By Samuel Njoku
There are crazy games in the NFL, and then there’s what happened between the Ravens and Vikings on a cold, snow-filled Sunday afternoon in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium. The Baltimore Ravens are in the middle of a crowded playoff chase and with a must-win game against an inferior Vikings team, many expected Baltimore to cruise to a third straight victory. But Minnesota had other plans as it would take a last-second touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to move the Ravens to (7-6) this season and one step closer to the postseason.
Offense Grade: C-
The Ravens were simply mediocre on offense for the first three quarters of this game. The only points scored prior to the fourth quarter came from a touchdown pass in the first quarter. And even that came thanks to a controversial fumble recovery when it appeared Vikings RB Toby Gerhart’s knee was down prior to the ball coming out. Simply put, the Ravens offense continues to struggle.
Ray Rice hit the hole with more authority on Sunday as he ran for 67 yards on 17 carries. But he’s not nearly as quick and agile as he’s been in previous seasons. Baltimore’s wide receivers have done a better job of getting separation but are still far from consistent in that regard.
The Ravens offense has received a boost with the return of Dennis Pitta. His presence on the field will make things a lot easier for guys like Torrey Smith who is routinely double covered on passing downs. Pitta took some shots throughout the game but didn’t appear to favor his hip which has to be a good sign for the Ravens and their fans.
Defense Grade: C-
Similar to the offense, the Ravens defense was an entirely different unit once the fourth quarter rolled around. But unlike the offense, their production dropped dramatically when it mattered most.
When Adrian Peterson went down with an apparent foot injury, it appeared the Ravens defense was set. The Vikings tried to take advantage of Baltimore’s aggressive style with draws, screens and end arounds but the Ravens did not bite.
With their offense struggling, Baltimore couldn’t afford to miss a beat against this Vikings team. And for the majority of the game, the Ravens defense was as stout as they could be. But late in the fourth quarter, the Ravens defense began to unravel. Vikings QB Matt Cassell began to make plays with his arm. But what really hurt the defense was their inability to tackle the ball carrier. Both Toby Gerhart and Cordarrelle Patterson scored on huge plays that could have been avoided with proper fundamentals.
In the past, the Ravens defense made a name for themselves by providing their team crucial fourth quarter stops to seal the game. But so far this season, the Ravens have struggled to get the job done. With huge tests ahead for the team against playoff contenders, the Ravens defense will need to improve.
Quarterback Grade: C+
This was not a pretty game for Joe Flacco. The weather didn’t help the former Super Bowl MVP, but he needs to play better than this down the stretch. Baltimore has relied on their defense and stout running game when Flacco has struggled, but that is a luxury the Ravens simply do not have. As was the case last season, this team will go as far as Flacco can take them.
There may not have been a happier person in M&T Bank Stadium than Joe Flacco when Dennis Pitta returned to the line-up. His presence will be felt more when there isn’t six inches of snow on the field. But it is more than apparent that this offense will improve dramatically with the young tight end’s return.
As has become the norm in the final games of the season, Flacco is at his best when the game is on the line. He turned his game up a couple of notches when the Ravens needed him to play at high level. Why Flacco can’t play this way on a consistent basis is anyone’s guess. No matter how many bad throws Flacco made in this game, they were eradicated by an impressive game-winning drive that was punctuated by a touchdown pass to WR Marlon Brown. Flacco finished the game with three touchdowns, but it’s his three interceptions that are unacceptable.
Special Teams Grade: A-
Does Coach John Harbaugh realize he has the best kicker in the game? The coach elected to go for it on fourth down in the red-zone instead of taking the three points that Justin Tucker almost certainly would have scored on a field goal. It was a decision that nearly cost his team the game. Punter Sam Koch played very well in pretty nasty conditions and Jacoby Jones ran in a touchdown on a kick return that helped knock off the Vikings.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. Samuel Njoku is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.