Vikings know importance of closing out games

One of the big differences for the Vikings of 2014 was their ability to close out games after losing fourth-quarter leads with regularity in 2013.

It sounds so simple, but it doesn’t always work out that way – close out games when you have the chance to win and success will follow.

It can be argued that head coach Leslie Frazier lost his job following the 2014 season because the Minnesota Vikings couldn’t close out games when they had to. Granted, the Vikings defense was pretty awful – nobody allowed more points than the 480 Minnesota allowed in 2013 – but it was how they lost that was the most maddening for Vikings fans.

The 5-10-1 record from the 2014 season can still be painful for those who haven’t erased it from their memories. For those who have, here is a quick refresher course.

In the home opener, the Vikings had a 30-24 lead over Chicago in the final minute. They lost 31-30 on a touchdown with 10 seconds to play and no timeouts.

The next week, they held a 27-24 lead at home against Cleveland, but with 51 seconds to play the Browns culminated a long scoring drive for a 31-27 win that dropped the Vikings to 0-3 and, for all intents, sabotaged their 2013 season.

In Game 8 at Dallas, the Vikings looked primed for an upset road win against the Cowboys, taking a 23-20 lead with 5:40 to play – a lead that should have been 24-20 but for a missed extra point. Now, not having to score a touchdown to keep the game alive, Dallas never got in panic mode. Tony Romo drove the Cowboys down the field and he threw a game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds to play for a 27-23 Dallas win.

In Game 11 at Green Bay, the Vikings kicked a field goal against a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers to take a 23-7 lead with 14:42 to play. The Packers scored three times in the final 11:42 of the game – two touchdowns and a field goal – to turn a 16-point deficit into a tie – the game-tying field goal coming with just 46 seconds left in the game.

In Game 13 in a blizzard at Baltimore, the Vikings were ready to shock the world when Cordarrelle Patterson took a 79-yard pass for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 26-22 lead with just 45 seconds to play. But Joe Flacco drove the Ravens down the field and threw the game-winning touchdown with just four seconds left on the clock.

Had the Vikings been able to close out games in which they had a late lead, Frazier may well still be the Vikings head coach. They didn’t and he is gone, thanks in large part to late-game failures and being outscored 136-116 after the start of the fourth quarter.

The Vikings of 2014 outscored their opponents 112-95 after the start of the fourth quarter and flipped the script on their late-game collapses.

They weren’t immune from last-second defeats. In Game 7 at Buffalo, Sammy Watkins caught a touchdown with one second left on the clock in a 17-16 Buffalo win, but that never became a trend.

The following week the Vikings came from behind 13-10 to tie the game as regulation expired on a 38-yard Blair Walsh field goal and, on the opening possession of overtime, Anthony Barr stripped Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and raced 27 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 19-13 road win.

In Game 9, trailing 26-21 with nine minutes to play, Teddy Bridgewater orchestrated a long scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown run and 2-point conversion from Matt Asiata with 3:27 to play. The Vikings defense slammed the door on Robert Griffen III and the Vikings came away with the 29-26 win.

In Game 13, with the score going back and forth with the Jets, the Vikings got the game into overtime and Bridgewater connected with Jarius Wright on a pitch and catch of 87 yards for a 30-24 overtime win.

If you throw in a special teams gaffe that cost the Vikings a chance to go to overtime against Miami when the game-winning points were scored on a safety, it’s easy to see how the Vikings’ 7-9 season could have been better.

Successful franchises all tend to do one thing well – close out games when they have the lead in the fourth quarter. The Vikings of 2013 were abysmal at that aspect of the game. In 2014, they showed improvement. As we head into the 2015 season, if the Vikings can add that item to their résumé, they could be one of the surprise teams of this season.

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