Playoffs? Baltimore, humbug.
Needing a win to keep their fading hopes at the postseason alive, the Vikings weren't downed by Santa's sleigh in the sky, rather Kyle Boller's aerial efficiency.
Boller, Baltimore's embattled quarterback who was coming off the best game of his career in a 48-3 win over the Green Bay Packers, completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Minnesota's Brad Johnson was nearly as efficient, going 25-for-36 for 248 yards and two touchdowns, but the Ravens converted their third downs in the second half, outscoring Minnesota 20-9 in the final half, and used the clock wisely in a 30-23 win over the Vikings.
Because of that, time ran out on the Vikings' playoff hopes. At the tail end of a holiday weekend that saw nearly every game go against its wishes, Minnesota needed to win both of its remaining games and receive some help from other teams. Instead, Johnson lost his second straight game following a six-game winning streak, and the Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention when their record fell to 8-7.
While Boller's performance was being scrutinized in Baltimore, Minnesota's failure to make the playoffs puts the focus on the job security of head coach Mike Tice. In four seasons of his coaching, the Vikings have made the playoffs once – last year gaining a playoff win at Lambeau Field – with Tice's coaching record at 31-33.
While Mewelde Moore provided the Vikings with a more explosive running game, he rushed only 10 times for 49 yards while the Ravens mixed Jamal Lewis' ground attack into its game plan 24 times for 74 yards. Boller found consistency in his passing game with Derrick Mason (9 for 103) and rookie Mark Clayton (5 for 90).
Jermaine Wiggins led Minnesota with seven catches, but rookie Troy Williamson's 56-yard reception led the team in receiving yardage.
Minnesota's loss and Chicago's 24-17 win over Green Bay give the Bears the NFC North title and the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Vikings started with an impressive drive against the NFL's sixth-ranked defense. Michael Bennett began with a 10-yard swing pass, and tight end Richard Angulo, getting his first action of the season, converted third-and-7 into a first down by taking a hard hit and hanging onto the ball. Moore picked up 22 yards by hitting the seam quickly to the 18-yard line and, after a 5-yard quick-hitter to Koren Robinson, Brad Johnson beat the blitz with a 13-yard strike to former Raven Travis Taylor for a 7-0 lead 3:59 into the game.
The Ravens answered with their longest touchdown drive of the season, going 73 yards in 17 plays and using 9:26 of play clock. They picked up six first downs along the way and only two plays – an 11-yard pass to Mason and an 11-yard run by Lewis – went for more than 7 yards. On the 17th play, and three plays after a fourth-down quarterback sneak, Boller found tight end Todd Heap for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 1:35 to play in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged two punts each before the Vikings went for the final score of the first half, starting the drive on their own 20-yard line. It started with an 11-yard pass to Taylor, and despite hard hitting in the Baltimore secondary, a mistake by cornerback Chris McAlister gave Minnesota a free first down because of illegal contact. Then it was the Vikings' turn for mistakes, as a false start on Wiggins and an illegal crackback block by Anthony Herrera put them in a second-and-25 hole, but a missed tackle on receiver Troy Williamson and some good downfield blocking by Robinson allowed Williamson to showcase his speed and gain 56 yards down the left sideline. Two plays later, Nate Burleson put the ball on the doorstep of the end zone with an 11-yard reception. After two failed runs by Ciatrick Fason, the second going backwards 4 yards, Johnson fired a bullet to Wiggins for a 5-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 1:06 left.
However, a defense that didn't get enough pressure allowed Boller to drive the Ravens into field goal position, going 5-for-7 in the final minute before Matt Stover connected on a 37-yard field goal as the first-half clock wound out.
The Vikings got those points back early in the second half when Baltimore's Chester Taylor fumbled the third-quarter kickoff and Raonall Smith recovered. After three plays gained 8 yards, Paul Edinger put the Vikings on top 17-10 with a 36-yard field goal.
However, Baltimore responded with a game-tying drive. Taylor converted the Ravens' initial third down when he slipped a tackle attempt by Dontarrious Thomas and went 18 yards. From there, Boller hit Mark Clayton in stride and he broke free from Ralph Brown and Darren Sharper for a 47-yard touchdown to knot the game at 17.
The Vikings continued to drive against the Ravens, but after crossing midfield and then getting a 16-yard pass to Travis Taylor into the red zone the drive stalled. On the next third down, Taylor dropped a pass along the sideline and forced Edinger onto the field for a 40-yard field and a 20-17 Vikings lead with 4:14 to play in the third quarter.
But in a game that was supposed to be a defensive struggle, the scoring drives kept coming. The Ravens killed the Vikings on third-and-long situations, converting third-and-12 with a 12-yard pass to running back Chester Taylor, third-and-9 with a roughing the passer call on Darren Sharper, third-and-13 with a 16-yard pass to Mason and third-and-8 with a 39-yard touchdown bomb to Mason for a 24-20 lead with 14:47 to play.
When Terrell Suggs and Kelly Gregg combined for a sack of Johnson on the next series, it all seemed to be turning Baltimore's way, but on the Ravens' fourth play of the ensuing drive Sharper hauled in his ninth interception of the season on a high pass from Boller.
Despite getting the ball in good field position and driving to the Ravens 38-yard line, the Vikings elected to punt on fourth-and-1 with 8:07 to play. Even after a decent punt, the Vikings gained only 26 yards of field position, and the Ravens stuck it to them with an 11-play drive – highlighted by passes of 11 yards to Mason, 19 yards to Clayton and 19-yard run by Lewis – that culminated in a 38-yard field goal and a 27-20 lead with 1:55 to play.
The game slipped further away on the second play of the ensuing drive when Adalius Thomas stripped Johnson of the ball and Anthony Weaver recovered. Less than 30 seconds later, Stover padded the Baltimore lead to 30-20 with 1:03 left in the game.
In hurry-up mode, two passes to Wiggins picked up one first down, another pass to Moore moved the chains again, and a third pass to Wiggins put the Vikings in field goal position. Edinger converted the 46-yard attempt with 15 seconds left to make it 30-23, but when Baltimore's Chad Williams recovered the onside kick, the Vikings' playoff hopes were snuffed out.
Inevitably, the focus this week will be on the future of the Vikings, with many key decisions having to wait until after their season finale on New Year's Day against Chicago, but none of the current cast improved their standing with this loss.
No Gifts in Vikings' 30-23 Loss
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