Sun., Oct. 18: Ravens Lose Slugfest To Vikings, 33-31
LAST-SECOND HAUSCHKA MISS DROPS TEAM TO 3-3
By Joe Platania
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Snapshot of a slump:
On an early-fourth-quarter play during the Ravens' 33-31 loss to the undefeated Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome Sunday afternoon, safety Ed Reed jumped offsides just as the ball was snapped.
Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, knowing he had a free play coming, pump-faked and heaved the ball far downfield for wideout Bernard Berrian.
Backup corner Frank Walker interfered with Berrian at the two-yard line, and the Vikings seemingly iced the game with a touchdown three plays later that put them up 27-10 with just over ten minutes left.
The Ravens' ensuing comeback was valiant, but their penchant for aggression, one that used to catapult them forward, was just enough to put them another step back.
The mistakes offset a furious Joe Flacco-led rally and reduced the Ravens to 3-3 as they enter their bye week because of the first three-game pre-bye losing streak in team history and their sixth loss in their last seven indoor games.
Even though the losses to New England, Cincinnati and the Vikings were by a combined margin of 11 points, they count as losses just the same.
Sunday, the Ravens came out on the short end despite Flacco's 385 passing yards, just 44 off the Ravens' single-game record of 429 set by Vinny Testaverde in a 1996 overtime win at Memorial Stadium against the St. Louis Rams.
Ironically, that game featured a missed kick: the only blown extra point in Matt Stover's Baltimore career.
The Ravens' latest defeat, which wasn't official until Steven Hauschka's wide-left miss on a last-second, 44-yard field goal, also sent Baltimore down another notch on the AFC North Division ladder; the Ravens now occupy third place, one game behind the surging Pittsburgh Steelers and pace-setting Cincinnati Bengals; both teams are 4-2.
"Our guys have the heart of a lion," head coach John Harbaugh said. "That doesn't make it okay not to finish the game, it doesn't make it okay to play the way we did in some stretches.
"We can build on that, we can build on that foundation for the rest ofd the year."
The Ravens have now lost at least three in a row four times in the last five seasons after not doing so between 2001 and 2004.
They committed six penalties for 74 yards, but a pair of costly fourth-quarter calls on Walker -- who was only in the game due to Fabian Washington's inability to stay close to Viking receivers -- helped lead to 13 Minnesota points that proved to be just enough.
Still, the Ravens had a chance to win the game, their first-ever regular-season contest in the Metrodome. They managed to cash in, albeit on a temporary basis.
Trailing by 30-24 with 3:44 to go, the Ravens took possession on the Vikings' 33, running back Ray Rice (77 yards, ten carries, two TDs; 117 yards, ten catches) found a left-side hole, picked up a block from pulling guard Chris Chester and romped the rest of the way untouched for the go-ahead score.
"It was a physical game that was supposed to go down to the wire," Rice said. "One of those nail-biters. When two teams go at it like that, you tend to have high-scoring games like that.
"We never thought it was over."
The Ravens had put together three 70-plus yards drives in five possessions to stay in a game that, thanks to a red-hot Vikings start, many believed they had no chance to win.
Derrick Mason's earlier 12-yard touchdown grab during the rally was his 18th as a Raven, tying him with Michael Jackson, Qadry Ismail and Derrick Alexander for second on the team's all-time list. After two quiet weeks, Mason finished with 97 yards on seven carries.
Mark Clayton (57 yards, three catches, TD) added a leaping 32-yard catch as part of the 21-point fourth-quarter outburst.
But after Rice's go-ahead score, Walker then committed his second pass-interference penalty of the quarter during a 58-yard Favre-to-Sidney Rice completion that set up Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal with 1:56 to go.
Working with no timeouts, Flacco -- sacked three times and hit on nine other occasions -- then drove the Ravens to the Vikings' 26 with two seconds left, setting up Hauschka's try that missed.
The Vikings' win came to the great relief of 63,689 nervous Vikings partisans and the chagrin of Ravens fans still pining for Stover, who signed with Indianapolis last week.
The miss meant the Ravens are now 1-3 this year in games decided by seven or fewer points and have lost six of nine such games under Harbaugh.
