Vikings vs. Ravens: Takeaways from Baltimore's 29-26 Win over Minnesota

Shehan Peiris@@shehan_peiris_Correspondent IIIDecember 9, 2013

Vikings vs. Ravens: Takeaways from Baltimore's 29-26 Win over Minnesota

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    What a game Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens held on for the wild ride that was the end of the fourth quarter and got a critical 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings. The weather was a fascinating part of the game, but the unquestioned storyline of this Week 14 encounter was the five touchdowns scored in the last two minutes and five seconds of the game.

    The ridiculous ending provided as many scares as it did thrills, but the Ravens held on in the end after a clutch game-winning drive led by Joe Flacco.

    But this game was about more than the highlights for Baltimore.

    By far the most important takeaway for head coach John Harbaugh was the return of Dennis Pitta. The tight end made his season debut, and he was definitely worth the wait.

    In addition, Ray Rice showed some signs of life as he picked up 109 total yards on the afternoon.

    Here are the most important notes from Baltimore's crazy Week 14 win.

Dennis Pitta Will Be Hugely Important

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    Dennis Pitta's injury in training camp was a gut-wrenching blow for the defending champions. He was poised to have a breakout season, and his talent was one of the reasons that the front office felt comfortable trading away Anquan Boldin.

    Despite reports that the injury was season-ending, Baltimore placed him on the injured reserve with a designation to return with the hope that he'd make a return before the end of the year.

    The Ravens are immensely thankful for that foresight right now.

    Pitta will provide a huge boost to an offense that is struggling in a multitude of ways. He showed his effectiveness on third down and in the red zone, and finished with six receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown despite playing only around 35 snaps.

    Joe Flacco is going to benefit from having his favorite target back on the field, and Pitta will make the passing attack much more dangerous.

Special Teams Have Turned the Corner

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    Seven weeks into the season, special teams were a serious problem for Baltimore. Punts had been blocked, return coverage was shabby and execution in general was poor.

    That's no longer the case, and Jacoby Jones is once again one of the Ravens' deadliest weapons.

    He was close to breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown last week against the Steelers, but he wasn't able to finish the play thanks to some "interference." This week, he took it all the way and scored one of the many touchdowns at the end of the game.

    In addition, Jones has taken over punt return duties from Tandon Doss, and he's made good plays in that role with a 22-yard return against Minnesota.

    But it's not just the returners that are playing well right now.

    Justin Tucker didn't get the chance to kick a field goal against the Vikings, but he's made 27 straight field goals and has been phenomenal since his two missed field goals in Week 2.

    Likewise, Sam Koch has bounced back from some shaky play and was terrific against Minnesota. He averaged almost 55 yards per punt and pinned the Vikings inside their 20-yard line twice.

    Special teams has become a strength of this team and something they can hang their hat on. You can count on the fact that special teams play will be a large factor in Baltimore's remaining games.

Signs of Life from Ray Rice

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    Any kind of success from the running game is something to celebrate in Baltimore. It certainly wasn't much success, as Ray Rice managed only 67 yards at 3.9 yards per carry, but there were flashes of the running game getting back on track.

    The offensive line blocked much better in the second half, and Rice was able to break three runs for double-digit yardage (12, 12 and 11 yards).

    Moreover, Rice caught five passes for 42 yards en route to 109 total yards on the game.

    The going will be much tougher next week against the Detroit Lions and their physically dominant defensive line, but it was good to see Rice playing well.

Joe Flacco Is Clutch

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    Say what you want about Joe Flacco, but that man is clutch.

    He took the Ravens 80 yards into the end zone in 40 seconds to get his team a win it desperately needed.

    Flacco threw three interceptions in the game, but he stepped up in a big way with the game on the line and led the offense on two comeback drives.

    His inconsistency can be maddening, but there aren't many quarterbacks that can deliver the goods when the game is hanging in the balance.

Defense's Lack of a Killer Instinct

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    Joe Flacco may be clutch, but the defense is not. In several close games this year, the defense hasn't been able to get off the field and it's resulted in losses.

    Against the Vikings, the defense self-destructed on two plays at the end of the game that resulted in Minnesota touchdowns that could easily have been game-winners.

    The defense has been excellent for most of the season, but its performance at the end of games needs to improve if the Ravens are going to have any chance in the playoffs.

What Happened to the Pass Rush?

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    After being the most consistent aspect of the Ravens' performance in the first half of the season, the pass rush has suddenly disappeared.

    Baltimore hasn't sacked a quarterback in two weeks, and the captain of that pass rush, Terrell Suggs, is also having problems getting on the stat sheet.

    Suggs started the year with nine sacks in eight games, but he hasn't gotten to a quarterback in five games.

    To be fair, there is more to the pass rush than just accumulating sacks, and the Ravens still managed to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger in Week 13 and Matt Cassel in Week 14.

    Nevertheless, the lack of sacks is a little concerning for the Ravens moving forward.

Playoff Picture

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    Baltimore eked out the Week 14 victory, and they really needed it.

    The New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins all won in Week 14 to stay right on the Ravens' tail for that last AFC playoff spot.

    Baltimore's win allowed them to hold onto the second wild-card spot and remain in the playoff picture, but things get much more difficult from here.

    Next week the Ravens hit the road to take on the Detroit Lions, then host the New England Patriots in Week 16 and finally close out the year in Cincinnati.

    Baltimore will probably need to win at least one of those games to make their playoff hopes a reality.