In a memorable contest that featured 887 yards passing, there was no shortage of big plays Thursday night as the Los Angeles Rams surged to a 38-31 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
But surrounding those big plays were some subtler turning points that may have influenced the outcome. Let’s take a closer look.
15:00 left, 2nd quarter: Vikings 7, Rams 7
This is certainly not a ref-blaming forum, nor are the Vikings in a position to hold anybody other than themselves accountable for Thursday’s loss. But in all likelihood, the Vikings lost four points when Adam Thielen was ruled down on a catch on the right sideline to start the second quarter. Marcus Peters failed to touch him down, Thielen knew it and tried to run into the end zone.
The whistle was blown, however, marking the play dead and rendering it unreviewable.
It’s possible that safety Lamarcus Joyner could have made a move to tackle Thielen if he didn’t hear a whistle on the play, but considering how decisive Thielen was in popping up and running with the football, it could’ve been a Vikings touchdown and a 14-7 lead. They settled for a field goal instead.
1:41 left, 2nd quarter: Rams 21, Vikings 17
The Rams had touchdown drives of two plays, two plays, four plays and five plays Thursday night as Jared Goff threw for a gaudy 465 yards. One of their two-play drives was made possible by two Xavier Rhodes penalties — on the same play.
With Los Angeles trying to engineer a two-minute drive before the half, Goff began with an 11-yard pass to Cooper Kupp, which led to a defensive holding call on Rhodes. The frustrated Rhodes kicked the official’s flag, leading to a more severe 15-yard personal foul call that put the ball in Vikings territory.
TV cameras showed an angry Rhodes pacing along the sideline after departing the game.
Rhodes had mostly been charged with shadowing Brandin Cooks, but with Rhodes off the field, Trae Waynes was tasked with guarding Cooks and gave up a 47-yard touchdown on the ensuing play. Waynes (ankle) hasn’t been 100 percent, and his ankle has given out in two previous games after covering a deep pass. The Rams saw their chance and sent Cooks deep to beat the banged-up Waynes, taking a two-possession lead without Rhodes on the field.
0:28 left, 2nd quarter: Rams 28, Vikings 17
Here’s the clock management that armchair coaches will be discussing all weekend.
With one timeout in hand, the Vikings threw a pass over the middle to Kyle Rudolph with under 30 seconds left in the half. Rudolph was touched down at the 21-yard line with 23 seconds remaining, but the Vikings elected neither to call a quick timeout nor get a spike. Cousins tried to line up the offense for a play, winding the clock under 10 seconds, and with six seconds to go — and Zimmer wanting to ensure a field goal attempt — the coach called a timeout.
The move in hindsight is clear: Either get the spike in with 15 seconds or so and save the timeout or call it immediately and still have time for at least two plays — maybe more. By not maximizing the amount of time on the clock, the Vikings took the situation out of their playcallers’ and playmakers’ hands, who could have been trusted to design and execute plays toward the sideline or into the end zone.
Three points is better than zero, but the Vikings didn’t even get a shot at seven.
7:41 left, 3rd quarter: Rams 28, Vikings 20
In an effort to minimize the impact of officiating once again, let’s emphasize that the following flag reversal didn’t overrule a turnover or prevent a third-down stop. It expedited a drive that could’ve resulted in points anyway.
During a 56-yard Todd Gurley catch and run, Rodger Saffold was flagged for a block in Andrew Sendejo’s back that, as Mike Zimmer described, was “between the 3 and the 4.” The flag was picked up, however, and Gurley’s run stood, putting the Rams in the red zone.
Had the call been upheld, the Rams would’ve had the ball at roughly their own 36.
To be clear, the Rams only managed a field goal on the drive, which could have been accomplished with or without the penalty. Was it a missed call? Yes. But maybe not as game altering as some have supposed.
4:34 left, 4th quarter: Rams 38, Vikings 28
Finally, here’s the sack that forced the Vikings to settle for 3 on their penultimate drive. On 3rd and 6, Ndamukong Suh lined up on the edge and ran past right tackle Rashod Hill virtually untouched. To that point, the Vikings had only allowed one sack. Suh’s sack of Cousins not only took away Minnesota’s chance of a touchdown, it set off a sequence of three sacks on the next five Cousins dropbacks — the latter resulting in a strip sack that ended the game.
It’s possible the Vikings would still have lost even with a touchdown to pull within 38-35, but in a game with over 1,000 yards of offense, the Vikings settled for three field goals on a night when they needed to reach the end zone.