The Baltimore Ravens stole a victory from the Minnesota Vikings in Baltimore with a late Marlon Brown touchdown reception. That final play and an injury to star running back Adrian Peterson earlier in the game were the overwhelming negatives of the day for Leslie Frazier's franchise, but rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson couldn't be outshone.
Patterson finished with five receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown.
It was the type of display fans were hoping for when the Vikings traded into the first round to take the former Tennessee playmaker with the 29th overall pick of the 2013 draft. Of course, they hoped it would come much earlier than Week 14 of the regular season.
Before Sunday's game, the 22-year-old had just 30 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown. Although he had at least one reception in every single game, he only had more than three on one occasion, two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers.
Even when he had a heavier workload, he didn't have a huge impact on games because he was primarily being used on screen plays or short routes underneath designed to get him the ball in space.
It became clear from the moment the Vikings drafted Patterson that they felt he would be an ideal replacement for the departed Percy Harvin. Much of Harvin's work came on those screen passes, underneath routes and carries from the backfield. Most expected Patterson to immediately assume Harvin's old role and be a focal point of the Vikings offense along with Peterson.
However, Patterson came out of college as a very, very raw receiver. His physical traits and natural talent alone were enough to make him a worthy first-round pick in the draft, but he needed time to adjust in the short term.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Patterson played just five snaps in Week 1, six snaps in Week 2 and 20 snaps in Week 3. From then through Week 10, his involvement in the offense remained consistent, but he never played more than 26 snaps in a single game.
While his absence frustrated fans of a franchise that was struggling to win football games, refining his game in the background for the first stretch of his career appears to have aided his current comfort level on Sundays. Since a Week 11 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Patterson has been one of the Vikings' primary pieces on offense.
On the Vikings' first third down of the game early in the first quarter against Baltimore, quarterback Matt Cassel recognised that Patterson had a matchup advantage. Patterson lined up across from Ravens cornerback Corey Graham. Graham is a physically inferior talent to Patterson who doesn't have enough coverage ability to compensate for his lack of physical talent.
Patterson ran down the sideline against Graham before he adjusted to a back-shoulder throw from Cassel. He beat Graham to the football but couldn't bring it in as the heavy snow fell down on him. He followed that up with what would prove to be a costly holding penalty on a Toby Gerhart run but made up for it before the quarter finished.
On third down again, Patterson made a play against one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL, Lardarius Webb.
Interestingly, the Vikings moved Patterson into the slot. Webb plays both outside and inside, and he is very effective regardless of who he faces. Earlier this season, he shut down Wes Welker when he covered him even as the Ravens gave up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning.
Unsurprisingly, Patterson didn't beat Webb with a crisp route, but he did still beat him.
Patterson ran down the seam before angling his route to the sideline. Webb had him perfectly covered, but he never located the football when he looked back down the field. This is because Cassel threw the ball to his inside shoulder, where Patterson found it and caught it with his arms extended.
At this point of his career, Patterson doesn't need to run crisp or varied routes to show off his potential. Right now, he just needs to prove he has the talent to be a receiver at this level. He did three things on this play to show that potential off.
Firstly, he located the football early in his route while he kept moving toward the sideline. Secondly, he understood he must work back to the football fighting through Webb's body position and extending his arms back to the football. Thirdly, he had the ability to make what is a tough and important reception against very tight coverage.
Many receivers will recognise when they need to attack the football, but not every receiver has the ability to catch the ball with his hands extended while absorbing contact from a defender. Not only does that take a level of physical talent, but it also takes enough body control and focus through the play.
That play went for 24 yards and a first down, but Patterson didn't see the football again until late in the second quarter.
Again, it was a third down, but this time, the Vikings didn't pass the ball to Patterson. Instead, he took an end-around pitch outside right tackle for 18 yards to the Ravens' 2-yard line and a first down. A holding penalty against a Vikings offensive lineman negated the gain, but it didn't negate the talent Patterson showed off in the open field.
