NOTEBOOK: Worse Than First Blush

The Vikings' inability to stop Baltimore's third-down offense looked even worse after more scrutiny – simply ugly, really. Plus, get more than two dozen notes that help explain where the Vikings went wrong and what went right in their 30-23 loss in Baltimore.

The category stared out off the final stat sheets that are handed to coaches after the game and it looked pathetic – 10-of-15. That was the number of third downs the Baltimore Ravens converted over the course of Sunday night's game. The worst part of that number is that it hides the fact that it could of and actually was even worse.

While the five that weren't converted are the focus here, it should be noted that the 10 that were converted were on third downs that needed 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 9, 10, 12 and 13 yards. If that alone doesn't take what remains of Mike Tice's hair, nothing will. But the five third downs that weren't converted by Baltimore paint an even more dismal picture.

On the first failed third-down conversion, the Ravens went for it on fourth down and picked up a first down – which would at best be viewed as a non-third-down conversion in asterisk form. The second came on a third-and-23 play from the Baltimore 12-yard line. The Ravens simply called a draw play to give the punter more room to try to launch a long punt and save some field position. The third was a legitimate three-and-out in which Kevin Williams popped Kyle Boller as he threw the ball. That came with 7:03 to play in the first half. The Ravens would have only two more third downs in which they wouldn't covert – and both were by design.

The first came with 2:16 remaining in the game and the Ravens leading 24-20. With the Vikings still in possession of all three timeouts and facing a third down, Brian Billick opted to run a play in the middle of the field and either have the Vikings burn a timeout or run the clock down to 2 minutes. Chester Taylor took the ball 3 yards up the middle and the Ravens kicked a 38-yard Matt Stover field goal to take a seven-point lead. The second came on the final drive of the game. Following a Brad Johnson fumble, the Ravens were going to force the Vikings to take all their timeouts by running three times. They did and the Vikings "held" once again.

With the season on the line, the Vikings weren't able to make the big play on two-thirds of their third-down opportunities. But, if you look at the situations realistically, the defense actually only made the play once in those 15 attempts – or once with an asterisk.


  • If there has been a problem in the Mike Tice era, it has been that his team has played poorly against the most pedestrian quarterbacks in the league. This year, the Vikings lost to rookie Kyle Orton, whose two TDs tied for his career best, and he has had only one game with a better passer rating. They lost out on their last chance to make the playoffs to Kyle Boller, whose 289 yards and three touchdowns were career-high marks. In 2004, Tice's team lost games to such non-luminaries as Chad Hutchinson and Patrick Ramsey with the season on the line. In 2003 it was even more embarrassing – with losses to backups Doug Flutie, rookie Rex Grossman in his first career start and Arizona's Josh McCown in his third career start (and first win). If Tice does get the axe at the end of the year, it won't be the Brett Favres of the world that made the negative impression. It will be this Not-So-Magnificent Seven.

  • The loss means that Tice will end the season – regardless of whether Chicago brings out it first-teamers for much of the next game or not – on the down side of .500. His career record as a head coach currently stands at 31-33 – with his first and most recent losses coming on the road at Baltimore.

  • The second half was one of the most dominating performances against the Vikings all season. At halftime, the Vikings were close or ahead in many of the key statistical categories, but the second half was all Ravens. Baltimore out-rushed the Vikings 88-42 – with the Ravens rushing 19 times for 48 yards in the second half as opposed to the Vikings running six times for 9 yards. The Ravens held a 279-200 edge in passing (with a 176-72 passing edge in the second half). The total yardage was just as lopsided – 367-262 for the game and a huge 224-81 total-yard disparity in the second half.

  • The Ravens ran 68 plays Sunday, as opposed to 53 by the Vikings. At halftime, the Vikings had averaged 7.5 yards a play, as opposed to 4.3 yards per play for the Ravens. By the time the game was over, the Ravens had got their average up to 5.4 yards a play, while the Vikings dropped to 4.9. In the second half alone, the Ravens ran 35 plays and averaged 6.4 yards. The Vikings ran 29 plays and averaged 2.8 yards per snap.

  • Derrick Mason had his first 100-yard game in more than a year and his first as a Raven.

  • Mewelde Moore finished the game with 10 carries for 49 yards – but just 9 yards on six carries in the second half. The rest of the Vikings rushed four times for minus-7 yards.

  • The Vikings defense succeeded in bottling Jamal Lewis. Of his 24 carries, 18 gained three yards or fewer and only one was more than six yards.