"I'm going to have to move on from it," Hauschka said on the post-game telecast. "It's one of those things you practice for all year.
"I put a good swing on it, but missed it a little bit left."
For Flacco's part, he recalled a bruising four-quarter effort that saw him get hit nine times and sacked on three other occasions.
"It was a great game, a hard-fought game by both sides," Flacco said. "Once again, we came up on the wrong side of it."
NOT RUNNING RAMPANT
The Ravens had won nine of their last 12 contests against NFC teams, but fell victim to this year's tide of NFC domination. The NFC held a 13-10 edge after Sunday's play.
Many will point to Hauschka's miss, but in the bigger picture, the game was effectively decided by the relative success of Minnesota's ground attack (see "Early Domination", below)... and the lack of same from the Ravens.
After seeing Flacco (28-for-43, career-high 385 yards, two TD, three sacks, 109.2 rating) throw 78 passes the last two weeks, Baltimore tried to re-establish its running three-headed monster, but Minnesota's run defense -- the top-ranked unit in the league the past three years -- held it to 13 yards on ten carries in the first half.
The Ravens did finish with 81 yards on 18 carries, thanks mainly to Rice, but the damage was done. Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain combined for four yards on eight carries.
Coming out of the locker room, the Ravens ran on three straight plays to begin the third quarter, but were forced to punt.
Minnesota -- authors of a 45-3 third-quarter margin going into Sunday -- then ran six times on an eight-play drive that led to Longwell's 40-yard field goal that gave the home team a two-touchdown lead.
The Ravens finally answered with a 72-yard, eight-play drive that mostly eschewed the run and featured throws to two targets that have been little-used lately, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap.
Rice then got behind left tackle Michael Oher and got to the outside for a 22-yard touchdown -- the first rushing score allowed by the Vikings all year and the first run allowed longer than 15 yards -- to cut the lead to 17-10 late in the third quarter.
But Minnesota struck back thanks to the ageless Favre, who had never been on a 5-0 team before this year.
He found Rice -- no relation to Ray Rice -- on a quick slant that beat Washington for 63 yards to the Ravens' 8, the 21st pass play of 20 or more yards the Ravens have allowed in 2009.
It set up Longwell's 22-yard field goal that again put Minnesota up by two scores.
But despite Clayton's 32-yard touchdown catch minutes later, the Vikings' earlier drive re-established the momentum the Vikings had seized right from the game's very start.
The first two Vikings drives -- the entire first quarter, for that matter -- proved to be a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with the Ravens lately.
The Ravens' kickoff coverage team couldn't contain one of the league's best kick returners, rookie Percy Harvin, slowed in practice all week by a bad shoulder.
However, Harvin's 33-yard runback surpassed his 31-yard average and set Minnesota up on its own 39 to start the game. The Vikings' average drive start of their own 32-yard line is the league's third-best.
Just as Cincinnati's Cedric Benson last week managed to quickly find holes at the point of attack to record the first 100-yard rushing game by an individual rusher against the Ravens in three years, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (143 yards, 22 carries) got behind four-time All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson and ripped off a 26-yard gain into Ravens territory.
It was the start of a big day for Peterson, the second straight 100-yard rusher allowed by the Ravens. It's the first time in four years Baltimore has allowed two consecutive century-mark rushing performances.
Hutchinson, who has not had a penalty called on him in 26 games, blew Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata out of the way to make the hole for Peterson, whose 481 yards entering the game was the NFC's best despite being held under 100 yards the last four weeks.
Peterson suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter after being tackled by rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (three special teams tackles) and left the game temporarily.
After Peterson's first big run, Favre (21-for-29, 278 yards, three TDs, three sacks, 136.9 rating) then exploited the Ravens' corners with a slant pass to the 6-foot-4 Rice, who got inside the 5'11" Washington for a catch at the Ravens' 16.
Two plays later, ex-Morgan State tight end Visanthe Shiancoe -- who has the second-most touchdown catches among NFL tight ends since 2007 with ten -- added another score by getting past safety Ed Reed for a leaping 19-yard grab to complete the six-play, 61-yard drive less than four minutes into the game.
