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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Purple Pessimists get exactly what they’ve been waiting for with loss in Carolina

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings extended their winning streak to eight games a week ago with an impressive five-point victory over the defending NFC champion Falcons in Atlanta. This did little to calm the nerves of many Vikings fans.

The optimist saw the win as the latest accomplishment by one of the NFL’s best teams and also as the victory that gave Minnesota the edge for home-field advantage in the NFC, at least temporarily.

The Purple Pessimists, meaning a large number of those who follow the Vikings, saw it as an opportunity to pump the breaks and warn of trouble ahead.

Fast forward to Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Trouble arrived in the form of a 31-24 loss to the Panthers that meant the Vikings will have to wait to clinch the NFC North.

You knew this winning streak had to end eventually and you also knew it was a lot to ask for the Vikings to sweep a three-game road trip. A victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit has become more difficult than it used to be and, yet, Minnesota won that game by a touchdown before beating Atlanta.

The Vikings staged an improbable rally late in Sunday’s game – Minnesota scored 11 points in 2 minutes, 29 seconds to tie the score at 24 – but overall the Vikings spent much of the day making the exact type of mistakes they had avoided since beginning their winning streak in Week 3.

A wide-open Kyle Rudolph dropped a Case Keenum pass on a seam route; Adam Thielen drops a sure touchdown pass from Case Keenum; Harrison Smith misses a tackle; and Stefon Diggs tips a high pass from Keenum that ends up being picked off by James Bradberry.

The Vikings’ normally efficient red-zone offense was only 1-for-4; Jonathan Stewart became the first 100-yard rusher against the Vikings’ standout defense; and Cam Newton’s 62-yard run to the Vikings’ 8-yard line with 2:33 left in the fourth quarter set up Stewart’s winning touchdown.

Keenum had not had a passer rating below 100 since the Vikings returned from the bye four weeks ago, but that came to an end as he posted a 75.9 rating on Sunday. He also threw two interceptions and had a fumble after going three games without a pick.

The above miscues might be concerning, but some were bound to happen eventually. They all take a distant back seat to why Vikings fans should be uneasy right now, if you feel that need.

The Vikings went into Sunday without standout rookie center Pat Elflein, who was inactive because of a shoulder injury. That meant left guard Nick Easton was shifted to center and Jeremiah Sirles started at left guard. The Vikings also were without right tackle Mike Remmers, who hasn’t played in five games. The very capable Rashod Hill again took Remmers’ spot.

Things got worse for the line late in the third quarter when left tackle Riley Reiff left because of an ankle injury on a play on which Keenum was sacked. Reiff, who has been outstanding for much of the season, was taken to the locker room on a cart and the Vikings’ line issues suddenly went from a problem to a major worry. If Reiff is lost for an extended period, it would be a huge loss.

Keenum spent much of the remainder of the afternoon using his quick feet to try to avoid pressure that was often too much. Hill was now playing left tackle, Danny Isidora was the left guard, while Sirles moved to right tackle. Easton and right guard Joe Berger were the only two to stay put.

Keenum ended up being sacked six times after not being sacked more than twice in a game in his previous 12 appearances. If Reiff ends up being fine and Elflein’s absence only lasts a week, the Vikings should be fine and Sunday’s loss, while disappointing, will be far from devastating.

However, if the injuries on the line continue, and this begins to look like 2016 again, there will be little hope of the Vikings making a deep playoff run, much less becoming the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl.

Right now, the Vikings remain 10-3 and they come home after likely accomplishing the mission of winning two of three on the road.

If Reiff is OK, everyone can take a deep breath and calm themselves. If he’s not, the Purple Pessimists soon will be telling us, “I told you so.”

The post Zulgad: Purple Pessimists get exactly what they’ve been waiting for with loss in Carolina appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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