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Column: Ravens win is one for the ages

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Column: Ravens win is one for the ages

Just before the sixth quarter of one of the most fascinating and improbable NFL playoff games you'll ever see, Justin Tucker trotted out onto the field and did something you hardly ever see.

He practiced making a field goal. And for one of the few times on a frigid afternoon-turned-evening in Denver, something turned out exactly as planned.

The game that seemed like it was destined never to end finally did, much to the dismay of 76,732 shivering fans and a quarterback who had seemed destined to take the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl. It was Peyton Manning's interception that gave the Baltimore Ravens their golden opportunity in the 38-35 win, though Manning could hardly be blamed for the Broncos being in that position to begin with.

He was still playing deep into overtime for the same reason Ray Lewis will go on to play at least one more game before calling it a career. Lewis was on the sideline probably rehearsing his farewell speech when a shocking collapse by the Denver secondary allowed a game tying touchdown on a 70-yard pass to Jacoby Jones with just 31 seconds left.

Up until then, it was just about how John Elway imagined things going when the Broncos courted Manning during the offseason and let the orange-clad faithful in Denver know that Tebowtime was over.

A frigid weekend in January. A big-time quarterback under center. And a fourth quarter drive engineered by Manning that appeared to wrap up this playoff win with a giant bow.

Except the Broncos aren't one step closer to the Super Bowl. The Ravens are flying to either Houston or New England, and the way they felt after Saturday's game they might not even need a plane.

It was tough enough to win it. Trying to describe it all afterward might have been even tougher.

``Thanks for bearing witness to one of the greatest football games you're ever going to see,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``That football game did the game of football proud.''

Indeed it did, warts and all. Yes, the brilliant plays were all there - how many times have you seen a player start both halves with long kick returns for touchdowns as Denver's Trindon Holliday did? - but the miscues were almost as memorable and arguably more significant.

That begins with Manning, who was supposed to be the coolest one on a very cool field but had three turnovers that led directly to 17 points. It continues with Ravens punt and kickoff return teams that gave up scores that might have sunk any team that didn't believe like it was supposed to win no matter what happened.

``We never wavered, we never wavered,'' Lewis said. ``This will probably go down as one of the greatest wins in Ravens history.''

But the play that will be debated and dissected in Denver for far longer than Tebowmania ever lasted was the biggest gaffe of all. It came after standout cornerback Champ Bailey had already been beaten for two long touchdown passes, and everyone in the stadium was asking the person in the seat next to them what happened to the vaunted Broncos pass defense.

Eight men were playing off the line, knowing the game was theirs unless something freakishly horrible happened. Eight men who all knew a desperation pass was coming but somehow were unable to defend against it.

Eight men who could do nothing but watch as Jacoby strutted into the end zone with the tying score.

``You got to start taking shots at some point and it happened to work out,'' Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. ``It was pretty incredible.''

There were snow flurries on the field and the wind chill had dipped below zero when Manning and Lewis met again at midfield, this time for the coin flip for overtime. The two were always intertwined in this game and both had their moments, with Lewis getting a team-high 15 tackles and Manning throwing for three scores, the last of which seemingly secured the win for Denver.

Manning had come back from a lost season and a potentially career-ending neck injury to win 11 straight games for his new team. Lewis was calling it a career, and using his pending retirement as one more way to motivate his team to keep playing.

They played nearly 77 minutes before it was finally settled by a rookie kicker who after the end of the first overtime period went out on the field to practice a kick. Tucker made 30 of 33 during the regular season, and this one was perfect, touching off a celebration on the sidelines.

Manning went over and gave Lewis a hug before heading into a somber, stunned locker room. He showered and dressed in suit and tie before coming out to talk about how hard it was for everyone on the team to have their season come to such a shocking end.

``You want it to work and keep going and win, but that's not always the way it works,'' Manning said.

Lewis was just as philosophical in victory, talking about higher powers and things that happen when men come together. He said he was particularly inspired by a visit he made to a Baltimore hospital Thursday night, where he saw sick kids who will never be able to experience the joys he has in playing the game of football.

``I challenged my team this week to not listen to anything outside our building, to buy into everything we are as a team,'' Lewis said. ``When you get everybody to buy in, it's just so special to see it.''

Even more special might be to see the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

And after a win for the ages, a lot more people are beginning to believe that's just where they will end up.

----

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

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Ravens offense continues to be haunted by injuries in loss to Vikings

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Ravens offense continues to be haunted by injuries in loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even though he was signed to help the Vikings replace Adrian Peterson, Latavius Murray has been behind nearly from the day he stepped foot in Minnesota.

