In the two previous weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have been thumped soundly on the road. In Philadelphia, they trailed 21-3 until very late in the game. At Chicago, they trailed by a similar score of 20-3 until a garbage time touchdown. As Mike Zimmer admitted in both cases, Minnesota just got outplayed.
The same can’t necessarily be said about Sunday’s 22-16 overtime loss against Detroit, a game where momentary lapses in each phase offset other encouraging signs to send the Vikings to their first home loss in US Bank Stadium and just their second three-game losing streak of the Mike Zimmer Era.
Golden Tate somersaulted into the end zone on Detroit’s first drive of overtime, appropriately breaking a pair of tackles on his way to the end zone, converting a 3rd and 8 in the process of his game-winning grab. Missed tackles and third down defense – two areas where the Vikings struggled mightily. “We’re going to make tackles, we’re going to miss tackles,” said linebacker Anthony Barr. “You have to make the play when it comes your way. I had my fair share today.”
Matthew Stafford. Golden Tate.
— NFL (@NFL) November 6, 2016
Opponents are now 14 of 28 on third downs in the past two games – 7 of 14 both weeks. Detroit converted on four third downs on their game-clinching drive (including one via penalty), ending the game before the Vikings even got an opportunity to possess the ball in OT. The Lions also advanced the ball on four third downs (one via penalty) to end the first half with a 17-play touchdown drive take a 10-3 halftime lead.
But perhaps most egregiously, Minnesota let the Lions move the ball 35 yards in two plays with under 30 seconds left to set up a game-tying Matt Prater field goal with no time remaining. The Vikings went to a prevent defense, only rushing three men, and allowed Detroit to complete a 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts, setting up Prater’s heroics. Head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game that he rued the decision. “That’s probably the thing I regret the most,” Zimmer said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would probably rush four and try and get it that way. He scrambled around and made a play, that’s how it goes.”
There is a lot to fix if the Minnesota defense ever wants to draw historical comparisons again.
While it’s probably no consolation for the collapse, the Vikings were otherwise excellent defensively, even holding the Lions without a first down on their first four second half drives. But in a game where the Vikings’ offense routinely stalled out inside the red zone, the defense’s 22 points allowed – a season high – didn’t get it done. The pass rush was again an absentee with just one sack, giving the once-feared defense a mere two sacks in three games. The last three opponents seem to have found a recipe for dodging Minnesota’s blitzes. “We pressured quite a bit, we just didn’t get him on the ground,” said Zimmer. “That’s nothing new.” Of course, a more porous rush defense and an alarming tendency to play from behind are helping opposing team’s steer clear of the Vikings pass rush as well. There is a lot to fix if the Minnesota defense ever wants to draw historical comparisons again.
The Vikings offense showed enough to tantalize fans under the new leadership of coordinator Pat Shurmur, but it failed to produce significantly better results on the scoreboard. Minnesota botched multiple situations deep in Lions territory, using virtually each imaginable strategy. They penalized themselves into a 3rd and long, leading to a deep Bradford dropback and a sack that knocked them out of field goal range (this was another Zimmer postgame regret). Blair Walsh had a go-ahead 46-yard field goal blocked. He also missed an extra point after the Vikings notched a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. Later on, the Vikings went for it on 4th and 1 from the 5-yard line and came up short, one play after failing on a 3rd and 1 from the same spot.
Naturally, the blocked field goal and the fourth-down decision will be linked and analyzed all week. Both of Walsh’s misses effected the Vikings’ game management going forward, especially their decision not to take three points with under five minutes left. “It was fourth and about six inches,” said Zimmer, “and I felt like our offense continues to need confidence as they move forward. And yes, it did factor in that [Walsh] missed an extra point in there, but that wasn’t really it.”
:02 left. Down 3.
Make it, and force OT.
Miss it, go home with L.
Matt Prater. 58 yards. Right down the middle. https://t.co/cz2xkAWpLe
— NFL (@NFL) November 6, 2016
Tracing the Butterfly Effect within a football game is hard, but, in all likelihood, if Walsh had been able to convert on both missed kicks: 1) The Vikings lead 13-10 and don’t set Detroit up for their own fourth quarter field goal, 2) They attempt a short field goal instead of going for it to make it a 16-10 score, 3) They’re in a position to win the game if they keep the Lions out of the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Walsh, growing weary of his critics as he endures his worst professional season, was irritated after the game. “You guys have to understand, what do you want me to say?” Walsh said. “I want to be there for the team. Of course I do. C’mon, you guys ask the same questions every week. Did you make it? Why didn’t it go in? If I had the answer right away, I’d tell you. I’m confident what I’m doing. I know that I’m going to be fine, but it’s tough right now.”
While Walsh is an easy scapegoat, the Vikings lost for a variety of reasons on Sunday. The defense failed twice in the game’s latter stages. The offense bungled simple scoring situations. And of course, the kicker left four points on the field. The Vikings’ failure to execute for a full 60 minutes (and beyond) sent them to their demise. And for the third straight week, everybody is wondering how they’ll respond.
“In the NFL, your success is completely derived from your ability to bounce back,” said Chad Greenway. “(Expletive) is gonna happen in the NFL, and everybody’s good. Doesn’t matter who you play. You’re never judged on one game, that’s the beauty of it. Same time, you’ve got to win games, so our success moving forward is all going to be in regard to our ability to move forward.”