The Minnesota Vikings knew two things coming into Sunday’s 23-20 loss to Denver – the Broncos don’t lose often at home and their defense is capable of dominating games.
Both of those factors came into play Sunday, as Denver piled up seven sacks of Teddy Bridgewater and had a handful of other plays where he either had to throw away the ball or run for his life to avoid double-digit sacks.
For a team that had to play nearly flawless to come away with a win, the Vikings didn’t do it early and, as such, never had a lead at any point of the game.
“In these kind of games, you have to be nearly perfect to win these games,” Bridgewater said. “You have to make faster decisions with the football and get the ball out your hand faster, but, at the same time, you can’t be too worried about the rush, so you just continue to execute our offense.”
Denver has assembled one of the deepest, most talented defenses in the NFL and it was on full display Sunday. Coming into the game, Denver had 11 sacks, coming from eight different players. Seven players had a hand in at least one sack Sunday, including three who were recording their first sacks of season – now giving Denver 11 players who have sacks this season.
“They’ve got some great rushers,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t block them good enough to win.
“I thought we had to get used to the speed of their defense,” Zimmer added. “We didn’t start off very good that way.”
The Broncos got the sacks when they needed them, including two on the Vikings’ first drive and two on the final drive of the game that salted away the win.
The Vikings struggled to protect Bridgewater, but Zimmer gave some credit to his offense for showing toughness and resilience, because Denver had a chance to blow the Vikings off the field early when it took a 13-0 lead and had Minnesota on its heels.
“We couldn’t block them when we were throwing the ball,” Zimmer said. “The pressure that they were putting on him, I didn’t think we played very well in the first half. We were able to fight back and make some plays and keep in there and hanging around. Our guys just kept fighting. It could have been ugly to start.”
Whether it was Denver’s speed on defense or the Vikings’ inability to pick up their multiple blitz packages, the fact the team was able to come back and have the game tied with five minutes to play was a testament to the fight in the team.
Asked if there was blame to be assigned, Bridgewater dismissed the notion, saying that losses can serve as a valuable teaching tool for the Vikings because they will face hardships like this in the future and have the confidence that they can absorb the blows and come together as team to rally … perhaps for a victory the next time it happens instead coming close but falling a bit short.
“This isn’t a finger-pointing session,” Bridgewater said. “We were in this game and had an opportunity to win it. A couple plays. This is one of those games that you had to be perfect. We know we’re going to be in another game like this at some point this year and we’re going to make sure we come out on top.”
GAME DAY NOTES
- In the much-anticipated battle of two generations of quarterbacks, despite getting hung with the loss, Bridgewater outperformed Peyton Manning despite being under intense pass rush pressure all day. Bridgewater completed 27 of 41 passes for 269 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 92.4. Manning completed 17 of 27 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of just 68.9.
- Adrian Peterson didn’t have a great day, but had the one huge carry that has typified a lot of games and is what separates him from other running backs. Denver made a concerted effort to bottle up Peterson by flooding the box and, with the exception of his 48-yard touchdown burst, he was limited to just 33 yards on his other 15 carries.
- The running star of the game was Denver’s Ronnie Hillman, whose first carry of the game was a 72-yard touchdown gallop. He finished with 11 carries for 103 yards, making him the second running back to top 100 yards against the Vikings run defense. After the game, Mike Zimmer took the blame for having the defense that was called on Hillman’s touchdown run, saying it “was a bad call on my part.”
- Both teams had success running the ball thanks to explosive plays. The Vikings averaged 5.4 yards per carry, while Denver, which hadn’t had more than 70 yards rushing in any of its first three games, averaged 6 yards a carry Sunday – rushing 24 times for 144 yards, half of those coming on Hillman’s big run.
- The Vikings gave up some big plays to the Broncos offense. In its first three games, Denver had just five plays of 20 yards or more. They had five plays of 20 yards or more in the first 33 minutes of Sunday’s game.
- Xavier Rhodes had a tough day, getting called for four penalties, but the Vikings did their best to keep dynamic wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in check. While they combined to catch 12 of Manning’s 17 completions, neither had 100 yards and almost all of their combined yardage came on three passes. Neither scored a touchdown in the game.
- One has to start wondering if Blair Walsh could be finding his employment in jeopardy. He has struggled for much of the past season-plus and Sunday was no exception. He missed a 38-yard field goal that brought a long drive up empty in the first quarter and, considering how the game unfolded, was critical. Zimmer said after that game that “it was disappointing. He needs to make those kicks.”
- The Vikings’ punt return coverage continues to be stellar. Of Jeff Locke’s five punts, four resulted in fair catches and the only one returned went for just 2 yards. Through four games, the Vikings have allowed opponents just 4 yards on punt returns.
- Denver came into the game with the league’s best third-down defense. While the Vikings converted just 6 of 16 third downs, their 38 percent conversion rate was the best of any of Denver’s four opponents this season.
- The Vikings had been allowing 46 percent of opponent third downs, but held Denver to just 2 of 9 (22 percent) conversions Sunday.
- Both teams took chances on fourth down that paid off. Peterson’s 48-yard touchdown came on a fourth-and-1 play and Manning threw a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Owen Daniels on a fourth-and-goal play. Bridgewater also took a fourth-and-1 sneak 2 yards.
- The Vikings ran 16 more plays (69) than Denver did (53), which gave Minnesota almost an eight-minute time of possession edge – 33:54 to 26:06.
- Denver actually shaved off some of the Vikings’ time-of-possession advantage in the second half. In the first quarter, the Vikings held the ball for 11:09 of the 15 minutes and had the ball for 19:49 of the first half.
- The Vikings had a pair of 13-play drives in the first half, but came away with just three points from them.
- The Broncos had just four drives of more than six plays, but came away with 13 points from them.
- The Vikings had two sacks and it was the first for both – defensive end Brian Robison got his first of the season and linebacker Eric Kendricks got the first sack of his career.
- Harrison Smith got the first interception of the year for a defensive back. Of the four picks the Vikings have this season, three of them have come from the front seven – defensive end Justin Trattou in Week 2, Chad Greenway last week and Anthony Barr on Sunday.
- Since coming to Denver, Manning now has a record of 24-2 at Sports Authority Stadium.
- In the first half of Sunday’s game, Bridgewater was 14 of 26 for 138 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, he completed 13 of 15 passes for 131 yards.
- In the first half, seven of Manning’s nine completions went to Thomas. He caught just two passes for 19 yards in the second half.
- The Broncos were clearly targeting Thomas. He had 12 targets Sunday, equaling the number of targets of the next three receivers combined.
- Zimmer had a chance to equal his career record as a head coach at 10-10. Instead, his career mark is now 9-11.