For Shiancoe, called "Shank" by his teammates, it was his team-high fourth touchdown catch; Favre would find him again for another score after one of the Walker fourth-quarter penalties.
Shiancoe (48 yards, four catches, two TDs) got the Vikings going on their next drive after a Ravens three-and-out that did feature run plays on the first two snaps, a departure from the team's recent pass-happy tendencies.
However, Rice could only gain four yards on those carries against a Minnesota team that was the league's only team not to allow a rushing touchdown before Sunday.
Not only that, the Vikings -- facing a team with a winning record for only the second time all year -- had not allowed a run longer than 15 yards since the season began and currently have the league's longest streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher at 28 games.
Matched up against a linebacker, Shiancoe began the Vikes' next possession by getting down the left seam for a 21-yard catch to the Ravens' 39 before Peterson took a short screen for nine more yards.
Facing a third-and-7 from the Ravens' 23, Favre delivered a high strike to Rice (176 yards, six catches), who towered over Washington and safety Dawan Landry to put the ball on the 4.
After a timeout, Berrian found himself wide open in the end zone for his first catch of the day and the Vikings' second touchdown. Harvin had picked off Washington to leave his teammate open for the score that finished a 55-yard, seven-play drive that made it 14-0 with only nine minutes elapsed.
BACKED UP &
The Ravens took to the air on their second drive, but even though Mason -- who came into Sunday with just one catch since the opening drive at New England -- was wide open in Vikings territory, he couldn't adjust to Flacco's high pass and it landed just past his fingertips. Another three-and-out was the result.
However, Domonique Foxworth earned a measure of redemption by knocking away a third-down sideline pass for Berrian. That, plus a Trevor Pryce sack of Favre, finally stymied the home team and give the Ravens another chance.
Field-position deficits would plague the Ravens all day. They didn't start a drive outside their own 32-yard line until late in the third quarter.
Starting from their own 7, Flacco did find Clayton for a 17-yard gain to give themselves some breathing room.
But Oher, filling in again for the injured Jared Gaither (neck), was then called for the first of his two false-start penalties trying to anticipate a pass rush from Jared Allen, the third-leading sack man in the league at 6.5 coming into Sunday and the author of a league-high 64 sacks in the last five years.
Oher held his own against Allen for most of the game, but would miss a fourth-quarter assignment and left Allen untouched, leading to a sack.
The Ravens didn't penetrate past their own 30-yard line in the first quarter and would only get two red-zone opportunities all day.
But Baltimore forced a three-and-out by stopping ex-teammate Chester Taylor on a third-down run and started the second quarter with its best field position of the game to that point, their own 32-yard line.
After that, when Flacco converted a third-and-2 at the Ravens' 40 by finding Kelly Washington (48 yards, three catches) for seven yards, the Ravens appeared to have regained their footing.
However, two plays later, Allen knocked the ball out of Flacco's hand while he was in the passing motion. Ex-Maryland linebacker and leading Vikings tackler EJ Henderson picked up the ball and ran 37 yards for an apparent touchdown that was correctly overturned by replay.
Even though the play didn't count, it was typical of how the Vikings do business defensively. Since the 1970 merger, Minnesota has a league-high 48 touchdowns via fumble returns.
The good call didn't help Baltimore; during the subsequent break in the action to check the replay, the Ravens fell out of their rhythm again and they were forced to punt.
And when Favre found Rice for 18 yards on a third-and-9 crossing route -- a play on which Washington was beaten and safety Haruki Nakamura arrived too late to help -- Minnesota re-established control of the game, punctuating it when punt returner Chris Carr field a Chris Kluwe kick on the Ravens' 8 and was thrown three yards backwards.
As halftime neared, Flacco regrouped to direct a 71-yard drive, finding Heap (51 yards, three catches) for 22 yards -- his first catch of the day despite the Vikings' trouble covering tight ends this year -- and Mason for 23 more to the Vikings' 12 to set up Hauschka's 29-yard field goal.
But the Ravens' weaknesses had already been exposed, their dominant aura was gone... and their season is in danger of unraveling.
