The Ravens' offense did all it could, but Baltimore still took its third straight painful defeat Sunday.
Steve Hauschka pulled a 44-yard field goal wide left as time expired, leaving the Ravens with a 33-31 road loss against the undefeated Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens, who started the season 3-0, now enter their bye week at .500.
Baltimore has suffered three losses by a combined 11 points in the past three weeks. Each game was decided in the final minute of regulation.
This time, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco led the Ravens back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit. Flacco led three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and finished with a career-high 385 yards passing.
Flacco led the Ravens 41 yards on their final drive, which started on the Baltimore's 33-yard line with 1:49 remaining. The second-year signal-caller completed four passes for 38 yards on the drive to draw the Ravens to the Vikings' 26-yard line and set up Hauschka's attempt.
But Hauschka, who had gone two contests without attempting a field goal since Week 3 against the Browns before Sunday, missed his second try of the game. Hauschka, who earned the starting kicking job this preseason after the Ravens did not re-sign longtime kicker Matt Stover, made a 29-yard field goal just before halftime.
When Hauschka's boot sailed just wide of the left upright, Flacco could not even watch its trajectory.
"I was just watching my own guys and seeing how they reacted and the crowd went kind of nuts, so I figured it was a little bit missed," Flacco said after the game.
Flacco's heroics erased an early deficit that seemed insurmountable through the first three quarters.
It took only nine minutes for the Vikings to take a two-touchdown lead. Quarterback Brett Favre shredded the Ravens' secondary in the first period, as the Vikings scored two quick touchdowns in an electric Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Minnesota racked up most of their 426 yards through the air, keeping the Ravens' defense honest with a steady dose of running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson totaled 143 yards on 22 carries to hit triple digits and further prevented the Ravens from starting another streak of not allowing 100-yard rushers, a 39-game trend that ended last week.
"I think he plays the game the way the game is suppose to be played," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You bottle him up and bottle him up and then one time you get a little lackadaisical and then 'Bam', he's out. That's any back. Any back has that ability."
Favre completed 21 of 29 passes for 259 yards, opening the game with a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on his first drive of the game and following that with a 4-yard strike to wideout Bernard Berrian. Favre finished with three touchdowns.
And without Baltimore's starting left tackle Jared Gaither in the lineup because of a neck injury, the Vikings were able to maintain constant pressure on quarterback Flacco.
The two scores put the Ravens in an immediate 14-0 hole in the first quarter. Shiancoe – a Morgan State product – added another touchdown in the fourth quarter.
In addition, wideout Sidney Rice topped the century mark for the first time in his career, catching four passes for 114 yards. The 6-foot-4, 202-pound receiver took advantage of the Ravens' 5-foot-11 cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington.
At times, the Ravens put physical cornerback Frank Walker in the game to match up against Rice on the edge, but Walker was flagged for two critical pass interference penalties.
One came after the Ravens went three-and-out when they got the ball back to squander a 40-yard kickoff return from rookie Lardarius Webb, which allowed Favre to come back and engineer a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
The march was aided by a penalty on Walker that cost 39 yards and put the ball on the Ravens' 2-yard line. That was when Favre threw his second scoring strike to Shaincoe.
The next happened when Farve threw a 58-yard bomb to Rice which ended in a 31-yarder from kicker Ryan Longwell. The penalty was declined, but the damage was done.
"This game I take the punishment and put it on my back," Walker said. "I'm definitely sick and tired of [close games]."
Baltimore took pride in their ability to stay in contention all day, however.
"I commend my team," Lewis noted. "Anytime you find yourself in football games where we find ourselves in football games, every game has come down to the freaking last drive. To me it speaks volumes. It speaks volumes because it shows a team that never stops fighting for 60 minutes.
"So the bottom line is that we get away from it, come back to it, and correct things in the fourth quarter that hopefully get us over the edge."
The Ravens initially kept themselves within striking distance with a 29-yard Hauschka field goal just before halftime.
Minnesota had a 40-yard field goal by Longwell that extended their lead to 17-3, but the Ravens answered with their biggest drive of the day, an eight-play, 72-yard series that came down to running back Ray Rice's 22-yard touchdown run.
"It was just plugging away," Rice said. "We knew they were stout up front, but if we get long drives, that is when it seems to start to open up. On my first touchdown run there were seven guys in and out. We did a quick count and just got off the left edge, they missed tackles. I got in the end zone."
Still, a defense that has recently been hit hard by offenses with strong passing attacks showed up yet again.
After the Rice touchdown, Favre found Sidney Rice over the middle with a short toss, and the receiver weaved through
Baltimore's secondary for 63 yards, setting up a 22-yard boot from Longwell.
Ray Rice finally put the Ravens on top with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Rice romped 33 yards to paydirt, shedding multiple tackles en route to the end zone.
But, the steely Favre put the Ravens away with a deep jump ball to Sidney Rice. That put the Vikings just close enough for Longwell to split the uprights for the eventual winning points.
The Ravens gave Hauschka a chance when Flacco took possession at the 1:49 mark. Flacco drove to the Minnesota 26-yard line, and Baltimore had a third-and-7 situation but decided to let the clock wind down to two seconds before the final kick.
Head coach John Harbaugh said that he did not want to "take a chance" that time would run out for a shot at getting closer to the uprights.
"With no timeouts, you are taking a chance," Harbaugh said. "We were in field goal range that was certainly makeable. We got done with that drive what we needed to get done to win the game."
In the end, it wasn't enough to upend the class of the NFC.
The Ravens now have two weeks before they take on the similarly-undefeated Denver Broncos.
"It is frustrating," Ray Rice said. "But at the same time, 3-3 going into a bye week is not always the worst thing in the world. I think we were in the same position last year, if I am not mistaken. I don't like to compare this year's team to last year's team. One thing we are doing is establishing our identity.
"Any team that looks on film, they are not going to say the Ravens' record is 3-3. They are going to say, "Man that is a good football team." You know we just could not push it out at the end."