Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- The clock showed two seconds remaining Sunday afternoon as Brad Childress leaned to his left. Childress looked at a grim-faced Adrian Peterson and spoke in confident tones.
“I just told him we’re going to win this football game right here,” Childress recounted. Television replays showed Peterson nodding his head, accepting if not agreeing with the prediction.
Pressed on what made him believe that Baltimore place-kicker Steven Hauschka would miss a 44-yard field goal as time expired, Childress smiled.
“What else am I going to say?” Childress said after Minnesota survived a wild fourth quarter to take a 33-31 victory. “What am I going to tell them? ‘They’re going to beat us right here?’ I’m not going to say that. I stay on the positive side all the time.”
There are times when you know and there are times when you hope. Childress clearly fell in the latter category after nothing more than chance prevented his team from losing its first game of the season. You can credit quarterback Brett Favre’s 58-yard pass to Sidney Rice, which set up Ryan Longwell’s 31-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining. You can acknowledge that Childress’ conservative approach forced the Ravens to exhaust their timeouts before taking over for their final possession.
But the truth was evident to anyone who sat through this one: The Ravens simply ran out of time. They exploded for 21 points over the final 10 minutes of the game after falling behind 27-10. If they had a few more seconds, I’m quite sure they would have reached the end zone rather than trotting Hauschka onto the field at the end.
His kick sailed wide left, sparking a wild celebration. But you didn’t find many people -- players, coaches or otherwise -- crowing about a victory that nearly slipped from their hands.
“This is a game where in every facet we were dominant before the fourth quarter,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “It wasn’t a meltdown, because we didn’t lose. But it was pretty damn close. ... Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Remember, the Vikings led 27-10 with 10:03 remaining. Longwell’s 29-yard field goal made it 30-17 with 6:01 left. After that, everything happened so fast that Allen looked blank when asked to explain how the Vikings suddenly found themselves trailing 31-30.
“I’m not even going to try to comment until I watch the film,” Allen said. Sometimes players say that to avoid making critical statements. In this case, however, I don’t think Allen or anyone else really grasped why they got steamrolled in the latter stages of this game.
The Ravens did their damage -- 222 total yards and nine first downs -- despite possessing the ball for only 4 minutes, 25 seconds of the fourth quarter. Here’s how their three touchdown drives went down:
Chris Kluwe’s 39-yard punt, and Ed Reed’s 9-yard return, set up the Ravens at the Vikings’ 33-yard line. Rice goes untouched on a draw play for the go-ahead touchdown. Total time of possession: Nine seconds.
It’s only fair to mention the Vikings were playing without cornerback Antoine Winfield, who suffered a right foot injury in the first half and did not return. But Sunday’s collapse went way beyond questionable depth at cornerback. It sure seemed the Vikings relaxed against a team that’s too good to be relaxed upon. Once the genie was out of the bottle, the Vikings never stuffed it back in.
Perhaps that’s why a Metrodome crowd of 63,689 roundly booed when Childress played for a field goal after Rice’s catch set them up at the Ravens’ 18-yard line with 2:46 left. Did anyone think a two-point lead would hold?
“I felt like we needed to score a touchdown,” Favre said. “They were feeling it at that stage of the game. I think everyone in the building felt the same way. They had kind of hit their stride. ... We knew they needed to get to the 30, 35-yard line. ... I hate to say that I was not real confident, because I’m confident in our team, period. But I felt like maybe, for the first time this year, offensively they felt like they could probably do whatever.”
In hindsight, Favre said, “it’s easy to say we should have thrown it” on the third-down play before Longwell’s final kick. Childress, however, ordered three consecutive running plays, forcing the Ravens to take their final two timeouts. That left Baltimore with 1:56 to move into field goal range -- an eternity in terms of this game. Remember, Baltimore had completed three touchdown drives in less time in the fourth quarter alone.
In the end, Childress took the lesser of two evils. The Ravens likely were going to get the ball back one way or the other. So when I asked him about it afterward, Childress said that forcing the Ravens to take their timeouts was of prime importance.
“We knew we were going to get down inside of two [minutes],” Childress said. “That’s why [Ravens coach John Harbaugh] used his timeouts.”
Sorry to say, this victory won’t tone down harsh analysis of the Vikings’ 6-0 start. Three of their wins have come against Cleveland (1-5), Detroit (1-5) and St. Louis (0-6). Two other victories, Sunday and Sept. 26 against San Francisco, came only after a wild and unlikely turn of fourth-quarter events.
Allen called Sunday’s victory a “wake-up call,” if there is such a thing. But Allen vowed: “There’s enough character on this team that that’s not going to happen anymore.”
Afterward, Favre said he consoled linebacker Chad Greenway -- who seemed particularly upset after the game.
“They deserved to win and I think we deserved to win as well,” Favre said. “That’s the way you have to look at it. Who knows how you’re going to win them sometimes. It’s like the San Francisco game. ... All I know is we’re 6-0, I think. Pretty proud of that. There’s a long way to go but I think that’s a good start.”
Lucky or otherwise.