Vikings defense collapses in 37-35 loss

The Vikings entered Sunday’s game with the No. 6 pass defense in the NFL, but Ryan Tannehill carved them up with a 396-yard passing performance that included four touchdown tosses.

For much of the 2014 season, it has been the Vikings defense being the strong suit of the team, often carrying the load when the offense would sputter. But after taking a 14-0 first-half lead and a 17-7 advantage to halftime, it was the complete collapse of the Vikings defense withering in the Miami heat in the second half that resulted in a bitter turning point in the 37-35 loss.

The Vikings started the second half with the ball but went three-and-out and the Miami onslaught began … and never stopped.

“It’s rough, man. It’s rough,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “The biggest thing we got to do is just come back, and we got one more week to win one game. That’s all we could do. It sucks.”

Starting from his own 20-yard line, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t even have to face a third down, completing four passes – highlighted by a 41-yard strike to Charles Clay – to get into the end zone. The score came on a sideline pass to Mike Wallace that was tipped by Xavier Rhodes into the waiting arms of Wallace, who turned and dove into the end zone to cut the Vikings’ lead to 17-14, capping off an 80-yard drive that took just six plays.

“We didn’t play Vikings defense,” Rhodes said. “We let them pass the ball on us and get yards on us, so that’s what it was.”

After a Miami interception on a bobbled pass to Matt Asiata, the Dolphins went after the Vikings again. Tannehill led Miami on a nine-play drive and, once again, didn’t have to face a third down until the last play of the drive – a 1-yard run by Lamar Miller on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Miami its first lead of the game at 21-17.

The Vikings answered by driving down the field to kick a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-20, but yet again the Vikings defense got carved up by Tannehill with methodical precision. He drove the Dolphins 80 yards in just eight plays, the biggest being a 42-yard pass to Brandon Gibson that set up the next TD – a 7-yard pass to Damien Williams on a third-and-5 play from the 7-yard line – to give Miami a 28-20 lead.

The defense had a chance to redeem itself following a bizarre series of plays that saw the Vikings score 15 points in 11 seconds on an offensive touchdown, a two-point conversion, a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and a second TD run by Asiata on the next play to take a 35-28 lead with 4:35 to play.

The struggles of the defense would have been largely forgotten had they been able to make a defensive stand in the second half to get Miami off the field and try to work time off the clock with the lead. That wouldn’t happen.

Again starting from his own 20-yard line, Tannehill marched the Dolphins down the field, completing 9 of 10 passes, spreading the ball around to five different receivers, converting a pair of third downs and capping the drive off with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Williams to tie the game.

While the offense and special teams both played critical roles in the loss, the defense had to shoulder much of the blame because Miami carved them up like few teams have been able to this season.

Prior to kneeling down to end the game, Tannehill and the Miami offense had the ball four times in the second half, scoring four touchdowns on drives of 80, 64, 80 and 80 yards. In the second half alone, he completed 19 of 23 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

“We couldn’t cover anybody. We didn’t rush and we didn’t cover. So that’s a pretty hard combination,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

“I think it was poor performance by us. We did things that I haven’t seen in a long time.”

There will be plenty of blame to go around following Sunday’s loss, but the biggest reason why the Vikings lost was because the defense couldn’t stop anybody in Miami in a 30-minute span of the second half, resulting a painfully uncharacteristic defensive collapse and a loss that ensured the Vikings of another losing season.

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