It was a familiar refrain in the Vikings locker room Wednesday, as players talked about a last-minute – in this case a last-second – loss to Buffalo last Sunday. It was painfully reminiscent of the five last-minute leads that evaporated in the waning moments of games.
Last season, losing that way became a trend. The Vikings are looking to make what happened late in the game Sunday a teaching point, not something that will be repeated.
“It’s tough when you go out and dominate for 97 percent of the game and then you lose it the last 3 percent,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “At the end of the day, we’re professionals and we have a good coaching staff that will help us move on from the situation. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to go out and dominate these guys and get ready for Sunday.”
The biggest problem with losing Sunday was how the game was lost. For 57 minutes, the only touchdown the Vikings allowed came following an interception that gave Buffalo the ball on the Vikings 26-yard line. The defense had been playing lights-out until the final drive of the game.
But with the Bills burning their final timeouts and facing multiple bad down-and-distance plays – allowing Buffalo to convert a fourth-and-20, a third-and-12 and a second-and-20 – the Vikings had multiple chances to end the game but let Buffalo off the hook. It was contrary to what the defense had accomplished the entire game and left a bad taste in their mouths afterward.
“We want to play defense the way we know to play defense,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “It’s just knowing your down-and-distance in clutch situations. That fourth-and-20, if they don’t get that, that’s the game. At the end of the day, you want the win. In this league there are no moral victories.”
The Vikings defense had one of its most dominant performances of the season, allowing just 17 points for the second straight week, but this time around they had six sacks, including three from Griffen. The formula for success was as simple as it gets and something the Vikings are looking to turn into a continuing trend as the season goes along.
“The big thing was we stopped the run,” Griffen said. “This game is built on stopping the run. If you stop the run, then you can pin your ears back and rush the passer. That’s what we’ve been able to do. We’re working good together.”
While all that really mattered at the end of the day was that Vikings left Buffalo with a 2-5 record instead of a 3-4 record, there were positives to be taken away from the performance, the final three minutes withstanding. The players are seeing the incremental improvement as they meld in the Mike Zimmer defensive scheme and there are good things that came out of Sunday’s game.
“We played well as a defense,” cornerback Josh Robinson said. “We gave up some things we can definitely improve on. That’s really the focus – improve on the things that we can and the things that we did well, try to keep them going.”
While individual players need to take care of their own business for the better good, defensive Brian Robison said the difference he has seen in the Vikings defense over the last couple of weeks has been the result of players taking care of their individual jobs to get all 11 players on the defense working as a unit.
“It just comes back to assignment football,” Robison said. “What we have to look at our assignment and play that guy. If we do that, then everything takes care of itself. Sunday was just one of those deals where one or two plays here or there could have changed the ballgame, especially on that last drive, but we just didn’t finish the way we needed to.”
The Vikings weren’t satisfied with their finish Sunday, but they don’t see any similarities to the malaise that went on to define their 2013 season. In the NFL, there is never time to dwell on last week, whether you won by a blowout or lost by a point with one second left on the clock. There’s always a new challenge in front of players and a lot of the them that were part of the self-destruction of the Vikings defense last year are no longer with the team this time around.
“The guys are different,” Smith said. “For me, when you first get into the league, you’re used to that mentality from the college that with one loss, your season is almost over. Once you’re in the league, you learn to move on to the next game quick, because the next game counts just as much as the last game. It’s kind of a process that you kind of get used to. You just have to get ready every week because your job is on the line every time you step out there.”
Vikings teaching point or trend?
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