What was historically unthinkable a second time has now happened three Sundays in a row to a Vikings team that's 0-3 for only the fourth time in 51 seasons.
After blowing first-half leads of 10 and 17 points in their first two games, the Vikings upped the ante on Sunday by blowing a 20-0 lead in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field.
"I feel sick right now," said running back Adrian Peterson, who wasn't alone in his disgust as the Lions ended a 13-game losing streak at the Metrodome on Jason Hanson's 32-yard field goal with 13 minutes, 1 second left in overtime.
Detroit is 3-0 for the first time since 1980, while the Vikings join the 1962, 1967 and 2002 teams as the only 0-3 teams in franchise history. The Vikings also extended their NFL record of blown double-digit halftime leads to start a season (three).
"What is it, fool me once, shame on you?" defensive end Jared Allen said. "Fool me twice, shame on me. I don't even know what they call it for fool me three times. I don't even have a phrase to answer what is going on."
Since 1990, three 0-3 teams -- the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills -- have gone on to make the playoffs. But with an offense that's 1-for-16 in converting third and fourth downs in the second half, the Vikings don't appear to have the firepower to stay ahead down the stretch.
Amazingly, the Vikings have trailed for only 6:51 of game time this entire season. But they've also been outscored 67-6 in the second half and overtime by the Chargers, Buccaneers and Lions. On Sunday, in front of 62,466 fans, the Lions outdid the Vikings in the second half in total yards, 308-108, and first downs, 15-5, not to mention the fact Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 22 of 30 second-half passes for 314 of his 378 yards and two touchdowns.
"I've never seen nothing like this before," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "I don't know what happened."
What happened is the offense disappeared on third down (again), the defense gave up too many big plays (again) and penalties came when they could be least afforded (again).
The only new twist on Sunday was a controversial coaching decision that failed and contributed to the loss.
With the Vikings leading 20-17 and facing fourth-and-inches from the Detroit 17 early in the fourth quarter, coach Leslie Frazier passed on a 35-yard field goal attempt. But what came next -- a handoff to Toby Gerhart, not Peterson, up the middle into the strength of the Lions defense -- was even more questionable.
"We were positive that we could get [the first down]," Frazier said of the choice of plays.
Not getting the first down shouldn't be a surprise in the second half. Since quarterback Donovan McNabb ran for a first down with 10 minutes left in the third quarter of the season opener, the Vikings have failed on 15 consecutive third downs (14) and fourth downs (one) over the course of 85 minutes of game time.
"It's just execution," McNabb said. "I feel like I left some plays out there. Things can get cleaned up, and for me that's the part that I look forward to."
McNabb is 1-for-11 passing for 8 yards and no first downs on second-half third downs this season.
Defensively, the Vikings forced the Lions to punt on their first six possessions. But Detroit then scored on five consecutive possessions and six of seven overall.
When the Vikings went with zone coverage, Stafford exposed the soft middle with passes to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. When the Vikings went to man coverage, the Lions used 6-5 receiver Calvin Johnson to beat solid coverage on the outside.
In the second half, Pettigrew caught nine passes for 88 yards, while Johnson caught six passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson beat tight coverage when he outjumped cornerback Chris Cook at the goal line for a 32-yard touchdown and adjusted beautifully for an over-the-shoulder 40-yard catch against Cedric Griffin in overtime. The Lions kicked the game-winner on the next play.
"[Johnson's] a great player," Griffin said. "He's going to win 50 percent, I'm going to win 50 percent. He won his 50 percent that time."
The Vikings also made their usual allotment of painful penalties. They had 10 for 79 yards, including an unnecessary-roughness penalty for a late hit on punt coverage by Kenny Onatolu near the end of regulation. Instead of getting the ball at the Detroit 45 with 11 seconds left, the Vikings started at their 40 with no timeouts.
"We were in [the locker room] at halftime saying, 'This is not going to happen again,' " linebacker Chad Greenway said.
And then it did. And now the Vikings have even more baggage to carry with them until Sunday's battle of 0-3 teams in Kansas City.
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org