1. Biggest mistake? Linval’s tone-setter
In a mistake-filled 27-6 loss to Buffalo, the first blunder might have been the most significant because it set the tone for one of the worst upsets in Vikings history. Three plays into the game, Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen was facing third down on the road for the first time as an NFL starter. U.S. Bank Stadium was loud. The Vikings rushed six. And Allen was going down in the grasp of Eric Wilson. But the sack was nullified when Linval Joseph drew a 15-yard personal foul for lowering his helmet into Allen’s. The three-and-out became a touchdown, and Allen’s demeanor and the crowd noise changed. “Just because somebody says you’re supposed to win doesn’t mean that’s going to happen,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
2. Blitzing doesn’t go according to script
After Joseph’s penalty, the Vikings blitzed Allen six more times with five, six and seven rushers. Only one of those created a sack. Allen went 3-for-4 for 26 yards and one first down while throwing against the blitz. The one incompletion was a drop by Kelvin Benjamin at the goal line. One completion was a 3-yarder to the 1-yard line, setting up a fourth-down touchdown dive by Allen. The other two completions set up a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. And there was perhaps the “SportsCenter” play of the day when Allen beat the blitz by running and hurdling Anthony Barr for a 10-yard gain on third-and-10. Allen’s speed and escapability eventually caused the Vikings to be more cautious with blitzes.
3. No McCoy? No problem for Bills
The only concern from this viewpoint heading into the game was a Vikings run defense that tends to get sloppy. That concern disappeared when Bills back LeSean McCoy (ribs) was deactivated. But then Allen showed how well he can run. The Bills ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries (3.4). Allen ran 10 times for 39 yards and touchdowns of 10 and 1 yards. His other 10-yarder — the hurdling of Barr for a first down — was applauded by teammates who also want him to never, ever do that again. “It’s an eye-popping thing to see your starting quarterback leaping like 45 inches in the air over a guy,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “We have to let him know we want him healthy for the rest of the year.”
4. Special teams are still struggling
About the only misery Zimmer didn’t experience Sunday was a miss by new kicker Dan Bailey, who had no attempts. But the struggles on special teams continued with three of the team’s six penalties coming in the kicking game. After Buffalo took a 7-0 lead, an illegal block on the kickoff switched the starting point from the 22-yard line to the 7. Later in the first quarter, long snapper Kevin McDermott was flagged for holding on a punt. Buffalo got the ball at its 35 and scored to take a 24-0 lead. The other penalty was on Wilson for holding on the ensuing kickoff. Instead of having the ball at the 21, the Vikings started at their 8. Also concerning: The Vikings returned four kicks from their end zone. All four fell short of the 25.
5. Murphy’s Law rules the day
The play that summed up the Vikings’ fortunes came on a deep ball that Trae Waynes had perfectly covered in the first quarter. The ball went through his hands for an incompletion. He fell, sprained his ankle and was done for the day. Nine plays later, a touchdown put the Bills up 24-0. Another example came when Zimmer and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were spotted arguing after a stop on third-and-20. A blitz hurried Allen, who managed to get the ball away. Zimmer wasn’t happy that Rhodes’ loose coverage handed the Bills an 11-yard completion. The early onslaught calmed Allen. He called U.S. Bank Stadium the toughest place he’s played. “It’s intimidating,” he said. But less so when leading 27-0.