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Minnesota Vikings analysis: The good and bad in Cardinals game

The Vikings were troubled by turnovers in scoring position that could have been the difference in the game. Plus, a look at Mike Zimmer’s cunning – “I lied, OK?” – in the week of preparation, Adrian Peterson’s uneven game and the emergence of the tight ends.

Turnover trouble: For the first time in three games, Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown pass. For the first time in three games, he didn’t throw an interception, but the Minnesota Vikings still found ways to turn over the ball three times, each of them providing the potential difference in points.

The Vikings thought they had a fumble recovery on the Cardinals’ first drive. Receiver Jaron Brown picked up one yard when Captain Munnerlyn appeared to strip the ball and Kenrick Ellis recovered. Brown was ruled down on the play and the Vikings challenged and lost, as Brown’s elbow touched the ground before the ball came loose. The Cardinals ended up taking a 3-0 lead a couple plays later.

However, that was just the start of the turnover storyline.

Halfway through the second quarter, the Vikings were in position to tie the game at 10 apiece or take the lead. Facing second-and-11 from the 23-yard line, Jarius Wright caught short pass and gained 8 yards before Deone Bucannon punched the ball out while making a tackle. Bucannon recovered and one Vikings’ scoring attempt was thwarted.

The Vikings did end up tying the game with 2 seconds left in the first half and were in position to take the lead on their first possession of the second half. The offense continued its first-half rhythm and drove to the Arizona 35-yard line when offensive coordinator Norv Turner called for a reverse, but Adrian Peterson was hit in the backfield before he could get the ball to Mike Wallace and the Cardinals had another turnover with Minnesota in scoring position.

Those missed opportunities would only foreshadow how the game would end. On third-and-10 with 13 seconds left from the Arizona 31-yard line – in position for a 49-yard field goal try – Bridgewater was sacked by Dwight Freeney when the defensive end spun around Matt Kalil and knocked the ball out of Bridgewater’s hand. Calais Campbell recovered to allow the Cardinals to kneel on the ball for the win.

“I was just ready to throw the ball out of bounds so we could live and see another down,” said Bridgewater, who ended up with 335 yards and a touchdown. “I didn't want to take a loss, sack or get tackled in bounds.”

Zimmer said he thought about trying for the field goal on third down, but the Vikings were trying to get the ball close with a sideline pass to a receiver. Bridgewater said the receivers weren’t getting open quick enough and he was attempted to the throw the ball away, but with Freeney’s quick pressure, Bridgewater’s arm was cocked to pass a split second too late.

Zimmer’s bluffs: Mike Zimmer said on Monday that Terence Newman “won’t have to” play safety. Newman started the game at safety after the Vikings placed Antone Exum on injured reserve on Tuesday and declared Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo out on Wednesday.

“Well I knew I would (play Newman at safety), but I didn’t want to tell you (reporters) because you’d tell the other team, so I lied, OK?” Zimmer said. “I mean, I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to tell the Cardinals that he was going to play safety tonight.”

Newman moved to cornerback for a series after Xavier Rhodes hurt his right wrist when he was hit by rookie Anthony Harris while both were making a tackle in the second quarter. Robert Blanton came into the game on the series that Rhodes was hurt and Newman moved back to cornerback, but when Rhodes returned, Newman eventually returned to safety. With Newman at safety, rookie Trae Waynes was getting his first start.

So what went into Zimmer’s decision to start Newman at safety rather than Blanton?

“Truthfully, because we thought Waynes was the next-best player and that’s how we could get him on the field, by moving (Newman) to safety,” Zimmer said. “That wasn’t a lie.”

The other bluff from Zimmer was more of a diversionary tactic. When asked this week about the possibly getting Bridgewater some shorter drops and getting rid of the ball quickly, Zimmer was the one moving quickly, taking the opportunity reiterate his disagreements with the analytical website Pro Football Focus, which tweeted that Bridgewater had a higher percentage of seven-step drops than anyone else in the NFL, part of the reason he has been pressured so much this year.

But on Thursday night, the Vikings made a point to get the ball out of Bridgewater’s hand early and it worked. He finished the first half 11 for 14 for 162 yards, which turned out to be one more yard than Carson Palmer, who was 12 for 16 for 161 yards and a touchdown. The only negative long-developing play in the first half came when the Vikings sent four routes into the end zone and Bridgewater didn’t have time to see them develop with a Cardinals blitz in his face. He took an 11-yard sack, but Blair Walsh hit the 44-yard field for to tie the game at 10-10.

Ironically, with an effort to get the ball out early, the final play of the game kept the Vikings from tying it up because the ball was still in Bridgewater’s hand when Freeney came free for a sack and forced fumble that Arizona recovered. Bridgewater and Zimmer both said it was a designed sideline route to get the ball a little closer than the 31-yard line, and Bridgewater said he was waiting for his receivers to get closer to the sideline when he decided – one second too late – that he would throw it away.

Peterson starts strong: Peterson stood by his comments that the Vikings were “outcoached” against Seattle last week, but also said they were “outplayed.” Peterson was irritated that he was given the ball only eight times, including five in the first half, against Seattle.

Those numbers were blown threw in the first half as Peterson ran with determination. He carried 12 times for 56 yards and touchdown in the first half. The Vikings stuck with him in the second half with 11 more runs, but he gained 13 yards on those as the Cardinals sent numerous run blitzes to stop him for three negative runs in the final 30 minutes.

Tight end reliance: Three of the four leading receivers in the first half from a yardage standpoint were tight ends. MyCole Pruitt had two catches for 36 yards, including one for 32 yards. Kyle Rudolph had two catches for 26 yards, including one for 17 yards. And Rhett Ellison’s one catch went for 41 yards in the first half. Rudolph led all receivers in the game with six catches and 67 yards and all three tight ends had at least 35 yards receiving.

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