Déjà vu defense: Vikings lose in last minute

If Sunday's 27-23 loss looked familiar, it should. They had the lead with less than a minute left and lost it, leaving a frustrated bunch.

It would seem we've seen this movie before and the Minnesota audience didn't like the first two installments.

The plotline has remained the same – the Vikings do enough to have a lead 59 minutes into a game only to lose it on a final drive, creating a déjà vu that was just as heartbreaking as the first two.

In their second and third games, the Vikings faced nearly identical situations. Against Chicago in Week 2, the Vikings had a 27-24 lead with 3:28 to play with a second-and-goal from the Bears 4-yard line. They ran the ball on third down, settling for a field goal to take a six-point lead. Jay Cutler then drove the Bears 66 yards on 11 plays, completing 7 of 10 passes, converting a pair of third downs and closing the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds to play for a 31-30 Chicago win.

The next week, the Vikings held a 27-24 lead with less than four minutes to play. With Cleveland calling its timeouts to preserve time on the clock, if the Vikings picked up a first down, they could have wound the clock down under two minutes. Instead, the Vikings went three-and-out, giving Brian Hoyer the ball on his own 45 with 3:21 to play. Hoyer would convert a third-and-10 play to keep the drive alive and completed five of his next eight passes, capped off by a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds to play for a 31-27 Cleveland win.

This time around, the Vikings had just a three-point lead, 23-20, thanks to a missed extra point by kicker Blair Walsh, but had a chance to put the game away when A.J. Jefferson picked off Tony Romo in Dallas territory, giving the Vikings offense the ball with 4:29 to play.

With one first down, the Vikings could wind the clock down to two minutes or force the Cowboys to burn their timeouts. One first down, Christian Ponder threw a bomb for Greg Jennings that was nowhere close. That play-calling decision would be questioned.

"There had been a lot of eight-man fronts on first down. It looked like Greg had a step on the guy and we weren't able to connect," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "But that was the thinking, the chance to really go up."

Ponder admitted he overthrew Jennings.

After a short run by Adrian Peterson and a third-down scramble by Ponder that came up five yards short of the first down, the Vikings opted to punt, pinning Romo on his own 10-yard line.

That decision, too, was questioned. Should the Vikings have gone for about a 54-yard field to make it a six-point lead?

"I thought about maybe going for it there but also knowing that field position if you give the opponent, (I) considered whether or not we kick a field goal," Frazier said. "If you're not totally confident you can get it, the field position you're going to give the opponent (is bad). So I decided to have to make them drive a little bit farther and try to kick a field goal to tie it and hopefully not a touchdown to win it."

Thanks to the missed extra point earlier, the Cowboys didn't need a touchdown – a field goal would tie the game – but Romo wasn't going to settle for a field goal. He never faced a third down in driving Dallas down the field, completing passes of 11 yards to Jason Witten, six yards to Dwayne Harris and 18 yards to Cole Beasley to get the Cowboys to their own 45-yard line with 1:30 to play. When he connected with Dez Bryant on a slant across the middle, he broke free for 34 yards and suddenly it wasn't a matter of whether Dallas was in position to tie the game. They were now in position to win.

With the ball on the 21-yard line, Romo completed short passes to Beasley for nine yards and Witten for five more to the Vikings 7-yard line. After escaping a sack with 40 seconds to play and throwing the ball away, Romo found Harris on a slant over the middle for a 7-yard touchdown. When the Vikings looked up at the clock, there were just 35 seconds remaining and the Vikings once again had surrendered a lead in the final minute.

It's been said that the difference between good teams and bad teams is how they close out opponents when they have the lead in the final four minutes. For the third time this season, the Vikings held a lead with one minute to go asking its defense to make one more stop. For the third time, the Vikings failed to come through.

"It's definitely frustrating when you play and prepare as hard as they're preparing. These guys, they work so hard to come in and get a win and then to come up short," Frazier said. "It's just very, very frustrating. But we have some high-character guys that keep fighting, keep preparing. I'm sure they'll do the same thing this week."

If games were 59 minutes long, the Vikings would have a record of 4-4. But games are 60 minutes long and, as a result, the Vikings are 1-7 and looking like a team that is snake-bit and hopelessly out of contention. If fans are getting the sense of déjà vu, they're not alone. The Vikings are feeling the same sickness in the pit of their stomachs.

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.

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