Six days after Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said he'd be taking a more active role in his investment, the Vikings floundered again.
Wilf spent hours after last Sunday's game contemplating what went wrong. Last Monday, he offered this analysis: "No, I'm not going to call the plays. But I'm going to go ahead and make sure that the right people do the right things," Wilf said.
"I think it's very important that the message is out that the person on the top is watching over them, making sure everything is done right. We're going to try to strive for excellence. I'll try to figure out what it will take for us to be the champs."
That didn't happen overnight, as the span of a week saw many of the same issues that troubled the Vikings in their season opener … and has troubled them on the road in the last three seasons.
Daunte Culpepper threw three interceptions and fumbled twice last Sunday at the Metrodome. This Sunday, he had five turnovers again – all of them interceptions. Running back Michael Bennett took care of the fumbling, turning the ball over twice in the Vikings' first four drives, despite being pulled from the game and later offered a chance at redemption.
Last week's assessment by head coach Mike Tice was this: "Offensively, it was atrocious. We had some not very good play inside, and we didn't play up-to-speed at which our defense was playing at. We looked too big and too sluggish. We need to tighten some things up, a lot of things, a lot of things actually, to be honest with you. We were out of rhythm so we have a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, a lot of work to do."
They worked, but it didn't affect the results in a positive way. For the second straight game, the Vikings didn't have a passing touchdown and almost went two games without an offensive touchdown. Last week: 248 total net yards. This week: 304 total net yards.
The offensive line had a lot to do with both losses, and the Vikings knew they needed improvement after the opener.
"I think we have to make sure the A gaps are protected. Those are two gaps closest to the center. I really believe in my heart that everything you do in protection starts at making sure that those A gaps are secure," Tice said last week. "That is really where all the problems stem from quite honestly. We have to tighten that up. That's very urgent that we have to tighten that up."
This week, the gaps didn't look terribly secure, from A to Z. The Bengals got pressure up the middle and on the edges, and Culpepper couldn't find a rhythm after being shook, rattled and rolled early.
The running game wasn't much help because it couldn't be early. After Bennett fumbled away the ball in two of the first four possessions, the Vikings were trailing 20-0 and trying to play catch-up.
The next four possessions then ended thusly: interception, halftime, and two more interceptions as Culpepper then began to press. For the first 28 minutes of the first half, Culpepper avoided turning the ball over. Then he pressed, and the Bengals accepted his gifts – five of them over the next 32 minutes of game time.
The evidence of offensive ineptitude lay all over the field, from blocking to fumbles to interceptions.
And Tice thought last week's performance was "atrocious?"
He tried to counter the outdoor ineptitude of his team by pumping loud music into Friday' practice. Instead, it was his own offense loudly singing "Helter Skelter."
FUMBLED, PULLED, FUMBLED, BENCHED
Michael Bennett may be closing in on the doghouse that Mewelde Moore felt so vividly last season, but Bennett's version has nothing to do with injuries … yet.
After running six times for minus-1 yard in the opener against Tampa Bay, Bennett looked solid very early by getting off to a quick start with runs of 9, 23, and 4 yards on the opening drive. However, ball security was an issue.
While it may have gone largely unnoticed, at the end of the 23-yard run, Bennett nearly had the ball pop out of his grip. On the next play, following a 4-yard run in traffic, it did come loose and the Bengals recovered.
Mewelde Moore was in on the Vikings' next drive, but when Bennett finally did touch the ball again in the second quarter, he fumbled after being stripped on a screen pass. Once again, the Bengals recovered and took advantage with points.
Bennett didn't see the field again.
It was similar to a situation last year, when Moore was running hot and made what he later called a rookie mistake by not going after a lateral that he assumed was an incomplete pass against the New York Giants. That and an injury put him in the Vikings' doghouse for most of the rest of the season.
Time will tell if Bennett is treated the same way.
Last week, the Vikings lamented the time that their defense spent on the field in the first half. In that game, the Buccaneers were on the field for 19:33 of the 30-minute half. It was even worse this week, as the Bengals, who went to a no-huddle offense on occasion, controlled the ball for 21:41 of the first half.
Some other dismal numbers to consider from the first half, when the Bengals built their 27-0 lead:
Cincinnati had an amazing 337 total net yards – in the first half. Most came in the passing game, where they threw for 266 yards in the first 30 minutes. Quarterback Carson Palmer was 20 for 27 with three TDs and one interception before the halftime gun.
THE MOUTHS OF THE SOUTH
On Wednesday, Fred Smoot said covering Chad Johnson would be his responsibility. It seemed like an odd statement for the Vikings, who usually keep their cornerbacks on a specific side of the field, with Antoine Winfield on the left and Smoot on the right.
As it turned out, Smoot's statement was probably more chatter than anything. Johnson didn't expose Smoot on his only touchdown of the game; instead, Johnson got a step on Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper for a 70-yard touchdown on the second play of the game.
Johnson finished with 139 yards receiving on seven catches.
WILLIAMSON KICKS IT
Troy Williamson said before the regular-season opener that the Vikings would initially give him one kickoff return a game to get him used to the assignment. He got multiple opportunities Sunday in Cincinnati, but the first one wasn't what he was looking for. Cincinnati squib-kicked it and Williamson's attempts to field it at about the 5-yard line were met with multiple bobbles before he finally jumped on it at the 10-yard line.
The Bengals followed with another line-drive kick to Williamson seven minutes later, after scoring their second touchdown of the game. Williamson, who finished with five returns for 66 yards (13.2 average), was eventually replaced by Moore as a kick returner.
The Bengals' line drives continued, as Moe Williams, Moore and even E.J. Henderson all finished with one kickoff return.
Williamson had better production on offense. After being shut out last week, the rookie wide receiver had two catches for 44 yards in Cincinnati.
Bennett's troubles weren't limited to fumbles Sunday. In his first chance back in the game following his initial fumble, he dropped a screen pass from Culpepper.
Last week, Bennett finished with minus-1 yard rushing. This week, he finished with minus-1 yard receiving on one catch.
The amount of offensive turnovers led to the final defensive stats being somewhat misleading, so we'll credit some of the defensive leaders.
Antoine Winfield led the team with nine tackles, following by run-stuffing nose tackle Pat Williams, who had eight. Safety Corey Chavous had seven tackles, while linebackers E.J. Henderson and Rod Davis had six apiece. Safety Willie Offord had one interception and two passes defensed.
On the negative side, the Vikings didn't get a single sack.
NOTEBOOK: Broken-Record Loss
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