Vikings report card: Most fourth-quarter lead changes in NFL history

The Minnesota Vikings were officially eliminated from the playoffs with Sunday’s 29-26 loss at Baltimore to the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.

The weather conditions certainly played a role in Sunday’s game, but five touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 5 seconds offered a crazy finish, no matter the weather. The NFL announced it was the most fourth-quarter lead changes in a game in NFL history.

Sunday’s game was exciting, but not necessarily well played.

Here’s how Minnesota graded out in each phase in Sunday’s loss:

Pass offense: C

Both teams had moderate success passing the ball through the snowy weather. The most important factor for Matt Cassel was zero turnovers on Sunday. Cassel, getting another start with Christian Ponder concussed, threw for 265 yards, the most by a Vikings’ quarterback this season. The work of rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson can’t be understated. Patterson made a nifty catch early in the game when the snow was at its worst and then added a 79-yard touchdown on a short catch and run to give Minnesota the lead with 45 seconds left.

Patterson came up with a career-high 141 receiving yards on five catches. Cassel wasn’t perfect (17 of 38) but kept the Vikings’ offense going and was in control, bringing some stability to the position. He did miss four straight passes in the fourth quarter, leading to two three-and-outs and allowing Baltimore to take the lead. Cassel also made some big throws, including one to Jerome Simpson for 27 yards after Baltimore took control with 2:05 left, which was followed by a 41-yard run by Toby Gerhart. Simpson also tiptoed at the back of the end zone on a touchdown reception from Cassel, the first of Simpson’s time in Minnesota. Patterson did much of the work on his long touchdown pass and continues his growth as a receiver. Greg Jennings added five catches for 53 yards.

Run offense: C

Gerhart had the big run when the Vikings needed it. The Ravens had taken a 15-12 lead with 2:05 left. Cassel and Simpson connected for 27 yards and Gerhart went 41 yards on the next play as Minnesota covered 68 yards in two plays and 38 seconds. Gerhart has come up with several big plays this season. He had 89 yards on 15 carries on Sunday with Adrian Peterson leaving the game early in the quarter because of a sprained foot when he was tackled on a reception.

Peterson did appear to have some trouble with the snow before he left, finishing with 13 yards on seven carries. The running game improved late and ended with 114 rushing yards as a team. Gerhart’s big play led the way. Baltimore entered the game with the league’s sixth-ranked run defense and got the push from the defensive line to stymy Minnesota’s run game until Gerhart’s 41-yarder.

Pass defense: C

The Vikings’ pass defense has struggled all season but it had its moments against Flacco. It was hard to tell just how much Flacco was bothered by the weather conditions. He still passed the ball 50 times, completing 28 for 245 yards. Flacco’s biggest play was escaping a possible sack after a Gerhart fumble and running for 22 yards. Flacco threw three interceptions and appeared to throw a fourth, which would have allowed Minnesota to run out the game in the final minute. But Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway was called for a dubious pass interference penalty continuing the drive.

Instead of a game-saving interception by Andrew Sendejo, which would have been his second of the game, Flacco hit Dennis Pitta for 18 yards and then Marlon Brown along the back of the end zone with 4 seconds left to give Baltimore the win. Minnesota’s defense had been in similar situations so many times this year, and gave up the lead in the final minute for the fifth time this season, which has led to four losses and a tie.

Sendejo got his first career interception, as did Marcus Sherels. Sherels’ interception was just the second by a Vikings’ cornerback this season and the only one by an active cornerback. A.J. Jefferson had the other and was released two weeks ago. Chad Greenway had his team-leading third interception of the season. Minnesota held Baltimore in check until the final drive against Flacco.

Run defense: B

Ray Rice entered the season as one of the best backs in the league and then has fallen precipitously. The Ravens’ run game has taken a backseat to Flacco and the passing game. The tendency continued Sunday in the slippery conditions. Even with Baltimore’s offensive line getting a push at times, Rice had 17 carries for 67 yards. Bernard Pierce had seven carries for 12 yards.

The Ravens finished 97 yards rushing as a team and 3.6 yards per carry, but were helped by Flacco’s 22-yard run. Rice and Pierce combined for 79 yards for 3.29 yards per carry. Baltimore also went 1 of 3 on fourth down, with fullback Vonta Leach stuffed on a run up the middle. The one fourth-down conversion was a touchdown pass to Pitta.

Special teams: D

The special teams grade can be traced to one play. The Vikings took a 19-15 lead on Gerhart’s touchdown with 1:27 left. Then Minnesota attempted a high short kick to negate a big return by Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones. Jones ran in to catch the kick and went 77 yards to put the Ravens ahead again. Jones was hardly touched on the return. Trying to avoid Jones was a good strategy in theory, but Minnesota didn’t allow him to get going earlier and following another touchdown a few seconds later, kicked off to him normally for a touchback. A crucial error at a key time.

Sherels also gave up a lot of yardage in punt returns, letting several punts fall and then bounce back for extra yardage when Sherels probably could have fair caught the punts. Two of the punts pinned the Vikings inside the 20-yard line. Patterson had a 42-yard kickoff return, but did little with three other returns.

Punter Jeff Locke averaged just 37 net yards per punt with Jones averaging 11 yards on four returns. Kicker Blair Walsh had no trouble with the snow, hitting field-goal attempts of 39 and 40 yards.

Overall: C

Minnesota continued to fight in a seemingly lost season. Losing Peterson in the second quarter didn’t set the Vikings back, nor did twice allowing a go-ahead touchdown in the final 2:05. Jones’ kickoff return for a touchdown completely switched the momentum after Minnesota had its own dramatic comeback.

But the Vikings failed in a situation all too familiar this season as Baltimore drove 80 yards in five plays and 41 seconds, thanks in part to Greenway’s penalty, to score the game-winner with 4 seconds left. Even getting three turnovers and winning the turnover margin by plus-two wasn’t enough and Minnesota’s strange season added another inexplicable result.

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