The Minnesota Vikings went to Tampa with their destiny in their hands. After taking control of the seventh seed last week via an overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the equation was relatively simple: win out and you’re in. Control your fate rather than needing to scoreboard watch in Week 17.
The Vikings came out of the gates blazing, unlike the last two games where they had struggled early, moving the ball down the field with ease and controlling the clock, playing the exact style of football Mike Zimmer would have hoped for. On defense, they weren’t letting five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady get going. The 43-year-old sailed two huge third-down throws, missing tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Chris Godwin when they were open.
Despite this early success, blunders on the special teams along with some questionable flags ended up putting the Vikings in a hole that they couldn’t dig themselves out of.
Here are five numbers that further break down the disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey already came into this with little job security. Last week against the Jaguars, Bailey was 1-for-3 on PATs and shanked the potential game-winning 51-yard field goal wide left. He ended up redeeming himself in overtime, making a 23-yard chip shot to seal the game.
But he went 0-for-3 on field goals and missed his only PAT in Tampa, leaving 10 points on the board for a team that desperately needed them. He was the first player in over 55 years to miss three field goals and an extra point without a single make.
The impact of these misses goes far beyond the points left up for grabs. Missing these kicks provided the Buccaneers with good starting field position, essentially serving as turnover. These kicks also demoralized the defense, who gave up 17 points after the missed kicks.
Even Tampa linebacker Shaquil Barrett weighed in saying, “Tell the field-goal kicker we appreciate him” after the game.
I don’t expect Dan Bailey to be a Viking next week, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf fired this week as well with the way the special teams have played all year.
Despite a rough second quarter that featured two missed field goals, the Vikings were looking to go into the half only down eight points to this high flying Buccaneers offensive unit.
With just one second left on the clock and the ball at the Minnesota 48, most fans were anticipating an incomplete Hail Mary pass to follow. Because it’s the Vikings, however, it would be ludicrous for something “normal” to happen. Instead, what followed was a deep incompletion to Rob Gronkowski that the officiating crew flagged for pass interference on linebacker Todd Davis, putting the Buccaneers at the Vikings’ 1-yard line. They proceeded to kick a field goal with no time remaining to make the score 17-6 at the half.
In addition to the Bailey’s missed kicks, what made this game so infuriating was poor officiating as this was the first pass interference called on a Hail Mary since 2009.
Another controversial call came on a 2nd and goal where rookie Jeff Gladney got flagged for a PI when the guy he was covering, Mike Evans, was already falling to the ground. This call negated an interception, and the Buccaneers scored on the very next play.
The Vikings offensive line gave up six sacks, and quarterback Kirk Cousins was running around evading tacklers all game long. The offensive line followed up one of their worst games of the season against Jacksonville with an even worse performance. The offensive line didn’t give Cousins any time, and he had to scramble out of the pocket multiple times and make plays with his legs.
This inability to get set made it especially difficult for Cousins to get the ball to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson and they both finished with under five catches on the day. Thielen finished with the same number of catches (3) as fullback C.J. Ham.
With Cousins playing some of his best football recently, he will need more time to work the ball to his playmakers.
Despite the offensive line playing poorly, they should not be the only ones held accountable for the lack of positive plays in the second half. Despite the original gameplan revolving around controlling the clock, Kubiak showed an inability to adapt to circumstances when put in a hole. The Vikings only had one play over 20 yards, which was a pass to tight end Irv Smith Jr., who led the team with 64 receiving yards.
Although he had to pass the ball to get back into the game, there just seemed to be a lack of intent with these plays. The offensive line’s inability to provide adequate protection probably played a role in this, but it was disappointing to see the offense not take any risks down the field. The only real shot play was an incomplete pass on 3rd and long to Tajae Sharpe, who was double-covered.
With the running game playing as well as it was, I would have expected to see some deep passes through play-action, but it just never happened. The Vikings faced similar issues last week with their inability to consistently push the ball against Jacksonville.
While I harped on the negatives through the majority of the article, there are positives to take from this game.
Coming into this game, Tampa had the best-run defense in the NFL, allowing only 3.5 yards per carry. Dalvin Cook was the first player to get over 100 yards rushing vs. the Bucs, finishing with 22 carries for 102 yards as he sliced his way through their stout run defense. Not only was he the first player all season to get over 100 rushing yards, he broke Tampa’s 31-game streak of no rushers over 100 yards, which is impressive considering they face Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey twice a year.
Cook would take seemingly clogged rushing lanes and find a hole through them, exploding up the field for five to six yards. It’s disappointing that later in the game the situation dictated that they move away from running the ball because it would have been fun to see what Cook could have done in a different situation where Bailey converts his kicks.
It will be interesting to see how he does in this must-win game against the Chicago Bears next week that could determine if this team ends up in the playoffs or football purgatory.