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Turnovers on Sunday returned to being the primary problem within Minnesota's five losses this season.
The Vikings (6-5) have lost the turnover margin 13-2 in their five losses this season, including 3-0 against the Broncos at Denver.
A fumble lost by Joshua Dobbs on the third snap of the game spotted Denver three points after the Broncos gained just 17 yards.
A fumble lost by Alexander Mattison halted the momentum of a promising drive at the 34-yard line, which was within Greg Joseph's range for a field goal. It took away the opportunity to add on a 17-9 lead.
An interception after Dobbs was hit as he was throwing the ball in the fourth quarter gave Denver the ball at the Minnesota 9-yard line. The Broncos lost a yard on the ensuing drive but then cut the lead to 17-15 with another short field goal.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell got aggressive and opportunistic, calling a flawlessly executed fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Minnesota 31. Ty Chandler fielded the snap as an upback and sprinted into open space. That drive also included a sneak by Dobbs on fourth-and-1 but ultimately stalled at the 12.
Joseph's field goal gave Minnesota a 20-15 edge with 3:17 remaining, but that was too much time for Russell Wilson to rely on multiple checkdowns to Samaje Perine and work the ball down the field to the 15-yard line. Wilson lobbed a wobbler up for Courtland Sutton, who high pointed it for the go-ahead score.
Minnesota was unable to mount an attack on its final drive.
Another winnable game slipping through our hands. As much as we all want our team to make the playoffs, we also have to acknowledge that we are not going to beat any team in the playoffs playing like this. Turnovers aside, we have to stop playing not to lose and start playing to win. I think the play calling was very good. Up until it mattered the most. TE pitch to a QB run, a couple Wild Cat formations. That's what this game is about. Be creative, have fun with it! But what happened after the fake punt? 31-yard gain, offense fired up ready to roll! Go for it on fourth down (twice I think?) keeping the pedal to the metal. And then all of a sudden, we get first-and-10 in the red zone and what happened? We turn the offensive play calling sheet around and start calling vanilla plays? It's 17-15, and we can put this game away with a touchdown. So what do we do? Run on first down for no gain. OK, fine, was worth a shot. Now what? Basically the same run for no gain again? So now it's third-and-10? Where were those creative plays we saw earlier? Where were those plays when we needed them the most? Instead, we settle for a field goal and keep them in the game. The defense held them to nine points off three turnovers, and that's amazing! They did their job. But that was time for the offense to put the game away and they didn't. I understand the argument of "Well, we already had three turnovers and can't risk another one," but I don't agree with it. What do you tell a QB after they throw an interception? Shake it off and move onto the next play. And that's exactly what a play caller should do as well. This isn't the first time we have played not to lose and lost. I really hope this coaching staff can finally learn that no one wins championships playing not to lose. They preach to the players about a championship mindset. They need to set a better example.
- Mike (Heartbroken fan from Jacksonville, Florida)
I really think protecting the football, particularly when telling Vikings players what had been working well for Denver lately, was preached excessively by Vikings coaches last week, and it didn't happen.
"It feels like there was a lot of things we did to try to win the football game, but the number one thing we talked about to make sure we tried to come in here and do, we did not do," O'Connell said. "We lost that turnover battle, and it should be something that we're going to talk about, we have talked about and clearly, it's a winning and losing stat in this league. No matter what you do, every other play in the game, you're just setting yourself behind and have to overcome even if you do have the lead.
"As you manage your way through the football game with those turnovers, you're missing out on opportunities, you're missing out on more time of possession, you're missing out on chances for three even if you don't finish in the red zone with touchdowns," O'Connell added. "We've got to find a way to get back to doing what we've been doing as of late which was winning that battle, turning the football over, capitalizing on it if it gets thrown to us, all the things that we're emphasizing and talking about."
A couple other teams have lingered and hung around in games this season, and Denver wound up being able to take advantage of its staying power.
There's still more than a third of the regular season remaining, and the Vikings withstood injuries to key players during their five-game win streak. It will be interesting to see where things go, especially with four division games down the stretch.
Exciting game, with too many turnovers. Too bad neither the offense nor the defense could execute in the fourth quarter with the game on the line - offense has dropped passes and ineffective pass protection on the final drive, and the defense gives up the lead with one minute left in the game. Not a winning formula. Here are my 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the game:
Holding the Broncos to a FG after our turnover on the opening possession. Nice third quarter TD drive by Dobbs and the offense. Overall, the defense played well.
Opening possession fumble turnover; on a failed trick play attempted on third-and-1? A questionable play call at best, foolish and ill-advised at worst. Third quarter fumble and turnover; another fumble by Mattison. Defense gave up a TD drive and lost the lead at the 1-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That's never good.
A disappointing loss to be sure. Looking forward to Monday night against the Bears.
- Jeff Ludwig
O'Connell was asked about the snap to Hockenson and pitch to Dobbs that ended with the ball popping out.
