Vikings and Ravens to 13 points in the first three quarters combined only to blow up for 42 points in the fourth quarter – 35 of them coming in the final 125 seconds – it seemed fitting that, as the Vikings were officially eliminated from postseason contention, it came in the final seconds on another heartbreaking finish. The Vikings fell to 3-9-1 for a team that just as easily could have a winning record.
We've seen this movie before. It began Week 2 at Chicago. With the game tied 24-24 heading into the fourth quarter, the Vikings scored twice in two possessions. But both were chip-shot field goals from the red zone, the second coming with 3:15 to play and with the Bears down to one timeout. Jay Cutler led the Bears on a 10-play drive that included three third-down conversions and the game-winning score coming on a third-and-10 pass of 16 yards from Cutler to tight end Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left for a 31-30 loss.
Against Cleveland, the Vikings had a 27-24 lead with 8:35 to play in the fourth quarter. The offense had two three-and-out drives and Browns backup quarterback Brian Hoyer engineered an 11-play drive in the final three minutes, converting a third-and-10 pass to keep the drive alive and a third-and-goal from the 7-yard line with a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron for the game-winner.
Against Dallas, the Vikings had a 23-20 lead with 4:29 to play with the ball on the Dallas 41-yard line. The Vikings again went three-and-out and punted the ball, pinning Tony Romo on his own 10-yard line with 2:44 to play. Romo would lead the Cowboys on a nine-play, 90-yard drive that didn't require a third down to be attempted. Romo completed seven of nine passes to four different receivers, throwing the 7-yard game-winner to wide receiver Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds to play.
At Green Bay, the Vikings would have a 23-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but allowed the Packers to score two touchdowns and two field goals in a game that would end in a 26-26 tie.
What made Sunday's loss to the Ravens so gut-wrenching was that it came as no surprise when Joe Flacco marched the Ravens down the field and threw a go-ahead touchdown to tight end Dennis Pitta to take a 15-12 lead. But, after the Vikings responded with two huge plays – a 27-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson and a 41-yard Toby Gerhart touchdown run on the next play, it looked like the nightmare was over. Then Jacoby Jones took the ensuing kickoff back 77 yards for a touchdown. The offense came up with its second miracle finish with a well-designed bubble screen that Patterson broke for a 79-yard touchdown with 45 seconds to play.
"When you look at what the alternative would be, if we were getting blown out in ballgames, you don't want that to happen," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "These losses, you don't practice this hard to come up short. It's tough for our guys, tough for our staff. It's very disappointing. You practice and work as hard as we do to get wins and we haven't been able to make those plays to get wins enough times to get it done."
The saddest part was that the feeling was all too familiar for Vikings fans, players and coaches before, and it came back again Sunday. The Ravens had time on the clock and this time scored the game-winning TD on an 80-yard drive that ended with four seconds left.
The Vikings are a team that with a single play in each game could have won five different contests, yet finished 0-4-1 in those games. It goes a long way to explaining why the Vikings aren't 8-5 in the thick of the playoff hunt and instead are 3-9-1 and, as of Sunday afternoon, officially eliminated from playoff contention.
"It's difficult to deal with, especially when there is so much promise at the beginning of the season. And it ends up being one of those situations when you are eliminated from the playoffs, and that's the main goal and the main reason why we play this game is to go to the playoffs and win championships," Cassel said. "At the same time, we also know that we have three games left. I know the guys in this locker room and nobody is going to be giving it up. We're going to go out there and compete and hopefully go get some wins in these last three games."
GAME DAY NOTES
Adrian Peterson's was the most noteworthy Vikings injury Sunday, but it wasn't the only one. Brandon Fusco was injured in the first quarter and was replaced by Joe Berger. Xavier Rhodes was injured in the fourth quarter and didn't return for the final game-winning drive. John Carlson left late in the third quarter with concussion symptoms.
For many players, Sunday was the first game they had played in a snowstorm. The game started with heavy snow, which later turned over to freezing rain, making moving the ball difficult until the final few minutes. It was also the first game played in the 17-year history of M&T Stadium that the Ravens played a home game during a snowstorm.
The Vikings outgained the Ravens 379-325 despite having 16 fewer plays (63 to Baltimore's 79).
Both defenses were strong on third down. The Vikings allowed conversions on 6 of 16 third-down opportunities, while Baltimore allowed Minnesota to convert on just 5 of 17 third downs.
There were a whopping 32 drives in the game – 17 by the Ravens and 15 by the Vikings.
The Vikings committed just six penalties, but they resulted in 90 yards of penalty yardage.
Matt Cassel played well enough to keep the starting job. He completed 17 of 38 passes for 265 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 86.0.
Joe Flacco completed 28 of 50 passes for 245 yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 64.2.
In his first six home games this season, Flacco threw just three interceptions. He doubled that total in his seventh home game.
Gerhart once again looked strong replacing Peterson. He had 15 carries for 89 yards, including the 41-yard touchdown run that looked like it would be the game-winner.
Gerhart won the running back battle with Ray Rice, who rushed 17 times for 67 yards. But, considering Rice had just 25 yards on his first 10 carries and 42 on his last seven, he got stronger as the game went along.
At halftime, Flacco was the leading rusher with a 22-yard scramble.
Cordarrelle Patterson posted his first career 100-yard game, catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. The 141 yards marked the most yards for a Vikings receiver this season.
Two of Flacco's three touchdowns came to tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. For Pitta, it was the first game he had played since the Super Bowl after being suffering a career-threatening hip injury on the first day of training camp.
Jared Allen needed five sacks in his final five games of the season to hit double digits in sacks for the seventh straight season. He got one last week against Chicago and got another Sunday against Flacco to keep on pace after having just five sacks in the first 11 games.
Jeff Locke punted nine times Sunday, averaging 44.1 yards a punt.
The rushing touchdown by Gerhart was only the third rushing TD allowed by the Ravens all season.
The Vikings defense failed late, but twice stopped the Ravens on fourth-and-1 plays in field goal range to keep the Vikings ahead until their final fourth-down conversion for the game-winning touchdown.
The Vikings attempted their first two-point conversion of the season, but the attempt failed.
Frazier made his first challenge of the season on a brutal spot by the officials and the call was reversed.
Since 2008, Baltimore is 39-8 at home, adding the Vikings in the most improbable way to that list.