Vikings-Ravens Preview

In control of their playoff fate, the Baltimore Ravens are

confident heading into a challenging final quarter of the

season.

Looking for a season-high third straight victory, the Ravens

hope to continue their home success Sunday while trying to keep the

Minnesota Vikings winless on the road.

Sitting two games under .500 and mired in a three-game slide

after losing to Cleveland on Nov. 3, Baltimore (6-6) has responded

by winning three of four to take ownership of the AFC’s final

wild-card spot. The Ravens are tied with Miami, but own the

tiebreaker based on a 26-23 road win over the Dolphins on Oct.

6.

“We are position to control our own destiny,” coach John

Harbaugh said. “That is what you try to accomplish going into

December. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it.

“We just have to win. If we win games, things are going to work

out for us.”

However, the final stretch likely won’t be easy for the

Ravens.

After facing the NFL’s only team without a road win in Minnesota

(3-8-1), Baltimore’s final three games are against division leaders

Detroit, New England and Cincinnati. It faces the Lions and Bengals

on the road.

Harbaugh hopes living through such forgettable moments like the

season-opening 49-27 loss at Denver, a last-second 19-16 defeat at

Pittsburgh and its first loss in 12 games against the Browns has

prepared his team for the stretch run.

“You definitely are a product of your experiences, and adversity

is definitely a strength builder, a character builder,” he said.

“What we’ve been through has made us what we are right now. I’d

like to think it’s made us strong emotionally, mentally. And I

think our hard work has made us strong physically.

“The idea is to be at your best when it means the most. That’s

what we try to do. … We’ll find out whether that is the case for

this football team.”

Baltimore’s immediate focus is on trying to win a fourth

straight game at home, where it’s 5-1 and has allowed 74 points.

The Ravens led 13-0 in the third quarter there Thanksgiving night

against the Steelers, but needed to stop Pittsburgh’s 2-point

conversion attempt with 1:03 left to secure a 22-20 victory.

They were grateful the outcome wasn’t affected by Pittsburgh

coach Mike Tomlin inadvertently interfering with Jacoby Jones

during his 73-yard kickoff return in third quarter. Tomlin was

fined $100,000 for the incident.

Baltimore also was fortunate a running game that averages a

league-low 2.9 yards per carry didn’t prove costly last week. With

74 yards on the ground against the Steelers, the Ravens have rushed

for 141 on 56 carries in two games following their season-high

174-yard performance in a 23-20 overtime loss at Chicago on Nov.

17.

Ray Rice has gained 62 yards on 28 carries in the last two after

rushing for a season-high 131 and a touchdown on 25 attempts

against the Bears.

The Ravens’ offense could get a boost if tight end Dennis Pitta

is ready to make his season debut Sunday after suffering a hip

injury during training camp. Pitta set career highs with 61

receptions, 669 yards and seven TDs last season.

Baltimore has benefited from the accuracy of Justin Tucker, who

has made nine field goals and been responsible for 29 of his team’s

41 points over the last two games. He’s 27 of 27, including 4 for 4

from at least 50 yards, since missing his only two field-goal

chances during a 14-6 win over Cleveland in Week 2.

Minnesota’s Blair Walsh made a 30-yard field goal to force

overtime last Sunday, then missed a 57-yarder in the extra session

before he connected from 34 to give the Vikings a 23-20 win over

Chicago.

Minnesota, which overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, is

2-1-1 since losing seven of eight.

“You have got to believe, you can’t tuck your tail and run, you

can’t give up no matter how it looks you have to continue to

fight,” said Vikings star Adrian Peterson, who set season highs

with 211 yards on 35 carries.

“That’s one thing that we have done all year; I haven’t seen

guys quit. When I look in their eyes there is fight there.”

The Vikings hope to further display that fight and turn things

around the road, where they are 0-5-1. Minnesota last went without

a road victory during its 5-11 2001 season.

Peterson has endured a trying season both on and off the field,

but leads the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards and has 357 in the last

two games.

Matt Cassel will get his first start since Oct. 13 after

rallying the Vikings against Chicago. Christian Ponder left after

taking a hit to the head in the second quarter, and Cassel went 20

of 33 for 243 yards with a TD and an INT in relief.

Coach Leslie Frazier said Friday that Ponder had yet to pass all

of his post-concussion tests.

In Minnesota’s three victories, Cassel has started one and

finished the other two.

Peterson rushed for 143 yards and Rice totaled 194 and had two

touchdowns during Minnesota’s 33-31 home victory over the Ravens in

2009.