BALTIMORE -- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.