In Long Run, Ravens Still Fall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 14, 1998; Page D5
BALTIMORE, Dec. 13 The Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings put on a show today unlike any other in NFL history. The Vikings' 38-28 victory at times looked like one of those electric rec-room games gone haywire, with a league record three kickoffs returned for touchdowns and six field goals by Minnesota's Gary Anderson, who set an NFL mark for consecutive field goals (34).
The most serious injury was to an official, head linesman Terry Gierke, who suffered torn knee ligaments late in the second half. And after several banks of stadium lights clicked off with the Ravens hopelessly behind, most of the final quarter was played in semi-darkness in a near-empty stadium.
"It definitely was a little different," Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter said.
Baltimore (5-9) hardly could have been more generous, losing five fumbles and an interception that the Vikings (13-1) converted into 26 points. And Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randy Moss and an 11-yarder to Carter, who scored the 100th touchdown of his 12-year career.
Cunningham completed 32 of 55 passes for 345 yards. Moss caught six for 89 yards, giving him 1,209 yards for the season and breaking the rookie mark of 1,132 set by Terry Glenn in 1996.
"We gave them an early Christmas present," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "And they didn't even thank us after the game. They should have thanked us. . . . You can't afford to turn the ball over on any team, let alone a good team."
Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh added: "At times, we looked like a high school team."
Baltimore's Corey Harris returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and Patrick Johnson ran one back 97 yards; Minnesota's David Palmer returned another kick 88 yards for a touchdown. Remarkably, that slice of NFL history came with three-plus minutes still left in the first quarter. With those six field goals, three from at least 43 yards, 17-year veteran Anderson extended his consecutive streak over a two-season period to 34 and broke Fuad Reveiz's record of 31.
The only pleasant surprise for the Ravens was how well the patchwork offensive line played. Injured tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown and center Wally Williams did not play. Neither did big-play wide receiver Jermaine Lewis. The other regular wide receiver, Michael Jackson, suited up but barely broke a sweat.
Baltimore's defense was on the field for an energy-sapping 91 plays. Tailback Priest Holmes, usually error-free, lost a fumble on the Ravens' opening play from scrimmage in each half. Tight end Eric Green also lost a fumble and Harbaugh (16 of 26 passing, 212 yards) committed a fumble caused when center Jeff Mitchell snapped the ball too soon.
Harris's kickoff work was a wash of sorts. He followed his touchdown return with a fumble on another kickoff, and the Vikings quickly turned it into the Cunningham-to-Moss touchdown and a 22-14 lead with 11 minutes 36 seconds left in the second quarter.
"Same broken record," Ravens cornerback Rod Woodson said. "Lots of mistakes."
Baltimore's kickoff returns were essentially the same, with Harris and Johnson fielding the ball in the middle of the field and quickly bursting free. Harris was aided by Johnson's blocks on Minnesota's Robert Tate during the final 20 or so yards and went into the end zone with a slow strut.
A team has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in one game six times, the last being the New Orleans Saints four years ago. No sooner had the crowd of 69,074 started to digest that when Palmer caught the kickoff that came after Johnson's touchdown.
Palmer paused when he caught the ball. That might have caused the Ravens to let up just a bit and Palmer got an early block from lineman Everett Lindsay before easily eluding place kicker Matt Stover near midfield. That gave him and his Baltimore counterparts a unique distinction. After Cunningham's pass for a two-point conversion was batted down, Baltimore still led, 14-12.
Then came the game-turning disaster for the Ravens. Before they could run a total of four plays from scrimmage, Green had fumbled, Harris had fumbled and Harbaugh had fumbled that botched snap. The Vikings converted those mistakes into two field goals and the touchdown pass that Moss caught over Woodson in the right corner of the end zone.
From trailing the Ravens by two points with 3:22 left in the first quarter, the Vikings led 25-14 with 5:17 remaining in the second quarter.
As a sad and puzzled McCrary said later: "Here come the turnovers."
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