In their first close game under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings (2-5) found the same result they did last year in a handful of last-minute losses.
Leading for much of the game and all but the final second of the second half, the Vikings couldn’t get a decisive touchdown early in the fourth quarter after facing first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. By the end of that quarter, the defense couldn’t stop the Buffalo Bills when it needed it most in a 17-16 loss that was decided by Sammy Watkins’ 2-yard touchdown catch with 1 second remaining.
The Vikings dropped five games last year in the last minute with defensive collapses and it happened again in 2014 in their first game decided by 10 points or fewer.
“Defensively, I think we continue to work towards where we’ve got to get to and then our guys have to continue to have confidence in themselves that they can make these plays at the end of the ballgame,” Zimmer said. “We’re young, but we’re starting to get a lot of experience and we have to continue to do these things. It’s more about where we are and where we have to go.”
Minnesota ended up surrendering 373 yards to the Bills, but with three fumble recoveries and an interception, they were still in position to win. It was the final Bills’ drive that did them in.
Despite getting two sacks on Buffalo QB Kyle Orton on the final drive, the Vikings gave up a 19-yard pass to Watkins on second-and-10, a 24-yard pass to TE Scott Chandler on fourth-and-20, an 18-yard pass to Watkins on third-and-12 and a 28-yard pass to Chris Hogan one play before Watkins’ deciding touchdown.
It put to waste the Vikings’ rushing game, as they were the first team to gain more than 100 yards against the Bills this season. Rookie Jerick McKinnon led the way with 103 yards on 19 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per rush against the No. 1 run defense in the league.
“I asked the backs last night to try to get three yards after contact and I thought we did a lot of good things there,” Zimmer said. “We allowed them to get in there and Jerick made some nice runs.”
But rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater struggled, throwing two interceptions, taking five sacks, and completing 15 of 26 passes for 157 yards, including his first career touchdown pass and the team’s first passing touchdown since Week 2.
“I think it was just me trying to be perfect. I think I just went back to my old training camp ways of trying to just be perfect in every area instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting this offense and trusting this system,” Bridgewater said, referring to a rough stretch in training camp when he threw numerous interceptions in practices. “I’ve got to play better.”
Bridgewater wasn’t the only quarterback under siege. Everson Griffen had three sacks and the Vikings got to Orton six times, with Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph each adding to the total.
The Vikings and Bills played to a near stalemate in the first half, with turnovers and injuries ruling the first 30 minutes.
The Vikings forced two fumbles after Bills receptions and got an interception late in the first half, converting two of those turnovers into field goals.
But Bridgewater struggled in the first half, throwing interceptions to Leodis McKelvin on consecutive passes. The Bills were able to capitalize on the second one, turning that into a 26-yard touchdown pass to Watkins on the first play of that drive.
The Vikings lost two of their interior offensive linemen on the same play in the first quarter when John Sullivan left for concussion evaluation and didn’t return and Vladimir Ducasse left with a knee injury. They had only two additional offensive linemen active, which forced reserve tackle Mike Harris to play guard and Joe Berger in at center.
The Bills weren’t unscathed by any measure, either. Running back Fred Jackson left late in the first quarter with a groin injury and his backup, C.J. Spiller, left in the second quarter with a collarbone injury.
The Vikings got field goals of 40 and 55 yards from Walsh in the first half, the second coming with 15 seconds left in the half for a 13-10 lead, but it was Bridgewater’s best series that led to the touchdown. On third-and-7 midway through the second quarter, he hit Greg Jennings for a 38-yard pass down the middle of the field and returned to Jennings for a 15-yard pass on the next play. Then, on the 4-yard line, Bridgewater found Patterson in the flat for a short pass that allowed him to slip into the end zone.
That gave the Vikings a 10-7 lead, but it would be the only time they would find the end zone in the game.
Last-second letdown; Vikings lose 17-16
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