Loss brings out the what-if wonders for Vikes

The Vikings lost in the last second. They had numerous chances to seal the game before that last second but couldn’t do it. Now, how do they respond?

For Vikings fans with a memory, seeing Kyle Orton get the ball on his own 20-yard line with 3:07 to play was an uneasy sense of déjà vu.

Last season, the Vikings had a slew of games like the one they played against Buffalo Sunday. Almost every time, things finished badly. The Vikings finished 5-10-1 last season, but, if games were 59 minutes long, the team would have finished 10-6 and won the NFC North.

Games aren’t 59 minutes long. They’re 60 minutes long, as the 2014 Vikings experienced painfully in Orchard Park, N.Y. For this Vikings team, however, the loss may sting a little more than most.

In their first six games, they didn’t have a game that came down to the wire. They hadn’t had a game that had gone down to the wire all season. All of their games had been decided by double digits – their two were wins were by 28 and 13 points and their losses had been by 23, 11, 32 and 14.

By the time there was a chance to close out the game, they were either ahead or behind by too much to have the pressure-cooker that burned them so often last season.

It wasn’t so much that the Vikings lost. It was how they lost that was so painful.

The final drive included a fourth-and-20 conversion, a third-and-12 conversion and a 28-yard pass with no timeouts remaining on a second-and-20 from the 30-yard line that allowed Orton to spike the ball with 5 seconds remaining to set up the game-winning play.

Had the Vikings won, it would have been one of the games the team could have hung its hat on defensively. On Buffalo’s first drive, they got in the red zone, but a strip by Chad Greenway was recovered by Robert Blanton to give the ball back to the offense and keep the game scoreless.

The next time Buffalo had the ball, Harrison Smith stripped the ball from Robert Woods and Anthony Barr recovered, leading to the Vikings first points.

Late in the first half, Blanton intercepted Orton in Buffalo territory and helped set up a field goal in the final seconds of the half – a 55-yard bomb from Blair Walsh – that gave the Vikings a 13-10 lead. They would hold that lead for 29:59 of the second half.

Two plays before the punt that would give the Bills the ball back with 3:07 to play, Teddy Bridgewater missed on a bomb to Cordarrelle Patterson that could have salted the game away. It missed by inches.

Even for an offense that has struggled in recent weeks – two touchdowns in three games don’t add up to victories – in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Bridgewater converted a third-and-18 play with a 28-yard pass, a third-and-10 play three plays later and a third-and-9 play on their final drive of the game prior to the final punt.

For the first 57 minutes, the defense carried the team. The fact a team lost that scored four times and were scored on three times, it spoke to their shared culpability. If the offense gets one more first down, they work the clock and pin Buffalo deep or kick a field goal that would have made it a nine-point game.

That didn’t happen.

The Vikings defense had several chances to close out the game in the final three minutes.

That didn’t happen.

The game brought up images that we thought had scabbed over from last year. They got broken open Sunday. The memories of wins that got away came back.

After the 2013 Vikings suffered the first of those, they came in bunches. The Vikings of 2014 have to stop the bleeding if they’re going to make the progress they believe they can with the crew they have.

You can’t blame the absence of Adrian Peterson as the cause, although one has to wonder how different the season could have been if A.P. had been allowed to play while his court case proceeds. Being able to play-action to Peterson is a quarterback’s best friend.

The Vikings got knocked out in the final second of Sunday’s game. It was a haymaker that took them out of the discussion of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL. What will be important in the coming days and weeks isn’t that they got knocked down by Buffalo. It will be how they respond after they got up.

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