Patterson is a very impressive runner. It's not just about his size and speed; he understands how to set up his blocking, how to beat defenders before they contact him with subtle movements, when to be patient and when to be aggressive. He sees the whole field and makes good decisions. On that end-around, he allowed his blocking to develop before he accelerated past two defenders down the sideline.
A week ago, against the Chicago Bears, Patterson lined up in the backfield before running in a touchdown. On that play, he showed off his sheer physical talent as he broke multiple potential tackles before accelerating to the end zone. This week's end-around showed off his patience and vision as well as his acceleration.
The penalty on the play pushed the Vikings back to a 3rd-and-24. Patterson caught a screen pass on that play but was only able to sprint down the field before landing a big hit on a defender for 14 yards.
Patterson had repeatedly shown off his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands throughout the season as a kick returner. He took the second-half kickoff for 42 yards before another end-around saw him pick up six yards on 1st-and-10 just before the beginning of the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Patterson touched the ball five times and had 129 yards. Forty-six of those yards came on two kickoff returns, meaning he had 83 receiving yards on offense when the Vikings needed him most.
His first target was unproductive. The Vikings looked to fake a screen, but the Ravens didn't bite on it. Lardarius Webb was in perfect coverage against Patterson again, but this time, he turned to find the football. Webb nearly intercepted a pass that Cassel forced to Patterson, but the young receiver did well to knock it away.
His second target went for just four yards on 3rd-and-7. Cassel threw the ball behind Patterson, which took away his opportunity to read his blocking and sent him toward the sideline. He did well to initially catch the ball before spinning toward the sideline and trying to reach the pylon. He was stopped short, however, as the initial pass from Cassel took away all his space.
With one minute left in the game and the Vikings down by three points, Patterson made a play worthy of winning any football game.
On 3rd-and-10, Patterson began the play lined up to the left as the inside slot receiver. He motioned across the screen, and the Ravens' best cornerback, Webb, followed him.
Patterson faked a release upfield before turning around and working backward to his quarterback. Cassel found him with an accurate pass, but most importantly, the Ravens had a number of defenders trapped upfield. Those defenders were completely out of the play, but the blockers who left them there were working toward the second level as a cavalcade for Patterson.
After quickly turning, Patterson found his first block to read. One of the blockers coming across picked up Webb in front of him. Webb was on the inside shoulder of the blocker but working his way toward the sideline. Patterson recognised this. Often, runners will immediately attack the inside shoulder in this situation. Patterson didn't; instead, he did the opposite.
Once Patterson got outside of his blocker, Webb jumped to the same side. Patterson ran with his head up, though, so he saw Webb as soon as he overplayed the sideline. Patterson's outside movement put Webb and Daryl Smith, No. 51 behind him, in perfect positions for the blockers to take them out of the play when he cut back inside.
Patterson's acceleration allowed him to escape the initial wave of defenders. He was free in space when the safety came across to try to cut off his angle. With his speed, Patterson could try to overtake the angle down the sideline, but instead, he had his head up and recognised the safety's positioning early in the play.
Instead of trying to run past him down the sideline, Patterson cut back at the perfect time to make the safety slide to the ground. From there, he had an easy, unopposed run into the end zone.
Thanks to a late touchdown from the Ravens, it wasn't a game-winning score, but again, that doesn't negate what Patterson did on the play. He still needs to show signs he is a developing route-runner who understands how to adjust to different coverages on the fly, but when projecting him into the Percy Harvin role for the Vikings offense, the potential is seemingly limitless.
Instead of fretting over what didn't happen with Patterson in the past, Vikings fans should be enticed by his potential over the coming seasons. If the franchise lands a better quarterback, either via free agency or in the draft, Patterson could be in line for a big season as early as 2014.
Cian Fahey is the Film Room writer for Football Outsiders, a columnist for Football Guys and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Cianaf