AFC North: 2013 Week 14 MIN at BAL

BALTIMORE -- After the Baltimore Ravens came from behind for a 29-26 win against the Minnesota Vikings, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith ran out of the field and shouted: "Do you believe in miracles?"

The more appropriate question is this: Do you finally believe in quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens? If you watched the final minutes of Sunday's unforgettable comeback, it's difficult to say no.

And, honestly, it doesn't matter what you or I think about the Ravens. What's important is this team is starting to believe. A teetering 4-6 team a month ago has turned into a confident 7-6 one.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassJoe Flacco has made big plays when the Ravens have needed them most this season.
This is what happens when the Ravens rip back the lead every time it seemed like the Vikings had pulled off the upset. The defending Super Bowl champions refused to fold, scoring three touchdowns on their final eight plays of the game.

It's officially time to stop counting out Flacco and the Ravens. How many "miracles" need to happen before you're convinced? There's no disputing this is a team with flaws. But this is also a team that plays its best when the odds are stacked against it. All you have to do is google "Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle" and "Mile High Miracle."

Sure, a blowout victory over a last-place team that played without the NFL's leading rusher would've been more of a statement. But there is something to be said for a team to experience something like this -- again.

"It probably makes you tough. It probably makes you resilient," coach John Harbaugh said. "It probably puts a lot of callouses all over your psyche and your character. When you’ve got callouses on your character, that’s probably a good thing in the end.”

No one is anointing the Ravens as a Super Bowl contender, but for the first time, they're showing playoff mettle. The Ravens have won three straight games and are finding out how to pull out close games again.

There are still season-long problems like Flacco's interceptions and the defense's inability to get the other team off the field late in games. The Ravens are winning now because they're finding ways to overcome their mistakes.

After throwing three interceptions, Flacco completed 7 of his final 10 passes for 62 yards and two touchdowns. Down 26-22 with 45 seconds left, Flacco marched the Ravens 80 yards on five plays. Flacco's nine-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with four seconds left marked his 18th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, and his third of this season.

If you didn't think Flacco and the Ravens had that final drive in them, you're not alone.

"[The Vikings] probably thought it was over, and I’m not going to lie, part of me thought it was over at that point, too," Jimmy Smith said. "For Joe Flacco and the offense to go back down and score the way they did, it just says a lot about them.”

What's confounding about Flacco is he can look so pedestrian for most of the game and so brilliant late in it. His second interception of the game, a low-lining pass that should've been thrown out of bounds, resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings. But, when the game was on the line, Flacco throws his best pass of the game, putting the ball only where Brown could leap up and get it.

"This game was crazy and we could’ve lost it, but we’re a confident football team," Flacco said. "We’re starting to get healthier. We’re starting to put it together as a team. We just need to start putting it together for a full 60 minutes and see where it takes us.”

Of all of the Ravens' comebacks, this one made you doubt them the most. In the final 125 seconds, the Ravens needed touchdowns from a fourth-and-goal pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, a 77-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones and a last-second toss to Brown in the back of the end zone to keep control of their playoff fate. There were seven lead changes in the game, including five in the final 2 minutes, 5 seconds.

Was this game crazier than the Mile High Miracle? That was last season's AFC divisional playoff game in Denver when Flacco thew a high-arcing 70-yard pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

“I think this is probably crazier," Flacco said. "That one was probably a little more exciting, just because of what was on the line. But when you look at this, similar things were on the line, just not at the same time of year. In the time period that Jacoby [Jones] scored that touchdown in the Denver game, I think we probably scored three touchdowns in this game.”

The Ravens finish out the season with three games against division leaders: the Detroit Lions (7-6), New England Patriots (10-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (9-4). It would be easy to doubt whether the Ravens can make the playoffs with such a brutal stretch. And, based on Sunday, that's probably how the Ravens would like it anyway.
BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens knew Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings was a must-win in terms of their playoff hopes. They just didn't know they would have to win it three times in the final 2 minutes, 5 seconds of the game.

The Ravens took late-fourth-quarter leads on touchdowns from tight end Dennis Pitta and kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, but it wasn't until Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds remaining that Baltimore could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
AP Photo/Gail BurtonJacoby Jones returned a kickoff for one of five touchdowns in the final 2:05 of Sunday's game.
By the time the dust cleared -- actually, it was a few inches of snow at M&T Bank Stadium that needed to be cleared-- the Ravens had won 29-26 and held onto the No. 6 and final seed in the AFC by coming out on top in a fourth quarter that featured 42 points and six lead changes.