  • The Vikings' receiving yardage leadership went back and forth all night with three different players having it at one point. Marcus Robinson came into the game with 511 yards, two yards ahead of Jermaine Wiggins. But on a first-quarter touchdown pass to Travis Taylor, he pulled into a tie with Wiggins at 509 yards – two behind Robinson. In the final minute of the first quarter, Wiggins caught a 5-yard pass to take the lead at 514 yards, but lost it before halftime when Taylor caught an 11-yard pass to take the lead for the first time all season at 520 yards. The lead shifted twice in the same drive in the third quarter, as Wiggins caught a 6-yard pass to take the lead back at 525 yards, but five plays later, Taylor would take the lead back with a 16-yard reception to move his total to 536 yards. But in the final drive of the game, Johnson threw three passes to Wiggins for 21 yards to give him back the lead at 552 yards, with Taylor trailing at 536 and pre-game leader Robinson (who caught one pass for four yards) in third with 515 yards.

  • The teams combined for 41 first downs, but there more first downs made by penalty (six) than by rushing (five).

  • Sunday was the first time in six years that the Ravens have seen their quarterbacks throw for three touchdowns in consecutive games – Boller had five touchdowns last Sunday.

  • Darren Sharper recorded his ninth interception of the season Sunday, which moved him into first place among NFC players and second only to Deltha O'Neal of Cincinnati, who leads the league with 10 picks. Sharper is one interception short of the team record set by Paul Krause in 1975. He moved into a three-way tie for the all-time Vikings list in second place, joining Orlando Thomas (1995) and Brian Russell (2003) with nine picks.

  • At one point in the third quarter, Brad Johnson and Boller each had completed 17 of 22 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns at the same moment. We'll have the boys at MIT work up the odds of identical stats that late in a game – early word we're hearing is that it's in the same general number range as a DNA match.

  • Boller didn't attempt a pass of more than 15 yards until less than 10 minutes remained in the third quarter. By the time he was done, he would have long touchdown passes to both Mason and Mark Clayton.

  • The Vikings got a big break when Chester Taylor fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half. Taylor isn't a kick returner by trade and, coming into Sunday's game, had only returned five kickoffs. Teammate B.J. Sams had returned 44 kicks this year, but he was injured and Taylor did little to solidify his reputation with a critical fumble to start the third quarter that could have turned the game around in a big way.

  • Both quarterbacks had mirror image type of passing numbers in the first half – both taking advantage of defensive aggression with short, safe passes. Johnson finished the first half 13 of 16 for 148 yards and two touchdowns – completing passes to nine different receivers. Boller completed 14 of 18 passes for 113 yards and one TD.

  • Thanks to some penalties that pushed the Vikings back a couple of times, Johnson was able to throw 95 yards on a touchdown drive that went 80 yards in 10 plays to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.

  • Wiggins finally got his first touchdown of the season, giving him one TD despite 66 receptions. Last year, Wiggins caught 71 passes but scored just four touchdowns.

  • Tice should be commended for some solid clock management late in the first half. With the Vikings facing a third-down before the touchdown pass from Johnson to Wiggins, Tice let 40 seconds roll off the clock before calling a timeout – the intent being to leave the Ravens with as little time as possible. The Vikings made the most of it, scoring on the next play and leaving just 1:06 on the clock. But the defense didn't hold and the Ravens scored a field goal as time ran out in the first half.

  • Troy Williamson led the team with 56 receiving yards, but it all came on a second-quarter one-hand catch on a short crossing route that he took 50 yards after the catch – another sign of what the Vikings hope will be a brilliant big-play career.

  • There were undoubtedly some Vikings fans who thought that Nate Burleson got in the end zone on a second quarter pass, especially considering recent calls for players like Michael Vick, who stuck a hand over the pylon and was given a touchdown. The interpretation of the end zone rule is the goal line extends up and beyond the pylons. Because Burleson's feet got in the end zone but not the ball, he was ruled out at the 1-yard line. However, if Burleson had fallen backwards, even if the ball had been outside of the pylon, if it had crossed the plane extending out of bounds with his body he would have been given a touchdown.

  • Jim Kleinsasser caught a pass in the second quarter to make him the seventh Viking player with 20 or more receptions.

  • The Vikings didn't have their first penalty until midway through the second quarter.

  • The Ravens only had the ball once in the first quarter, but pulled off an amazing 17-play drive that covered 9:26 on the game clock.

  • On his first run of the game, Moore picked up 22 yards – just six yards short of his season high.

  • Johnson completed his first seven passes to seven different receivers.

  • Sunday's game marked the return of Taylor to the Baltimore area and he responded with a TD on the first drive.

  • The Vikings scored a touchdown on their first drive for the third time this season. The first came vs. New Orleans when the Saints fumbled the opening kickoff and the Vikings scored just 13 seconds into the game. The other came at Detroit when the Vikings trailed 3-0 before Johnson threw an 80-yard touchdown to Koren Robinson on their first play of the game.

  • The Vikings have had as many touchdowns (3) on opening drives as botched field goals – Paul Edinger has missed one, had another blocked and a third snuffed on a bad snap in which he stopped in mid-stride and Johnson had to throw away.

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