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Boller, Ravens knock Vikings out of NFC playoff race

BALTIMORE (AP) -- All season long, the Minnesota Vikings relied
on their defense to win.

The unit collapsed Sunday night, and so did Minnesota's
flickering playoff hopes.

Kyle Boller went 24-for-34 for 289 yards and three touchdowns,
and the Baltimore Ravens eliminated the Vikings from the postseason
hunt with a 30-23 victory.

Needing a win to stay alive, the Vikings (8-7) came up with
their worst defensive performance in two months. Minnesota, which
hadn't given up more than 23 points since Oct. 30, allowed the
Ravens to go 10-for-15 on third down.

"We didn't play well at all. Our offense gave us enough points
to come out with a win," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "What
hurt was third down. They kept drives going. We can't do that."

The loss gave the New York Giants (10-5) a playoff berth.

"The two biggest things in the game are not staying on the
field on third down, and not getting off the field on third down,"
Minnesota coach Mike Tice said. "Defensively, the coaches tried a
lot of different things."

None of them worked.

"We're sick to our stomachs for not getting this win," tight
end Jim Kleinsasser said.

Baltimore (6-9) was long ago eliminated from playoff contention,
but the Ravens came up with a solid performance anyway.

"We tried to frame it as a playoff-caliber game because it was
for them, and therefore it was for us," Ravens coach Brian Billick
said. "The whole team -- and Kyle -- stepped up to the challenge."

Baltimore trailed 20-17 before Boller threw a 39-yard touchdown
pass to Derrick Mason with 14:47 left. Then, after Minnesota punted
from the Ravens 38, Boller directed a 68-yard drive that produced a
38-yard field goal by Matt Stover with 1:55 to go.

Any chance the Vikings had of winning their fourth straight road
game vanished when Brad Johnson fumbled on a sack by Adalius
Thomas. Baltimore turned it into a field goal with 1:03 remaining,
and the Ravens followed Paul Edinger's 46-yard field goal by
recovering the ensuing onside kick.

Boller backed up a breakthrough three-touchdown effort Monday
night against Green Bay. The third-year quarterback still hasn't
assured himself the starting job in 2006, but he has at least
provided the Ravens a reason to consider the possibility.

"I haven't made bad decisions the past two games. That's given
us a chance to win," Boller said.

Mason had nine catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He has 83
receptions this season, breaking the team record of 76 by Michael
Jackson in 1996.

"It feels good," Mason said. "This is what we envisioned
happening at the beginning of the season."

Johnson was 25-for-36 for 248 yards and two scores.

The announced crowd was 70,246, but several thousand fans
decided to spend Christmas night at home rather than watch the
Ravens conclude their home schedule.

Baltimore's Chester Taylor fumbled the opening kickoff of the
second half and Minnesota's Raonall Smith recovered the loose ball,
setting up a 26-yard field goal by Edinger for a 17-10 lead.

For the third time, the Ravens answered a Vikings score with one
of their own. On a third-and-7 from the Minnesota 47, Boller hit
Mark Clayton with a pass over the middle, and the rookie ran the
final 20 yards to tie it.

On the ensuing drive, the Vikings moved 18 yards after a holding
call on a third-down play by Baltimore's Chris McAlister, and
Edinger kicked a 40-yard field goal that put Minnesota back in
front.

The Ravens responded again, this time with a 79-yard drive that
gave them their first lead. After Darren Sharper was called for
roughing the passer on a third-and-9 incompletion, Mason got behind
Dovonte Edwards for the score that made it 24-20.

"You have to answer, especially against a team that's going for
the playoffs," Boller said.

Minnesota scored touchdowns on its first and last possessions of
the first half to take a 14-10 lead. The Vikings were 6-0 this
season when leading at halftime.

Game notes
Baltimore finished 6-2 at home. ... Heap's seven touchdown
catches are a career high. ... Smith recorded his first career sack
and recovered a fumble for the second time in as many games. ...
Boller improved to 13-4 in home starts.