NOTES: The Ravens now enter their bye week, a privilege denied them last year when Hurricane Ike ended up postponing their Week Two game at Houston. As a result, the Ravens played for 18 straight weeks, a streak that ended with a loss in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh... The Ravens are now 5-9 before the bye; they are 8-5 following the week off...
Following the bye, the Ravens will face three teams immediately after their weeks off: undefeated Denver at home, then two on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the latter game on a Monday-night telecast... With 25:17 worth of possession Sunday, it marked the third straight week the Ravens held the football for less than 26 minutes...
Flacco had his foot stepped on by Allen late in the first quarter, but stayed in the game. Kelley Washington was stunned on a fourth-quarter post-catch hit... Linebacker Terrell Suggs (five tackles) played in his 102nd straight, Jarret Johnson's streak is at 87 and Mason marked 112 in a row, with the last 70 of them as a Raven. Peter Boulware has the team record at 111...
Hauschka, who had not attempted a field goal since the Week Three home win over the Browns, could have been a Minnesota Viking. He was in their Mankato State (Minn.) training camp in 2008 as an undrafted rookie, but the Vikings decided to stay with Longwell. He was picked up the Ravens and promoted to the active roster midway through the '08 season...
Rookie third-round pick Lardarius Webb averaged over 23 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 40-yarder... Demetrius Williams made his first catch of the season, a 17-yarder over the middle in the fourth quarter... The next airing of the brilliant Barry Levinson-directed documentary "The Band That Wouldn't Die" will take place Monday night at 7 on ESPN2...
The only two Ravens to be game-day inactives for the first five games of the year -- third quarterback John Beck and backup tackle Oniel Cousins -- were again deactivated, along with Gaither, newly-signed wideout David Tyree, running back Jalen Parmele, linebacker Antwan Barnes (his first benching), defensive lineman Kelly Talavou and end/linebacker Paul Kruger...
Besides Reynaud, the Vikings sat quarterback Sage Rosenfels -- who started against the Ravens in the 2004 finale -- and ex-Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson, lineman Jon Cooper, cornerback Asher Allen, running back Albert Young and defensive linemen Jaymie Mitchell and Letroy Guion... The teams won't meet again until 2013 in Baltimore, barring a Super Bowl...
Ray Lewis wasn't the only player on the field playing after being fined. Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams was docked $7500 for hitting St. Louis Rams backup quarterback and former Ravens 2003 first-round pick Kyle Boller in the head during the Vikings' 38-10 romp at St. Louis... Right tackle Artis Hicks was fined $5000 for a hit on the Rams' Gary Gibson...
When the Vikings were blanked in the second quarter, it marked only the second time in the season's first six weeks that had happened... Minnesota's win last week was the 400th victory in franchise history... According to last year's records, the Vikings are playing the second-easiest 2009 schedule. However, they travel to Pittsburgh and Green Bay the next two weeks...
Childress' head-coaching record is now 26-25 with the Vikings. He is in his fourth season there... Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly was on the University of Maryland staff in 2000 and Minnesota quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers worked at Navy from 1983-90, putting him there during Ravens coordinator Greg Mattison's two-year stint in Annapolis...
CBS sent a crew led by Greg Gumbel to do the Ravens-Vikings game. Gumbel called the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV win, but the last time he worked a Vikings' game, it was the day Peterson broke Jamal Lewis' NFL single-game record by gashing the San Diego Chargers' defense for 296 yards... Favre hit at least seven different receivers for the fifth straight game...
The usual sellout crowd was a bit late-arrriving due to closures on nearby Interstate 35 West... The pre-game "Gjallarhorn" -- the Viking-style horn blown to herald the Vikings' arrival on the field -- was sounded by actor James Earl Jones. In a bit of irony, it was Jones that recited -- not sang -- the national anthem at Oriole Park before the 1993 baseball All-Star Game...
The officials were led by referee Mike Carey, who had not worked a Ravens regular-season game since a home win over San Diego in 2006. Carey, a referee since 1995 and an NFL official since 1990, was the referee for the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLII upset over New England.... The indoor temperature was 67 degrees; it was sunny and 51 outside.