It's becoming a familiar refrain: The Vikings need a stop to win the game late and instead give up a touchdown. It happened again Sunday, to the frustration of most defenders.
Here we go again.
Last week against the Chicago Bears
, the Vikings defense needed to make one stop to end the game. They didn't, as the Bears scored with 10 seconds to play to win 31-30. Sunday it was Act II of the same production. The Vikings had a lead with a chance to close out the game, only to allow Cleveland to go on an 11-play drive the ended with the game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left in a 31-27 loss.
For a defense that has allowed 34, 31 and 31 points in three games, there is plenty of frustration, especially when their woes come in the final seconds of games they could have and should have won.
"It makes it tougher when you get down to the last three minutes again," defensive tackle Kevin Williams
said. "Like last week, we let it slip away again. We have to try to eliminate that. We talked a lot about situational football this week and we just didn't get it done. We need to play harder. We need to try to be more sound and smart.
For most of the second half, the Vikings defense had done a excellent job of getting off the field. They created a pair of interceptions and, in the six drives prior to the final drive of the game, had allowed Cleveland just three first downs. But, with the game on the line for the second straight week, the Vikings failed to get the stop that would have salted away the game.
"Our two-minute drill is terrible right now," defensive end Jared Allen
said. "I'm not going to stand here and sugarcoat it. We had an opportunity. They weren't in the greatest field position. They got the ball at the (45)-yard line and needed a field goal, but we gave them a touchdown. Our two-minute drill is actually terrible right now and it cost us, in my opinion, three games."
As it stands, the Vikings find themselves at 0-3 with a tough matchup coming in London next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers
. Perhaps the trip across the Atlantic Ocean will clear their heads and give them the fresh start they need, but, as things currently stand, the Vikings are shell-shocked, feeling a stunned sense of disbelief.
"It's frustrating," defensive end Brian Robison
said. "I don't think any team thinks they will come into the season and be 0-3. I especially did not think it. But, yet, here we sit scratching our heads at why we are 0-3. The bottom line is we have to figure it out and win next week."
Perhaps the hardest part about that statement was that it was the working mantra for the Vikings this week heading into a game against an opponent many thought was packing it in for the 2013 season.
GAME DAY NOTES
Prior to their game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left, Cleveland had been outscored 41-3 in the second half of games this season.
The Vikings were shorthanded in the secondary much of the game. They lost cornerback Chris Cook on the first drive of the game with a groin pull and safety Jamarca Sanford went down in the second half.
It was clear that the Browns were willing to open up all the gadget plays they had at their disposal, especially on special teams. Midway through the second quarter, the Browns appeared ready to punt from their own 39-yard line, but a snap to the up-man (safety Josh Aubrey) went for 34 yards and led to a Cleveland field goal. It turned out to be the most yards rushing any Browns player would have. Four minutes later, while setting up for a field goal, holder/punter Spencer Lanning threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron. Those two plays provided 10 of Cleveland's 31 points and spelled the difference in the game.
One of the critical moments in the game was the Vikings' poor management of their timeouts in the second half that hamstrung their comeback effort. The Vikings used their first timeout with 10:47 left in the game following a touchback in which they were confused with the personnel and had to burn a timeout before a play had been run in that series. Their second timeout came with 3:21 to play following a Cleveland timeout when the Vikings failed to recognize they had the play clock running down. When they tried to get a late touchdown to win, the Vikings were left with just one timeout at their disposal.
Neither quarterback took control of his offense with any certainty on Sunday. Christian Ponder completed 25 of 42 passes for 228 yards with no TD passes, one interception and a passer rating of 64.4. Cleveland's Brian Hoyer completed 30 of 54 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions and a passer rating of 68.5.
Ponder did more damage with his feet than his arm, rushing five times for 46 yard and two touchdowns.
The Browns run defense lived up to its reputation. Coming into the game, Cleveland had allowed just 2.0 yards a carry. On Sunday, Adrian Peterson ran 25 times for 88 yards, but was limited to a long run of nine yards.
Josh Gordon, the Cleveland wide receiver returning from a two-game suspension, owned the Vikings defense. He was targeted a whopping 19 times, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Vikings passing game was largely limited in terms of downfield passing. The offense had three pass plays of 20 yards or more and two of those came on the first drive. The team's two leading receivers averaged just five yards per reception – Peterson caught six passes for 27 yards and Kyle Rudolph caught five passes for just 28 yards.
The Vikings had three interceptions Sunday, pushing their season total to six. Vikings cornerbacks have yet to pick off a pass and Harrison Smith is the only member of the secondary with a pick (he has two). The other four have been by Erin Henderson, who has two, and Chad Greenway and Kevin Williams with one each.
In the six drives prior to the game-winning touchdown, the Browns didn't have a drive of more than five plays. On their final touchdown drive, they ran 11 plays before scoring the winning points.
After posting just one sack in the first two games, the Vikings had three Sunday – two from Henderson and one from Brian Robison.
On the drive the Vikings took a 27-24 lead, the team put together a 13-play drive in which they converted on three straight third-down plays – all of six yards or more.
For much of the game, the fans were booing Ponder and it got louder as the game went on. In the middle of the third quarter, a loud chant from the stands of "Cassel! Cassel!" began, as fans had seen enough of Ponder for the day. He remained in the game.
Cleveland's 24 points in the first half were the most points they have scored in a first half since 2009 against Detroit.
Cook was injured on the first series of the game and replaced by A.J. Jefferson. On his first drive in the lineup, he was burned on a double-move by wide receiver Josh Gordon, who scored on a 47-yard touchdown.
The Browns won the opening coin toss, but opted to defer and let the Vikings take the opening kickoff. The Vikings marched 80 yards in 11 plays in a drive that took 5:47 off the clock. Peterson ran seven times for 28 yards in the drive and Ponder completed passes of 27 and 20 yards. Perhaps most impressive was that the Vikings, who were among the worst in the league through two weeks of the season on third down, converted all three of their third-down opportunities. It was a start the Vikings had hoped would carry over throughout the game, but it didn't. After that point, Peterson had 18 carries for 60 yards.
The Vikings have dominated the career series with the Browns, winning 11 of 15 games played between the teams, including a 7-2 home record – both of which got worse Sunday with the loss at the Metrodome.
The paid attendance was 63,672.
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.