Plowing through the Baltimore Ravens as he did on Sunday should help him catch up in a hurry.

Murray rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown and Kai Forbath kicked six field goals to lift the Vikings to a 24-16 victory over the Ravens.

After making the decision to move on from the face of the franchise, the Vikings signed Murray away from the Oakland Raiders to help fill the void. But ankle surgery kept him out of the entire offseason program, all of training camp and most of the preseason and buried him on the depth chart behind Dalvin Cook, who was lost for the season with a knee injury on Oct. 1, and Jerick McKinnon.

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"I just think it was a matter of me just trying to find my rhythm, try to get a groove going," Murray said after averaging 6.3 yards per carry. "I said eventually I know I would have some success. I knew I had to continue to keep doing what I do and continue to keep working, and hopefully like today, those big runs will pop."

Forbath made kicks of 52, 51, 43, 43, 34 and 32 yards to back another suffocating effort from the defense for the Vikings (5-2).

Minnesota sacked Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 208 yards. Everson Griffen had two sacks and has nine for the season.

Justin Tucker kicked three field goals for the Ravens (3-4), including a 57-yarder in the first half. Flacco completed 26 of 38 passes for 186 yards and a 13-yard touchdown to Chris Moore as time expired.

"Those clich?s like `worn down' and `gap control,' it's just all meaningless chatter," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after his team gave up 169 yards rushing. "We've got to do a better job against the run and get them stopped. They did a good job and we didn't."

The nine combined field goals tied an NFL record for most made field goals in a game.

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Murray was off to a slow start this season with just 97 yards rushing through the first six games. But he burst through a big hole in the third quarter, made one cut and surged to the end zone to give the Vikings an 18-6 lead.

"It's good to see him going," coach Mike Zimmer said. "It adds a dimension on the offense with a guy like Jerick and a guy like him."

Case Keenum had an erratic afternoon, completing 20 of 31 passes for 188 yards and one interception for the Vikings.

Flacco, who entered the day with a 66.1 rating that was good for 31st in the league, was stuck under 100 yards passing until well into the fourth quarter.

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Like much of the season thus far, the Ravens' offense struggled Sunday against an also struggling Bears.

It seemed as if their offense was playing in slow motion for part of their 27-24 OT loss.

Joe Flacco went 24 for 41 for only 180 yards and threw two interceptions. 

The Ravens had a shot at getting the win but couldn't capitalize on two special teams plays that helped them force the game into OT, leaving many questions about the state of the Ravens' offense.

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The team hasn't had much luck in presumably easy matchups, and now they are headed to Minnesota to take on the 4-2 Vikings.

The Vikings are coming off a 23-10 win against the Packers where quarterback Case Keenum threw for 239 yards and one touchdown. 

Star running back Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 against the Lions and is out for the rest of the season, causing the team to lean on Latavius Murrary and Jerick McKinnon. 

Against the Packers, McKinnon rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown.

Something the Ravens and Vikings have in common is a surplus of injuries. 

Vikings starting quarterback Sam Bradford is still dealing with an aggravated knee injury and isn't expected to make his return Sunday against the Ravens.

Ravens running back Terrance West suffered a calf injury Week 5 against the Raiders and did not play against the Bears in Week 6. Tight end Maxx Williams hurt his left ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game, as well as wide receiver Breshad Perriman who suffered a concussion. Both plays caused a turnover.

The Ravens lead the series 3-2 and haven't faced the Vikings since 2013.

Here's everything you need to know to watch Ravens, Vikings. 

Week 7 Ravens vs. Vikings Game Info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Minnesota Vikings

What: Week 7 NFL regular season 

When: 1:00 p.m.. ET, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017

Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: NFL Game PassCBS All Access

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Minnesota, -5.5

Over/Under: 40

Weather: 63 degrees, partly cloudy

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): 20-0  at Cincinnati Bengals (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): 24-10 vs. Cleveland Browns (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): 44-7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (in London) (L)

Week 4 (Sun, Oct. 1): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 5 (Sun, Oct. 8): at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m. (W)

Week 6 (Sun, Oct. 15): vs Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 7 (Sun, Oct. 22): at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m.

Week 8 (Thur, Oct. 26): vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m.

Week 9 (Sun, Nov. 5): at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10 (Sun, Nov. 12): BYE week

Week 11 (Sun, Nov. 19): at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12 (Mon, Nov. 27): vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 13 (Sun, Dec. 3): vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: (Sun, Dec. 10): at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.

Week 15: (Sun, Dec. 17): at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: (Sat, Dec. 23): vs Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.

Week 17: (Sun, Dec. 31): vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m.