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.
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."