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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ brilliant defensive performance spoiled by errors

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings’ defense got robbed of a save-the-season performance.

Thursday night’s 17-15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys marked the fourth time during their stretch of six losses in seven games in which they had the ball and a chance to tie or win. In two of those games, losses to Detroit and Washington, quarterback Sam Bradford threw interceptions on the final drive. At home against Detroit, Blair Walsh missed an extra point and on Thursday night, Adam Thielen fumbled a punt at his own 11-yard line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown for the Cowboys.

Following the game, Bradford said that Thielen’s fumble wasn’t the only costly mistake. Usually that’s the standard way of saying, “Yeah, he screwed up but I’m not throwing him under the bus.” But in this case, it’s exceptionally true by cliche standards.

While the Vikings defense slowed down young superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott and chased down phenom rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, the offense and special teams put together an album of blunders.

“I thought our defense played fantastic,” said special teams coach Mike Priefer, who filled in for Mike Zimmer after emergency eye surgery kept him from the game. “Our defense buckled down, they played their tails off.”

As usual, left tackle TJ Clemmings acted as the car pool lane for defenders as they rushed by him to hit Bradford. He pulled off the incredible feat of giving up a sack and getting called for holding. It should come as no surprise that he was rated the game’s worst player by Pro Football Focus.

While the Vikings defense kept Dallas to only 13 first downs and 124 yards of passing offense, tight end Kyle Rudolph got both hands on a perfect pass from Bradford in the end zone with 2:10 left in the third quarter, but let the ball slip away. Minnesota settled for a field goal.

On another field goal drive, it appeared rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell ran the wrong distance on a route, leaving Bradford’s pass short.

With 7:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, receiver Charles Johnson let a pretty deep ball bounce off his finger tips, killing a drive while the Vikings trailed by only five.

While Danielle Hunter put together an all-world game, sacking Prescott twice and picking up six total tackles, Jeremiah Sirles jumped offside on the Vikings 2-point conversion attempt. The failed on the next play – though the referees blew an obvious penalty as the Cowboys rusher hit Bradford in the facemask with his hand.

The Vikings’ defense was facing off with an offensive line so good that Sports Illustrated and ESPN both wrote articles naming them the league’s MVP. It was far from a mismatch. Elliott finished the game with 86 yards on 20 carries, but most of that came on a 30-yard run late in the fourth. For the majority of the game, they kept the former Ohio State star from controlling the game and forced Prescott to beat them.

If not for Thielen’s fumble that set the Cowboys up for an 8-yard touchdown drive, it would have looked much less like a decent game by the Vikings defense and much more like a masterpiece.

What would have been better for the Vikings’ self belief going into the final four games than mauling an offense that averages 28.7 points per game? What would have been better for their confidence than winning a defensive matchup while their defensive mastermind head coach was sitting home following surgery for a detached retina?

It would have been the perfect win to push the Vikings into their final four must-win games. But those three words describe the season. Would have been.

“We had an opportunity to win the game, it just slipped away,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.

Mediocre teams let games slip away, good teams don’t. The Cowboys don’t.

“We spent a lot of time this offseason talking about one possession games in the fourth,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “We came up on the other side of them a lot.”

Now the Vikings will spend the next 10 days trying to figure out what they have to do in one-possession games. They have made defiant statements for the last seven weeks like Alex Boone’s, “it won’t happen again,” after Thursday’s loss. Those words have rung hallow.

The final four games are against beatable teams. If they want to have any chance at the playoffs, the Vikings can’t waste any more defensive performances like Thursday’s. But nothing in recent history suggests we should be confident that they won’t.

The post Vikings’ brilliant defensive performance spoiled by errors appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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