Turning point: Stale third downs

The Vikings had been one of the better teams in the league converting third downs, but that wasn't happening often Sunday night against the Cardinals. The Vikings' inability to convert during the heart of the game was a major reason for their 30-17 loss.

Coming into Sunday night's 30-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings had been at or near the top of the league in converting third downs on offense. Entering play Sunday, only Indianapolis had a better third-down conversion rate than the Vikings. But, aside from their first drive of the game, the Vikings converted on just three of 12 third-down opportunities, adding to their own demise.

Through 11 weeks of the season, NFL offenses averaged converting on 38.6 percent of third-down opportunities. The Vikings were more than 10 percent higher than the league average – making good on 77 of 158 third-down plays (48.7 percent). Only the Colts at 49.6 percent had been better, but after converting a pair of first downs on their opening drive and their final third-down play in the final two minutes, on the 11 chances they had in between, the Vikings were able to move the chains just twice.

After scoring first on their first drive with 9:53 to play in the first quarter to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead, the Vikings had three consecutive three-and-out series on offense. By the time they would pick up their next first down following the touchdown, they would be behind 14-7 and more than half of the second quarter had been played. By the time they would face another third-down situation there were only two minutes remaining in the first half and things didn't improve.

Faced with a third-and-4 from the 5-yard line, the Vikings tried a shovel pass from Brett Favre to Chester Taylor, but the play was sniffed out for a 1-yard loss. Instead of potentially tying the game, the Vikings had to settle for a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 – only the have the Cardinals drive 77 yards in 41 seconds to take a 21-10 lead into halftime.

Needing a spark in the second half, the Vikings converted their first third-down chance on a 16-yard pass from Favre to Percy Harvin on a third-and-4 to move the ball into Arizona territory. A score to start the second half could have changed the momentum of the game, but three plays later, faced with a third-and-10, Favre had his streak of 159 passes without an interception snapped when a floater to Sidney Rice was intercepted by linebacker Karlos Dansby. The Cardinals drove deep into Vikings territory, settling for a field goal to take a 24-10 lead with 7:45 to play in the third quarter. It wasn't the start that the Vikings envisioned, but it was still a two-score deficit that could be overcome.

It didn't take long for the Vikings to face another third-down situation, but this time it was a third-and-24 play from their own 43-yard line. After going a month without a pick, Favre threw his second interception in four passes – this time resulting in the first career interception by third-year cornerback Michael Adams. The play set the Cardinals offense up in Vikings territory, which got them in the red zone one play later on a 26-yard pass from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald. While the defense made another stop in the red zone, the damage had been done. Another Neil Rackers field goal made the score 27-10, turning the contest into a three-score lead for Arizona.

After converting a third-and-2 play on the next drive on a short slant pass to Bernard Berrian, the next two times Favre faced third-down plays, he was victimized by Arizona's Bertrand Berry – who sacked Favre both times to end the drives and force punts. By the time the Favre would convert his next third down, the Cardinals led 30-10 and there was just 1:26 to play in the game.

For something that has been a strength of the team all year, converting third downs was nearly impossible for the Vikings and, when added up together, helped create a disappointing turning point of the game.

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