There are times when a game can hinge on one critical swing of momentum, as a potential comeback becomes a deficit too big to overcome. Such was the case with the Vikings late in the first half, as a series of unfortunate events came together to create yet another disappointing turning point of the game.
"The first half was terrible," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You can't play like that. You have to play four quarters."
Facing a third-and-3 with five minutes to go in the first half, the Vikings tried to cross up the blitz-happy Raiders with a run to Percy Harvin – the rationale being that, if the play popped, it could go for a big gain and, if it didn't, the Vikings would still be in position for a field goal. The Raiders sniffed out the play and brought down Harvin for a 1-yard loss, setting in motion the downward slide of the Vikings.
Lined up for a 48-yard field goal, holder Chris Kluwe juggled the snap and, by the time he got the ball down for Ryan Longwell to kick it, Longwell stopped and Kluwe was tackled at the 43-yard line.
"Those plays are dependent on timing," Longwell said. "We lost our timing and I stopped because I thought if it did kick it, it would be loose and potentially could have been taken back the other way. When you have long field goals, you need the timing to be perfect and it was just off a little bit."
While the Vikings didn't give up six points on the field goal, which would have tied the game 10-10, it gave the Raiders a short field to work with and Oakland took advantage.
After being bottled up most of the first half, Michael Bush broke off a 28-yard run to get into scoring position. Two plays later, Raiders QB Carson Palmer was able to convert a third-and-8 pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for nine yards and what would lead to a 2-yard touchdown run from Bush, turning would could have been a 10-10 tie into a 17-7 deficit with 1:20 to play in the half.
What followed was a microcosm of the Vikings season. Suddenly in a hole, Lorenzo Booker was hit in the air and fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving Oakland the ball back on the Vikings 16-yard, where the Raiders would convert the turnover into seven more points to take a 24-7 halftime lead. While the Vikings were able to battle back late, it proved too big a hole to dig themselves out of.
"Everybody could have taken a knee and the whole kickoff team could have been coming (untouched, but) that has nothing to do with me holding the ball," Booker said. "At the end of the day, I could have stopped it just by holding onto it. You never know which play is the one that's going to make a difference – in a good way or a bad way. That one was completely on me."
The halftime deficit became 20 points in the third quarter and, while the Vikings made a furious fourth-quarter comeback, the ill-fated five-minute stretch of the second quarter was the turning point of the game that has the Vikings reassessing their goals for 2011.
"Being 2-8, it's over now," linebacker Chad Greenway said of the Vikings' flickering hopes of getting on a roll and staying in the playoff chase. "We have to win the rest. That can be our only goal. If it's not our only goal, people in the locker room need to not be a part of it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Second-quarter downfall
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