There is a football adage that says that penalties can do more to derail a team than anything else. In Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, when the Vikings look at what did them in, front and center will be penalties.
The Vikings committed 11 penalties, many of which were critical to either keeping Colts' drives alive or costing the Vikings valuable field position. In the end, it may have been penalties more than anything that cost the Vikings the game.
"When they push you back, those yards are hard to overcome," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "Yards in the NFL are already hard to gain so when you have to gain more it's tough."
The trouble started early. The Vikings were driving on their opening series, but on a second-and-2 play from the Indianapolis 30-yard line, Adrian Peterson broke off a 9-yard run that was negated by a 10-yard holding penalty on guard Charlie Johnson. It would have been Peterson's longest run of the day … by 3 yards.
Instead of a first-and-10 from the Indianapolis 21-yard line, they had a second-and-12 from the Indy 40-yard line. When Phil Loadholt was called for illegal formation the next play, the drive stalled and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal.
"We had the penalty on one of those drives that really backed us out of field goal range and got us out of our rhythm," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The game changed in the second half and we needed to get the ball down the field in the second half and we were able to do that."
Trailing 17-6 at halftime, the Vikings appeared to have the Colts off the field twice in the first drive of the second half. The Colts had to punt, but Andrew Sendejo was called for roughing the punter when he dove for the block and touched Pat McAfee to keep the drive alive. Frazier said his assistants in the booth didn't think it warranted a 15-yard penalty.
Still, three plays later, the Vikings were again ready to force the Colts to punt, but Jared Allen, who was chasing down Andrew Luck, tackled him out of bounds for another 15-yard penalty. While Allen reportedly disagreed with the call, there was little doubt the penalty cost the Vikings.
Bolstered by having their offense bailed out twice, the Colts took advantage – kicking a field goal that gave them a 20-6 lead.
"They got a field goal out of that and turns out the field goal is the difference in the game," Frazier said. "It's one of those moments like we talked about earlier where we shot ourselves in the foot and just didn't do the right things in either one of those situations."
With a chance to get back in the game late in the third quarter, the Vikings had the Colts pinned on their own 4-yard line and forced them into a punting situation. McAfee bombed a 64-yard punt that Marcus Sherels returned 10 yards, but a block in the back call on Christian Ballard pushed the Vikings back to their own 32-yard line – giving the Colts a total net gain of 64 yards on the change of possession.
Needing a stop in the final seconds, the Vikings defense essentially gave Luck a free play when Everson Griffen jumped offside. Had the Vikings come up with the big play they so desperately needed, it would have been negated by the penalty.
"It's tough to beat an opponent and yourself at the same time," Ponder said. "We've got to do a better job mentally of correcting those things.
There were a dozen or more plays that helped tip Sunday's game in the favor of the Colts. But it was penalties as much as any pass or run that made the difference between winning and losing Sunday. The record book will claim that the Colts beat the Vikings, but, in many ways, the Vikings did the job themselves.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Abundant and critical penalties cost Vikings
Viking Update Top Stories
Vikings try to keep the faithThe Minnesota Vikings are in dire straits with their playoff hopes, but they believe they have the “grit” to win out and make the playoffs.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 12:12 PM
Zimmer returns to work, expected to travelThe Minnesota Vikings got head coach Mike Zimmer back on Monday.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:20 AM
Just Win (Four), BabyThe Minnesota Vikings need some help to make the playoffs. They didn't get much Sunday as Detroit and Tampa Bay improved their own postseason stock.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 5:52 AM
Sunday slant: Don’t blame BradfordSam Bradford has been getting criticism from some fans and observers, but a look at numerous analytics, and an overall view of the game, shows just how good he has been without…
Viking UpdateSunday at 1:57 PM