The Vikings and Ravens game was supposed to be a contest that tested the two normally stout run defenses. It was supposed to be a game that told where the Vikings are truly at after a 5-0 start to the season.
They found out they still have a lot of improvements to make, but they also learned they are good enough to surrender 448 yards of offense and still come away with a 33-31 win against a quality opponent.
But it didn't come easily, or at least not after building a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter only to see it evaporate. The Vikings started strong and stumbled to the finish, but they were able to win thanks to a missed field goal by a kicker they released more than a year earlier. Steven Hauschka's failed 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired allowed Brett Favre to put another game-winning drive to his credit and keep the Vikings undefeated at 6-0.
Early on, it appeared that it would all come easy for the Vikings, who ran out to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter with seemingly effortless drives that both ended in touchdown passes, one to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who ended the game with two touchdowns, and another to WR Bernard Berrian. The offense also got Adrian Peterson back on track with a 143-yard game.
But as the game continued, the Vikings were losing key players to injury and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was starting to find a groove. With Antoine Winfield out of the game in the first half with a foot injury, the Ravens' 0-for-7 third-down performance in the first half balanced out to 5-for-6 in the second half. Flacco would end the game with 385 yards passing and running back Ray Rice finished with 77 yards rushing on 10 carries and 117 yards receiving on 10 receptions.
Those performances helped the Ravens turn their 17-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 33-31 lead before Favre worked more of his magic on his team's final drive, when he went to his favorite receiver of the day, Sidney Rice. With three minutes to play, Favre found Rice for 58 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. All game long, Favre and Rice were connecting, as Rice became the first receiver to go over the 100-yard mark this season, catching six passes for 176 yards.
The offense started strong after Percy Harvin opened the game with a 32-yard kickoff return. Peterson and Favre were hot from the start. On second down, Peterson ripped off a 26-yard run up the middle of the Ravens defense. One play later, Favre picked up another first down with a 14-yard completion to Rice in the middle of the field. Favre then took advantage of Jarret Johnson jumping offsides and went for Shiancoe in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead 3:35 into the game.
After a Kevin Williams sack ended the Ravens' first drive on three downs, the offense had just as much success on its second drive. Favre started with a 21-yard pass to Shiancoe in the middle of the field before Peterson picked up another first down. On third-and-7, Favre found Rice for 19 yards in the middle of the field. Sitting on first-and-goal from the 4, Bernard Berrian shook loose on a slant for the touchdown and the Vikings had a 14-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game.
The first half turned defensive from there. The teams traded eight punts before the Ravens made one last attempt at points with a two-minute drive aided by the fact that Winfield and fellow cornerback Benny Sapp were sidelined with injuries. Flacco got one first down with an 8-yard pass to Mark Clayton and Ray Rice moved the chains again with two catches for 14 yards. But the Ravens got the explosive play they needed to move across midfield when they sent several receivers down the field, leaving TE Todd Heap open for a short completion with plenty of green in front of him. He rumbled 22 yards down the left sideline and Baltimore was in field goal position. After a 12-yard completion to Derrick Mason, the Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal with only six seconds left on the clock, and former Viking Steven Hauschka converted the 29-yard attempt to send the Vikings to halftime with a 14-3 lead.
The Vikings stretched their lead back to 14 points to start the second half. They came out determined to run, with Peterson gaining 19 yards on three carries and Chester Taylor taking a carry 11 yards to the 22-yard line, but their drive stalled there before Ryan Longwell hit a 40-yard field goal to give Minnesota a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
However, Baltimore put together its best drive of the game with Flacco picking up two third downs with passes to Derrick Mason. Both of the third-down conversions came with Cedric Griffin in coverage, the first for 10 yards and the second for 9 yards. But it was two explosive plays that defined the drive. On first down, Flacco hit Heap for a 23-yard gain in the middle of the field before Ray Rice broke two tackles on his way to a 22-yard touchdown to pull Baltimore within a touchdown, 17-10, with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings nearly matched touchdown for touchdown and Rice for Rice, using a 63-yard pass play to Sidney Rice to get to the 8-yard line, but they couldn't move it into the end zone, trying two touches for Harvin before Favre overthrew a fade to Rice in the end zone. They settled for a 22-yard field goal and a 20-10 lead with 2:05 to play in the third quarter.
After the defense held, Favre put together another touchdown drive. He converted third-and-6 with a 10-yard pass to Peterson and moved it near midfield with an 8-yard completion to Berrian, but the big play came three snaps later when Favre took advantage of a defensive offsides and launched a bomb for Berrian. When Frank Walker hit Berrian on the helmet before the ball arrived, he was flagged for pass interference at the 2-yard line. After two Peterson runs that came up short of the end zone, Favre rolled to his right and hit Shiancoe for the tight end's second touchdown of the game and a 27-10 lead with 10:08 to play in the game.
Flacco wasn't about to give up, despite opening the drive with a sack by Jared Allen. On the next play, he connected with Kelly Washington for 28 yards. On third-and-10, Flacco hit Demetrius Williams for 17 yards. One play later, he found Clayton for a 32-yard touchdown pass and the Ravens were back within 10 points, 27-17, with 8:35 to play in the fourth quarter.
Peterson wasn't content with that, and he broke free on a 58-yard run on the first play of the Vikings' ensuing drive. However, the offense had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Longwell to extend the lead to 30-17 with 6:01 to play.
But the Ravens were hitting their offensive stride and weren't giving up. Allen registered his second sack of the game to start Baltimore's next drive, but that didn't faze the Ravens offense. Flacco hit Rice for a 63-yard pass play to move the ball down to the 12-yard line. On the next play, Flacco fired a 12-yard touchdown to Mason to cut the Minnesota lead to 30-24 with 5:12 to play.
The Ravens applied the defensive pressure and Ray Lewis sacked Favre to help put an end to any clock-killing thoughts. With 3:34 to play, the Ravens offense was back on the field, and this time Ray Rice provided the touchdown with a 33-yard run on the first play of the drive, giving the Ravens their first lead of the game, 31-30, with 3:37 to play.
Just like Flacco, Favre wasn't done yet either. On second down, he rolled right, pump-faked and found Sidney Rice deep downfield. Despite CB Frank Walker pulling on his jersey, Rice made the catch and the Vikings had the ball at the 18-yard line. They tried to run the clock, but three Peterson carries netted only 4 yards and they had to settle for another Longwell field goal, this one from 31 yards, for a 33-31 lead.
However, the field goal left 1:56 on the clock for the suddenly explosive Ravens offense. Taking over at his own 33-yard line, Flacco was good on back-to-back 13-yard completions to Ray Rice and Kelly Washington. On third-and-7, the second-year quarterback went to Mason for 9 yards and the Ravens were in field goal position and content to bleed the clock and hope Hauschka could convert from 44 yards out. With no time remaining, his kick went wide left to preserve the Vikings' two-point win.
It also preserved an undefeated start for the Vikings, who saw a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead evaporate and still found fortune on their side.
Vikings, Favre survive late comeback
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