Vikings Bounced by Buffalo, 17-12

The Minnesota Vikings continued with the theme they have built so far this season – a usually solid defense, struggling offense and a tight game in which neither team put up more than 20 points. For the second straight time, that formula led to a loss.

The Vikings entered Buffalo looking for a bounce-back effort after they fumbled a win over to the Chicago Bears last Sunday. However, their first game in October looked a lot like Minnesota's other efforts in September.

While Mike Tomlin's defense held its opponent to less than 20 points for the fourth straight game, Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell's offense also produced less than 20, and when a desperation drive ended with a completed checkdown pass in the middle of field at the Bills 13-yard line as time expired, the Vikings were bounced out of Buffalo with a 17-12 loss – their second consecutive loss after starting the season 2-0.

Minnesota fell to .500 for many of the same reasons there was still concern when it was winning – too many penalties and an offense that struggled to find the end zone. The Vikings' touchdown draught that extended more than 12 quarters came to an end late in the fourth quarter to help pull them within five points, 17-12, but a final desperation drive ended without quarterback Brad Johnson firing one pass into the end zone.

Despite two interceptions and a 63.4 rating from Johnson, it wasn't all his fault. He wasn't helped by several dropped passes from his wide receivers, including more than one by Troy Williamson and a bomb on the final drive that Marcus Robinson dove for and got two hands on but couldn't coral. Johnson also didn't have a running game to speak of, as Chester Taylor gained only 23 yards rushing on 10 attempts, but the rest of the rushing game (by Johnson, Mewelde Moore and Travis Taylor) produced 40 yards on six attempts.

The offensive struggles overshadowed a solid defensive effort, especially against the Bills ground game. The Vikings held running back Willis McGahee – who rushed for a league-best 150 yards in Week 3 – to 78 yards on 28 attempts, and it would have been much worse for McGahee if not for his resurgence with less than eight minutes left in fourth quarter. The defense did allow Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman a 101.3 passer rating as the Bills' top four wide receivers combined to catch 19 of Losman's 23 completions.

In the end, though, it was the same theme the Vikings had built in their first three games – too many penalties (12 for 78 yards), too few third-down conversions (2-for-13 for 15 percent) and too little efficiency in the red zone (0-for-1).

The Vikings started by continuing their habit of scoring on their opening possession. Robinson contributed the first third-down conversion with a 12-yard slant for a reception. After two incompletions, Johnson found fullback Tony Richardson in the right flat all alone, a pass play that turned into a 24-yard gain. Three plays after Williamson picked up their second first down with an 11-yard hook route, the Vikings appeared to pick up another first down on a 5-yard completion to Travis Taylor, but Taylor was flagged for pass interference, forcing Ryan Longwell onto the field for a 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 Vikings lead with 8:40 left in the first quarter.

After a pair of three-and-out series, the Bills went on the first touchdown drive of the game. While the Vikings held McGahee in check, Buffalo's passing hurt the Vikings defense. It started with an 11-yard reception to Peerless Price. After another chain-mover, Losman hit Lee Evans for 14 yards on a hook route. Even tight end Robert Royal got into the action with a 13-yard reception to the 5-yard line. Two plays later, McGahee dove for the end zone from 1 yard out and gave the Bills a 7-3 lead 2:52 into the second quarter.

What followed was a strange exchange of kickoffs and punts in the second quarter. Buffalo followed McGahee's touchdown with a pooch kickoff that Bills cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas recovered; however, Jason Whittle was credited with making a fair catch signal on the short kick and the Bills were ruled to have interfered with his ability to make that catch.

After the Vikings punted back to the Bills, safety Rashad Baker ran into Buffalo punt returner Roscoe Parrish and was flagged for the same seldom-seen penalty. For the third straight special teams play, the Bills returned the favor. This time Andre Davis ran into Vikings punt returner Moore.

Lost in the middle of the penalties was the fact that five drives between the two teams went without a first down gained.

However, that era of the second quarter was ended by two drives that culminated in field goal attempts. It started with the Bills, who began their drive with 5:14 left in the half on their own 5-yard line. They went to work on Minnesota CB Fred Smoot. Evans began with a 12-yard reception and followed three plays later with a 23-yard gain against Smoot. Then came McGahee, who ran left to Smoot's side and gained 18 yards. One play later, Evans beat Smoot again for a 16-yard gain to the 26-yard line, 1 yard short of a first down after a Kevin Williams sack. After a Bills incompletion, Rian Lindell was called upon for a 44-yard field goal attempt into the wind, one that sailed wide right with 42 second left to play in the half.

