In a season with a record-setting number of NFL games that were decided by one score or less, the Minnesota Vikings finished unfulfilled and frustrated with an 8-8 record sitting outside the playoffs.
They did it to themselves, as they know, with numerous regrets along the way. There were back-to-back losses at Philadelphia and at Chicago after coming out of the bye with a 5-0 record and the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL.
But when Vikings players reflected on the 2016 season that got away, one or three losses consistently stuck in their craw as the most frustrating. Two of them were against the same team – the Detroit Lions, who had the football gods on their side throughout much of the season. The Lions set an NFL record by winning eight games when they trailed in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings supplied them with two of those wins, putting Detroit in the playoffs, Minnesota out and clearly putting the Lions at the top of the list of “most frustrating” games.
Time and again, when Viking Update asked players about their most frustrating loss or losses, Detroit was the answer.
“Detroit loss, when we lost at home to them. That really hurts,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I got hurt in that game, too. That game, I still wonder what if.”
At the time the Vikings faced Detroit for the first time, Minnesota was 5-2. After their second meeting in 18 days with the Lions, the Vikings were 6-5 and the season was unraveling.
“Both Detroit games, just because literally we lost them in the last seconds of the ballgames,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “If we make a play here or there, it’s not an issue – we’re not having these conversations and we’re getting ready to play whoever. But we just didn’t get it done and that’s what bothers you is looking at it and the last seconds of the ballgame you weren’t able to get it done.”
In the first Lions game at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took a 16-13 lead with 23 seconds left when Rhett Ellison took a 1-yard carry into the end zone.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford was unfazed, hitting two passes and setting up Matt Prater for the game-tying 58-yard field goal as time in regulation expired. The Lions drove 87 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 28-yard touchdown to Golden Tate to win the game in overtime.
In the Thanksgiving game at Ford Field, the Vikings had a 13-10 lead for most of the fourth quarter, but the Lions went on a 10-play, 68-yard drive to tie the game with 1:48 to play with a 48-yard field goal. When Sam Bradford threw an ill-advised pass on the ensuing possession and Darius Slay intercepted it, the Lions were in position for Prater to hit a game-winning 40-yard field as time expired.
Right after the first loss to Detroit, another loss also stood out with a couple of Vikings.
“Both Detroit games were close. It could go either way. Washington, that was a close game,” running back Jerick McKinnon said.
In that game, the Vikings came back from a 14-0 deficit and took a 20-14 halftime lead, thanks to a 3-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen as time expired in the first half, but a missed extra point following that touchdown deflated the excitement heading to the locker room.
The Redskins had two drives in the third quarter that yielded field goals to tie the game and two drives in the fourth quarter that yielded field goals for a 26-20 Washington win.
“You look at Washington, when we went to Washington and they jumped out on us and we were able to fight back and just wasn’t able to get the plays done at the end of the game to win those games,” Robison said. “Even if you just look at two of those three games, those are opportunities that we had to probably get in the playoffs.”
The NFL set a record with 57 percent of games decided by eight points (one score) or fewer. The Vikings won by an average of 12.4 points in their eight wins, with only two of them decided by one score or less. Their eight losses were by an average of 9.9 points, but that was bumped up significantly by a 28-point loss to Indianapolis, and four of those losses were by six points or fewer, including both Detroit games and the Washington loss.
“All of them we had a chance to win. Every game that we lost, there was a couple plays that we just didn’t capitalize on,” receiver Stefon Diggs said. “If we got that play, maybe things would have been different. I don’t hold onto losses, I kind of move on from them. Hopefully we grow from it and do things different.”