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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ 11-win season ends in disappointment; ‘We’re so close, but it’s just close’

By Andrew Krammer

MINNEAPOLIS – They made the gap feel closer than 27 yards.

This wasn’t like any of the Vikings’ other five losses in the second season under Mike Zimmer. The same team that was thoroughly handled by San Francisco, Green Bay and Seattle proved to be the better defensive team in Sunday’s 10-9 loss and first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Seahawks. They were the better offensive unit up until kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip shot, shorter than an extra point, into the open, windy end of TCF Bank Stadium.

They showed signs of a potential NFC force turning the corner, giving traction last week to their shock-the-world mission by walking out of Lambeau Field with a division title. The first 59 minutes and 34 seconds through Sunday’s bone-chilling game put the odds in the Vikings’ favor — Walsh was 30-of-31 in his career from inside 29 yards.

But their shot at dethroning the reigning conference champions ended at Seattle’s 9-yard line, where Walsh pushed a 27-yard attempt wide left.

“We’re so close, but it’s just close,” veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said. “That’s all it is at the end of the day. It’s frustrating, because we want to be the team moving on.”

The Vikings (11-6) ended a successful year wondering how far their potential could’ve taken them. Had they converted the go-ahead field goal, they would’ve been 26 seconds away from the NFC divisional playoff round in Arizona, where they’d fallen 23-20 a month ago – without a handful of defensive starters.

“Yeah, we’ll never know,” Zimmer said. “We did a lot of things a lot of people didn’t think we could’ve done and I think that’s what hurts the most — is we don’t get an opportunity to continue to do that.”

Sunday showed how the Vikings might’ve responded in Arizona, returning the same defensive starters that were missing from their 38-7 beat down by the Seahawks just last month. In the coldest Vikings’ home game in franchise history, with a kickoff temperature of minus-6 degrees, they froze a red-hot Russell Wilson and shut out the Seahawks through three quarters.

Though it was more than a missed kick that ended the Vikings’ season.

A botched fourth-quarter snap gave life to the Seahawks. Wilson chased the snap 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, recovered and evaded a duo of Vikings’ blitzers in cornerback Captain Munnelryn and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Wilson scrambled right, and the coverage followed. That left receiver Jermaine Kearse wide open in the middle of the field. Kearse outran cornerback Xavier Rhodes and picked up 35 yards to the Vikings’ 4.

“Honestly, I thought the ball still was on the ground,” Munnerlyn said of Wilson’s recovery. “He had a knee down and I’m like, ‘Man, is he going to get up and run with it?’ He picked it up and [spun] out and found the open guy. At that point, I wish I could take that play back and go up field…I didn’t know where nobody was. I was just trying to make a play and that’s one play I regret.

Injuries plagued the Vikings once again as they lost cornerback Terence Newman to an ankle injury and, after his first career interception, rookie cornerback Trae Waynes to an arm injury. They turned to Josh Robinson, who was lined up across from Kearse before the botched snap, and was in coverage on Doug Baldwin’s three-yard touchdown catch.

“We didn’t play very good on the touchdown pass,” Zimmer said.

Adrian Peterson fumbled on the next possession, leading to the Seahawks’ go-ahead field goal.

The losing locker room had more reasons than fingers to feel bitterness. Munnerlyn stayed in his pads longer than any Vikings player, sitting at a teammate’s locker staring into the floor. Many, especially veterans like him, saw an opportunity squandered.

“I’ve been in the league a long time,” Munnerlyn said. “When you have your opportunities, you have to take advantage of them. It’s not promised to be the same situation next year.”

There is a sliver of sweet in what the Vikings were able to accomplish in just the second year under this coaching staff. They’ve built a foundation through seven first-round draft picks over the last three years, producing a bevy of young talent that can serve as cornerstones for years to come, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

Impact leaders on defense like nose tackle Linval Joseph, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith bridged the 2015 gap between age and inexperience. The growth was proven with consecutive revenge battles, one won and one lost, in Green Bay and against Seattle. Some of those top draft picks, like Waynes and linebacker Anthony Barr, stood out Sunday on the biggest stage of their young careers.

“Obviously the future is very bright,” Barr said. “Very young team, young quarterback, young defense. I think we’re only going to get better. It’s just the little things we didn’t do enough of today. I think we’ll fix those.”

The Vikings showed they’re not in the ‘low-rent district,’ as Zimmer preached this season. They defeated the teams they were supposed to, after an embarrassing season-opening loss in San Francisco. But they went 2-5 against this year’s playoff field, including Sunday’s loss.

Cold thaws, but this will sting into the spring.

“We wanted to prove the world wrong,” veteran defensive end Brian Robison said. “Hardly nobody gave us a chance to win this game and by all rights we should’ve won it. I think that’s the thing that hurts the most. It’s a game we had in hand, and we just didn’t finish it.”

The post Vikings’ 11-win season ends in disappointment; ‘We’re so close, but it’s just close’ appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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