Johnson went to work and hit Jermaine Wiggins for 11 yards. Moore picked up 8 yards on a draw, and Johnson followed that with a 9-yard scramble out of bounds. After an 8-yard pass to Travis Taylor at the 30-yard line, the Vikings spiked the ball with five seconds left and called on Longwell, who was true from 49 yards out to draw Minnesota within a point, 7-6, of the Bills at halftime.

The Bills' opening drive of the second half felt like their last one of the first half, except this time they took advantage of shoddy tackling, often slipping the first defender and gaining more yards than they should have. They began with an 11-yard pass to Evans, then a 15-yarder to Parrish. Then it was Josh Reed's turn. In three plays, he caught the ball twice for a combined 33 yards and two first downs. Losman followed by slipping tackles in the backfield and scrambled for 13 yards inside the 10-yard line. On second down, Price went to his knees to catch a wide receiver screen, stood up and slid through a would-be tackle from Smoot and went down the right sideline for an 8-yard touchdown and a 14-6 Buffalo lead.

The Vikings went back to their most consistent drive of the first half – the three-and-out variety – and their defense also held Buffalo on the ensuing drive. But the Bills were put back into business in short order when their defensive line tipped a pass that Angelo Crowell intercepted to set up Losman and Co. on the 32-yard line.

After a 13-yard pass to Parrish, the Bills went to the ground game. McGahee ran six consecutive times, picking up one first down but failing to get into the end zone. Still, Lindell capped the drive with a 28-yard field goal to give the Bills a 17-6 lead with 14:05 to play in the fourth quarter.

Things didn't get any better for Johnson on the next drive, as he fired to Travis Taylor on an in route, but linebacker London Fletcher read the pass and made a diving interception. While Buffalo didn't capitalize with points, they put the Vikings in a hole with field position. After another exchange of special teams penalties, Johnson finally took over on his own 10-yard line.

He drove the Vikings to midfield with a 9-yard scramble, a 13-yard pass to Marcus Robinson, an 11-yard run by Chester Taylor and an 8-yard pass to Wiggins, but a crucial third-down drop by Williamson cost the Vikings an opportunity to extend the drive.

They punted away and Buffalo took over with 7:39 to play and an 11-point lead. McGahee picked up a first down and 15 yards on three rushes, but the Minnesota run defense stiffened, stopping him for minus-1 yard followed by Greg Blue dropping Parrish for a 4-yard loss on a receiver screen.

Johnson took over with 4:10 left, and the drive looked to stall early after three straight incompletions. But, needing a touchdown drive, he hit Robinson for 23 yards on fourth down to the Buffalo 32-yard line. On the next third down, the Vikings got a pass interference penalty when defensive end Chris Kelsay dropped into coverage and knocked down Wiggins, so Johnson countered with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Robinson down the right sideline with 3:07 left in the fourth quarter. That ended a 12-quarter touchdown draught for the Vikings offense and, after the two-point pass failed, the Vikings still trailed 17-12.

The Bills needed an extended drive and got some help when Losman drew Kenechi Udeze offside on third-and-1 with a hard count, but Udeze stopped Losman three plays later on a third-down bootleg run that came up 1 yard short of a first down, giving the Vikings offense one last chance.

Johnson took over on the 17-yard line with 1:39 to play and no timeouts. It would need to be an efficient drive, and it was until it neared the Bills red zone. Johnson began with a 5-yard sideline pass to Travis Taylor, followed by a 10-yard outlet to Chester Taylor. After an incompletion, Johnson hit Wiggins for 7 yards in the middle of the field, then went deep for Robinson. On third-and-3, Johnson found Robinson behind coverage down the right sideline. Robinson dove for the ball and got two hands on it before letting it slip through his outstretched hands.

On fourth down, the Vikings regrouped with a 21-yard completion to Wiggins in the middle of the field, followed by a defensive offside penalty that stopped the clock with 39 seconds remaining. On first-and-5, Johnson hit Travis Taylor on a crossing route, but he couldn't make it to the right sideline after an 11-yard gain, forcing another spike with 19 seconds left. After a second-down incompletion that left 14 seconds on the clock, Johnson checked down to Billy McMullen in the middle of the field. When he was tackled at the 13-yard line, it didn't allow enough time for the officials to reset the ball and the game ended without any passes going into the end zone on the final drive.

Once again, the Vikings were left with a solid defensive effort that held its opponent under 20 points, but the offensive struggles throughout the middle portion of the game spelled doom in Buffalo – to the tune of a 17-12 loss – dropping the Vikings to 2-2 with only a home game against Detroit left next weekend before a bye.

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