It feels weird focusing on Greg Joseph’s missed extra point in the second quarter when he missed a 37-yard field goal that would have won the Minnesota Vikings the game. But while there are multiple plays that contributed to Minnesota’s 34-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Joseph’s missed extra point hung over the game not only because it put the Vikings behind at times when the contest should be tied, but because it was an unforced error in an otherwise perfect start to the game.
You can’t begin much better than an 11-yard run from Dalvin Cook and a 64-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to his newfound WR3, K.J. Osborn. Not only did it turn down the volume on the Cardinals’ home crowd, but it also ignited the sizeable group of Vikings fans in the stands. After all, Arizona is a popular destination for Minnesotans trying to avoid the cold, and the Purple faithful showed up in droves to support a team that was trying to avoid 0-2 going into the home opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
Again, Vikings fans will go home disappointed. But this game had a distinctly different feel than the Cincinnati Bengals game, where the crowd was also thick with purple jerseys. The Vikings largely beat themselves in the Queen City. Conversely, they played well but didn’t leave themselves enough margin for error against Kliff Kingsbury’s high-octane offense. Give Kyler an inch, and he’ll run a mile. Give any Vikings kicker a reasonable kick in a big situation, and they’re liable to miss it. Them’s the rules, folks.
We saw a lot of novel things in this game, Murray’s pin-balling pass deflection that was nearly intercepted and fell gracefully into former Gopher Maxx Williams’ arms for a big gain at a crucial moment, and Nick Vigil’s attempt to toe-tap in order to secure what would have been a game-changing fumble were chief among them. But this was a familiar ending. And while I insist that the Vikings still have a chance until they lose at home, their chances in that game continue to look bleak. Minnesota always has trouble against Seattle, and they’re still making unforced errors in crucial situations.
When asked to summarize how he felt after losing two games by a total of four points, Mike Zimmer said he didn’t feel deflated. After all, he has insisted that both contests were close and pointed out that he felt much better about the Cardinals game. He’s correct in that assessment, at least in the abstract. The Vikings had to win in Cincinnati and lost. And, frankly, had they played like they did today, they would have won. They took fewer penalties and made more big plays.
However, Arizona was a barometer for how the Vikings will play against the best teams in the league. Did they get crushed like the Tennessee Titans did last week? No. Did they look like they could win this game at times? Of course. But the Cardinals didn’t air-raid them into submission, they simply took advantage of a few mishaps, had things break their way in some key parts of the game, and made the Vikings win it with a field goal. And, as we all know, that’s enough.
But let’s get back to that missed extra point for a second. The Vikings go up 20-7 on a crisp, nine-play, 84-yard drive. Minnesota is in control with 8:56 to go in the second half. They’ve played a superb road game thus far. Is it a substantial lead over the Cardinals? No, given Arizona’s offensive firepower. However, the Vikings are in control in a stadium that has a purple hue in it. But Joseph misses the kick, and it becomes a thread on your shirt that you want to pick at, only to have it unravel.
From the point Joseph missed the kick, there was a perpetual reminder on the scoreboard that he missed it: 20-14, 21-20, 23-21, 24-23. As the score flip-flopped before half, it pivoted around that missing number. The same thing happened after halftime: 30-24, 31-30, 33-31 until it showed up as the clock struck zero. 34-33.
Joseph had a chance at redemption, but if he missed a 33-yard PAT at a lower-leverage point in the game, how certain could anyone be that he’d hit a 37-yarder in the most pivotal part of it? Zimmer believed he would, and had reason to. The game was being played indoors on a clean playing surface. The ball was placed in the middle of the field, and Joseph had hit a huge 53-yard kick against Cincinnati and a 52-yarder early in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals.
Zimmer’s mentality is fair for a person in his position. It’s risky to try and force the ball into the end zone, especially when a 37-yard kick should be a near certainty. Zimmer was here for Blair Walsh but he wasn’t around for Gary Anderson. He knows about the team’s history with missed kicks, but coaches can’t believe in curses or a team’s history haunting future results. They need to be pragmatic: A kick from 37 yards should essentially be a lock.
It goes without saying, but if Joseph converts the extra point in the second quarter, his final field goal isn’t a do-or-die situation as the clock was expiring. Make it, and the Vikings go home a winner. Miss it, and they still have overtime.
This is less a critique of Joseph, although inevitably it is. It’s more a look at how the Vikings are beating themselves. Before the missed extra point, they were playing a great road game. After it, there were busted coverages, late points given up by the defense, and other subtle deficiencies that added up against a team that offers no margin for error. Joseph should have made both kicks, but that’s almost beside the point in some ways. It’s going to take a lot to beat Seattle next week, but the Vikings have to start by not beating themselves.