"If the play works, we're probably excited about it. I would say this much that we feel like Josh Dobbs provides an element to our offense that we want to try to use," O'Connell said. "Execution was not what we would have liked on the play and no matter what, we can't turn the football over. I do know he took a pretty good shot to the helmet on the play, and he was evaluated after that, but the way we ran it most of the night, I liked the call in the moment, especially early on in the game but it didn't work out."
Tough loss for our guys in purple, but Denver never let up, and though our D was bend don't break, we couldn't get away from "turnover-itis." Why does Mattison, who ran very hard tonight always seem to fumble when it matters most? Nerves?
Though the O-line let us down tonight, with a break here and there, a win was in sight.
You can't win 'em all.
- Nicholas Balkou
Mattison was good on so many of his carries, totaling 81 yards on 18 rushes, and he also had a couple of really nice blitz pickups to enable pass plays.
This was his first fumble lost since Week 2 at Philadelphia, but the fact both games were on national television means the plays are even more magnified.
It looked to me live and in rewatching the game that Minnesota actually didn't snap the ball before the play clock expired. Minnesota was sending Johnny Mundt in motion with two seconds left on the play clock.
Denver got immediate penetration on the play, and there was a lot of clutter for Mattison to try to navigate.
The best thing that could have happened to the Vikings on the play would have been the 5-yard delay of game penalty. One of the camera angles even showed Mattison making an official's sign for the penalty after the Broncos had recovered the football.
[O'Connell] needs to quit the cute stuff on offense. It turns into turnovers or huge losses more often than big plays. Also, poor game management at end of the first half. Run game was going, he calls a pass and stops the clock on top of it all. I think he gave Denver 6 points with silly calls, and this is a pattern with him, and he is too good for these mistakes.
- Josh in South Dakota
As an employee of the team, I realize some people might consider what follows as a company line, but I think O'Connell and his returning staff might be doing an even better job of coaching this team this season than last year. There were a few times in the spring when I mentioned the Vikings could play more complete football but wind up with more losses than a year ago because of how hard this year's schedule is. Throw in the substantial injuries to key players, and it further supports that line of thinking.
The competitiveness in games with minus-3 turnover margins like Sunday speaks to the performance being good. I already relayed his comments on the trick play, which didn't seem like was executed the way it probably looked on the white board or even in a practice rep. Coaches don't call anything they don't absolutely love on their opening drive of a game.
But even the best will leave a win or a loss thinking of a handful of plays that didn't go as expected.
The third-and-1 pass play to Mattison along the sideline fell incomplete with 1:19 remaining. The Vikings punted on fourth-and-1, but it resulted in a touchback, so Denver got the ball at its 20 with 1:11 remaining and all three timeouts, which was enough for Wilson to move the Broncos into range for a 52-yard field goal by Wil Lutz as the first half expired.
The failure to move the chains, which came along with stopping the clock and then the inability to pin Denver deeper all compounded, and the Broncos gladly took the three points.
After a fantastic and aggressive defensive performance, it seemed like DC Brian Flores took his foot off the gas for the Broncos single and pivotal TD drive. But the bigger issue was the turnover bug that came back to bite us again.
Disappointed but looking forward to next week. SKOL!
- John Madvig in Spearfish, South Dakota
We're scheduled to hear from Flores on Tuesday, so he'll probably recap several parts of the game after the benefit of film study and look ahead to next week's game against the Bears on Monday Night Football.
Lindsey Young's story from last night's game focused on the defense and included a recap of the game-winning drive. In short, the Broncos were able to clear space for Perine to catch checkdowns and turn them into a couple of explosive gains. Perine also was fortunate that the fumble Ivan Pace, Jr., forced trickled out of bounds before Pace could corral it.
It's as if the Vikings have regressed to the way they played in the first 3-5 games.
Turnovers and penalties; lots of them.
How can that happen? What will it take to get consistent?
- Gill Sorg
The penalty tally was six for 55 yards by Minnesota and four for 48 by Denver.
Aside from the mark-offs of yardage, penalties can also come with a hidden cost.
Minnesota's second possession of the game had a holding penalty go against Josh Oliver. Instead of a new set of downs after converting a second-and-3 with a 5-yard run, the Vikings faced second-and-13 and punted two plays later.
The Vikings also wiped away another first down when Ed Ingram got too far across the line of scrimmage (ineligible man downfield) on a play that would have been a 16-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson to the Denver 41 just before the 2-minute warning in the first half.
K.J. Osborn returned to the lineup, but he was flagged for offensive pass interference on the snap before the interception, turning second-and-10 into first-and-20 into first-and-goal at the Minnesota 9 for Denver.
They are all reminders of the importance of every play.
The Vikings need to try to sweep the Bears on Monday Night Football next week and then finally take their bye before a five-week sprint to the end of the regular season.