"Will we ever see another game like that again?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh asked after the game.

It's going to be hard to top a finish that included five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds:

  • With 2:05 remaining, the Ravens went ahead 15-12 on a 1-yard pass from Flacco to Pitta (in his first game back since dislocating his hip) on fourth-and-goal.

  • After the Vikings took the lead back on a 41-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart, Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards down the Ravens' sideline (Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was not here to interfere this time) to put Baltimore up 22-19.

  • Minnesota rebounded with a spectacular 79-yard catch-and-run by Cordarrelle Patterson to jump back ahead, but Flacco marched the Ravens 80 yards on five plays in the final 45 seconds of the game. His 9-yard pass to a leaping Brown sealed a victory that had often proved elusive.

"I don't know if there has ever been a crazier minute-and-40-some seconds ever," Flacco said.

The day began with both teams struggling to move the ball because players had trouble with footing on a snowy field. The conditions got so bad that a plow got stuck at the 20-yard line because too much snow had accumulated.

"This was just a really crazy game under really crazy conditions," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.

The Ravens (7-6) needed this win if they were to have any hope of winning the AFC North or capturing a wild-card berth because the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) and Miami Dolphins (7-6) had both won. That just heightened the drama of what became a one-of-a-kind, back-and-forth finish for the Ravens.

"You couldn't even really get emotional," said Jones, who scored his first touchdown off a return since the Super Bowl. "It was too confusing."

The Ravens have had memorable finishes in 2013. There was the Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver and the late fourth-down stand in the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I've never seen a game like that before," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Besides the Super Bowl, that's probably the most special win I've ever been a part of."

While the finish was scintillating, the final score shouldn't come as a surprise. This was the Ravens' eighth game decided by three or fewer points this season, and the Ravens have now won four of them.

"That was like playing 'Madden,'" wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "If you have a heart condition, you can't watch the Ravens."

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

December, 8, 2013

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: In a wild finish, the Ravens (7-6) braved a snowy field and a fourth-quarter collapse on defense to come back and beat the last-place Vikings. Joe Flacco's 9-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Marlon Brown with four seconds remaining capped a thrilling comeback. Flacco drove the Ravens 80 yards on five plays as they won for the fourth time in five games. This allowed the Ravens to hold on to the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Ravens are now 32-9 against teams with losing records, and they needed three late touchdowns to avoid an upset loss to a Vikings team that lost NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson in the second quarter.

Crazy finish: In the most unbelievable finish in Ravens history, the teams combined for five touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 1 second. The Ravens thought they had pulled out the victory when Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown. But the Ravens couldn't stop Cordarrelle Patterson, who took a short pass and ran past the entire defense for a 79-yard touchdown. Then, not to be outdone, Flacco drove the Ravens down the field in the final minute for his 18th career comeback in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Clutch catch: Before Jones' touchdown, it looked like tight end Dennis Pitta would be the hero. In his first game back since dislocating his hip, Pitta scored on a 1-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal to put the Ravens ahead in the fourth quarter. He was just activated off the injured reserve and looked rusty at the beginning with two drops.

Stock watch: Rising: Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown. After only one catch in each of his past two games, Brown came up big. He finished with six catches for 83 yards and the winning touchdown.

Flacco's costly mistake: Flacco's second interception was the most critical one. Getting pressured in his own territory, Flacco should've thrown the ball out of bounds. Instead, he threw a low pass to the sideline, where it was intercepted by safety Andrew Sendejo at the Ravens' 34-yard line. The Vikings converted that into a 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson to put Minnesota ahead 12-7 early in the fourth quarter.

Capitalizing on questionable turnover: The Ravens scored first off what was a debatable turnover. It looked like Toby Gerhart's knee was down before he fumbled, but the call was upheld on a replay challenge. Flacco scrambled for 22 yards before hitting Ed Dickson for a 1-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal. It marked the fourth time in five games that the Ravens scored first.

What's next: The Ravens begin a season-ending stretch when they play three straight division leaders. It begins next Monday night at the Detroit Lions.