After 57 minutes of relatively vanilla football last week against the Vikings, Ravens fans were alternatively tortured and rewarded with one of the most exciting finishes in NFL history. Whether it was grit, karma, or just good luck the Ravens ended up on top – and in the 6th and final AFC playoff spot – after five touchdowns and six lead changes in the final minutes.
The sighs of relief and media hype surrounding those final minutes, however, have caused many of the Raven faithful to forget the elements that led to such an electrifying finale.
To be sure, the weather played a role in the outcome, but both squads shared the same field and air mass, so other than individual snow experience readers should consider the weather a minor factor. More explanatory for the Ravens was 57 minutes of generally lackluster offensive play, and approximately 30 minutes of just plain-old, poor tackling.
Out of the first quarter gate the Ravens looked strong. Indeed, they efficiently marched down a snowy gridiron and, on Pitta’s first game of the 2013 season, Dickson nabbed his first touchdown of the year. From that point, other than single Viking field goals in the second and third quarters there was nothing.
38 seconds into the final frame, Cassel burned the Ravens’ secondary with a quick toss to Jerome Simpson. The Ravens trailed for the next 12 minutes when all hell broke loose. The Ravens went up on a Flacco-Pitta connection, then the Vikings clawed back after the entire Ravens defense forgot how to tackle and escorted Gerhart on a 41-yard touchdown run. (Full disclosure: once Gerhart entered the secondary with some daylight, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Ravens let him score as a clock saving tactic…) With 1:27 remaining, Jacoby Jones demonstrated why pooch kicks are such a bad idea as he returned it 77-yards to put the Ravens back in the driver’s seat. And then, on the ensuing 3rd and 8, Cordarrelle Patterson walked through the Ravens’ defense on a 79-yard sprint to the endzone. Finally, the Ravens’ put together an impressive offensive drive to lay on the final 7 points with a 9-yard toss to Marlon Brown with 4 seconds remaining.
Whew. Thankfully, there was no time left.
This was indeed an exhilarating ending to an otherwise bland outing, but the Ravens must fix the underlying issues or they will walk out of Ford Field Silver Dome with a loss and – most likely – a ticket to watch the post-season from the couch.
The Ravens have the talent to get their second road win of the season. Ray Rice and the running game are beginning to show a glimmer of hope, and with the addition of Pitta the receiving corps is starting to come together. The question marks for the Lions game however are centered on Joe “Mr. January” Flacco’s ability to eliminate interceptions, and the defense’s ability to pressure Stafford, slow Megatron, and wrap up for a full 60 minutes.
I believe they can. The ultimate question is if they believe they can. One thing is for sure; both teams need this victory to stay alive for post-season play. Let’s hope the Ravens want it more – I don’t know if my heart will survive another game like last week.