In all three of their latest losses, the Vikings converted less than 40 percent of their third-down attempts. On Monday night against the Bears, they were 5-for-14 (36 percent) and three weeks ago against Arizona they were 5-for-15 (33.3 percent). But nowhere was that statistic more glaring than at the Carolina Panthers, where the Vikings converted only one of 10 third-down attempts.
Even with those poor showings, the Vikings are still converting 45.4 percent of their third downs for the season. So why the difference in those three losses?
"Probably some of the distances that we've had to try to get third downs from. I'll tell you, as we said earlier in the year, it usually goes back to your first- and second-down snaps," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "If you're zero yardage or lost yardage, you're not gaining enough and staying in what we call a normal (down and distance), in first and second down. Then you're probably facing a third down and longer type of situation."
The Vikings were only 1-for-6 on third down in the first half of the Bears game, but rebounded to go 4-for-8 in their much more effective second half.
Which leads to the second point of Vikings' struggles in their recent losses. They have easily outscored their combined opponents in every quarter this year, but in their last two losses, they have struggled early in the game offensively.
Despite outscoring their opponents 62-29 for the season in the first quarter, they didn't score any first-quarter points against Carolina. In Chicago on Monday night, the Vikings ended up with 30 points, but all 30 of them came in the second half as they found themselves with a 16-0 halftime deficit.
"It's really just as simple as us doing a better job executing what those openers are, what those first 15 plays are, and making them be productive plays," Childress said. "It's in all areas, whether it's a productive running play the first play of the game or a productive passing play the first play of the game. Typically when we're able to build rhythm through those openers, that has a tendency to carry over. But it's something we always look at and obviously you put the 15 down that you think have a high probability for success in your normal down and distances."
Offensively, the Vikings' first and third quarters are easily their lowest-scoring periods at 62 and 98 points, respectively, compared to 132 points in the second quarter and 134 in the fourth quarter. But the first and third quarters are also their best defensive periods, giving up 29 and 56 points, respectively, compared to 101 and 113 in the second and fourth quarters.
Adrian Peterson took responsibility for his overtime fumble that led to the Bears' touchdown on the next play to seal Chicago's 36-30 upset.
While Peterson has six fumbles lost this year, a league high for non-quarterbacks, Childress credited the defensive play of Hunter Hillenmeyer to punch the ball out.
"(Peterson) had it in the right hand. He was on the right sideline and had it in the right hand. I think the guy made a pretty good strip play. I don't know if it was just before he got to the ground, but not before he got his facemask tugged pretty good."
Replays do show Peterson getting his head turned by a facemask before the ball popped out, but a facemask is not a reviewable play.
"I appreciate the fact that Adrian is such a competitor. I know that it hurts him to lose. It hurts different guys different ways to lose. You see different people let it roll off their back. We talk about not letting it beat you twice," Childress said. "You want to take accountability for it. By the same token, you have to be able to let it go and have a shorter term memory and make the corrections. But I'm sure he was disappointed."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.