Throughout the season, the Vikings have been on the wrong end of third-down conversions. Coming into Sunday night's game, the Vikings converted 10 percent less of their third-down conversions (31.6 percent) on offense than their opponents (41.6 percent). That disparity – and its timing at a critical juncture of the second half – helped the Ravens sustain a scoring drive that wasn't just the Turning Point of the game for the Vikings, but the Turning Point of the season.
At the time, 4:14 remained in the third quarter. The Vikings had just done Baltimore a huge favor when former Raven Travis Taylor dropped a wide open pass at the 5-yard line that killed the Vikings drive and forced them to settle for a 40-yard Paul Edinger field goal. Instead of potentially taking back a seven-point lead, the Vikings were ahead by just three. They hadn't trailed in the game to that point and the defense was looking to put an end to Kyle Boller's solid passing night with a defensive series that would keep the Ravens looking at the clock.
For most of the next several plays, the Vikings did just that – playing hard-nosed football and forcing Boller and the Ravens into bad down-and-distance situations. The first of these came on the third play of the drive. Faced with a third-and-12, Boller dumped a short pass to running back Chester Taylor, who took advantage of Darren Sharper taking a deep angle. Taylor dove for the needed 12 yards and a first down on the 31-yard line.
Two players later, it would again be the Vikings Pro Bowl safety at the center of a big play. After stuffing Jamal Lewis for 1 yard on first down and pressuring Boller into a high incompletion on third down, the Vikings came with a safety blitz – which hasn't been a key component of the Vikings defense since midseason. Sharper worked his way through and dove at Boller as he threw an ugly incompletion that appeared to end the drive. But in his effort to make a big play, Sharper lowered his head and delivered a helmet shot to Boller. It drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty and gave Baltimore a first down near midfield.
The Vikings again appeared to have the drive stopped, as a false-start penalty led to the Ravens needing to convert a third-and-13 play. Once again, Boller was given time and delivered a strike to Derrick Mason, who cut off his route in front of Fred Smoot for 15 yards and a first down at the Vikings 41.
Despite three straight failures, the Ravens weren't yet in scoring position and the Vikings had another chance to close out the drive. After stuffing Lewis on a 2-yard gain and an incompletion by Boller, another third-and-8 stared the Ravens straight in the face. Again the Vikings came after Boller with a blitz, leaving Dovonte Edwards locked up in single coverage with Mason. The blitz was picked up and Boller was given enough time for Mason to sell a slant move that froze Edwards. Mason put a double move on Edwards and Boller delivered a perfect pass for a 39-yard touchdown – and a 24-20 lead that the Ravens would never relinquish. In the end, that was the death blow to an up-and-down 2005 season for the Vikings.
The hardest part about the drive was that Mike Tice is obsessed with numbers, and the key team statistics that make a difference in a game. The odds of converting third-and-8 or longer are typically about 20 percent. It doesn't happen often. The odds of stringing four of them in a row and getting a touchdown are exponentially more remote. But the Ravens did and, in the process, found the Turning Point of the game.
Turning Point: Ravens' Third-Down Conversions
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