When teams play championship football, one of the hallmarks to their success is taking care of the ball and not doing anything to sabotage their own efforts. The Vikings didn't secure the ball in Sunday's 24-17 loss to Atlanta – killing themselves with fumbles all day long that took them out of scoring chances, set up scoring chances for Atlanta and created an unexpected turning point of the game.
"I've never been a part of something like this, especially this late in the season," linebacker Ben Leber said. "You're supposed to be fundamentally sound at this time of year and we weren't. We had too many fumbles and the defense kept their offense on the field with penalties that could have been avoided."
While the defensive mental lapses hurt, it was the fumblitis that killed the Vikings Sunday. It started early and never let up, proving that eight is enough (seven by the Vikings) when it comes to the ball hitting the turf.
Fumble No. 1 - Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the first time the Vikings touch the ball, returner Chester Taylor muffs the ball at the goal line. The ball skids out of the front of the end zone and Taylor is forced to return the kick with defenders swarming around. He recovers the muff, but the Vikings offense has to start from its own 10-yard line.
Fumble No. 2 - With the game tied 7-7 in the final minute of the first quarter, Bernard Berrian fumbles a punt on the 20-yard line that is easily covered by the Falcons' Michael Boley. Five plays later, Atlanta scores to take a 14-7 lead.
Fumble No. 3 - On the first possession of the second quarter, the Vikings drive into Falcons territory and have the ball on the Atlanta 24-yard line. Adrian Peterson takes a handoff and fights for yardage close to the first-down marker when he is hit from behind by Lawyer Milloy and fumbles. Atlanta recovers and takes away almost sure points from the Vikings.
Fumble No. 4 - The defense had made a stop and the Vikings have momentum swinging in their direction following a 29-yard scramble by Tarvaris Jackson to midfield. One play later, a botched exchange between Jackson and Peterson results in another fumble. The Falcons recover and turn the miscue into points with a field goal with three seconds left in the first half to take a 17-7 lead to the locker room.
Fumble No. 5 - The Vikings take the opening kickoff of the second half and drive deep into Atlanta territory thanks to passes of 21 and 18 yards to Visanthe Shiancoe and an 18-yard scramble by Jackson. Looking for a score through the air, Jackson tries to backpedal away from sprawling defensive lineman Kindal Moorhead, who slaps the ball out of Jackson's hand. It rolls 20 yards backwards and is recovered by the Falcons – again killing what seemed like sure points.
Fumble No. 6 - While technically not ruled a fumble, a miscommunication between Jackson and Matt Birk results in a snap sailing past him for a 23-yard loss, giving Atlanta excellent field position on their next drive.
Fumble No. 7 - This was the only fumble not involving the Vikings. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan tries to dive into the end zone, but is hit in mid-air and fumbles into the end zone. Both Darren Sharper and Cedric Griffin have a chance to collect the loose ball, but neither does and, after the pile is unscrambled, the Falcons are awarded the ball and a touchdown to take a 24-7 lead.
Fumble No. 8 - With the Vikings needing a touchdown in the final minute and facing a third-and-10 play, Jackson is stripped of the ball from behind. Ryan Cook recovers, but it sets up a fourth-and-15 that sails incomplete to end the game.
The Vikings had nobody to blame but themselves for their performance, which was about as uncharacteristic of this team over the past two months.
"Turnovers hurt you and they did a great job of capitalizing on them," wide receiver Bobby Wade said. "That was the synopsis of the game. You can't turn the ball over this late in the season against a high-caliber team like the Falcons. They'll make you pay for it."
Unlike a turning point that saw the Falcons making huge plays to take away momentum, the Vikings believe the damage they did was all the result of their own obvious mistakes, so there won't be any head-scratching about what might have been.
"It's not frustrating," center Matt Birk said. "We know exactly what the problem is and what needs to be fixed."
Ball control and ball security are the trademarks of successful teams and the Vikings didn't have any of that Sunday, creating their own demise and their own turning point of the game.
Turning point: Lost fumbles
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