After Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah crushed the Vikings quarterback — and any hopes they had of a comeback — on fourth down late in the fourth quarter, Teddy Bridgewater was sprawled on his back, staring up at the picturesque blue sky above TCF Bank Stadium.
The rookie quarterback, who was sacked eight times Sunday and slammed down on four other plays, lay still for a few seconds before one member of an offensive line that had let him down all afternoon extended a hand and pulled him up off the turf.
Bridgewater slowly walked to the sideline, sat down on a steel bench and shook his head. He had been battered all afternoon and threw three interceptions, but what pained him most was that he couldn’t get the Vikings into the end zone in the 17-3 loss, the first of his young NFL career.
“That just shows how tough this league is,” said Bridgewater, who couldn’t remember the last time he played a football game where his team didn’t score a touchdown. “Each week is going to be a different task, a different level of difficulty. So today we struggled a little, but it’s always good when you can go back tomorrow and learn from today’s mistakes.”
But will they have enough time in one day to go over all the mistakes, and where do they begin?
After the Vikings piled up 41 points and steamrollered their way to 558 yards of offense in a blowout win over the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, coordinator Norv Turner’s offense has skidded off the rails, scoring only 13 points in the past two games.
The Vikings turned the ball over six times in the losses to the Green Bay Packers and the Lions, and their quarterbacks, Christian Ponder then Bridgewater, were sacked 14 times.
Their running backs, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, averaged less than 4 yards per carry.
The team’s top two wide receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, combined for nine catches and 87 receiving yards in back-to-back double-digit losses.
A Vikings quarterback hasn’t passed for a touchdown since the first quarter of the Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots, back when Matt Cassel was still their starter.
All of those themes were prevalent throughout Sunday’s loss. The Vikings had only 212 yards of offense — they lost 45 yards on sacks — against a Lions defense that has one of the league’s most formidable front fours.
“This isn’t a one-guy-messed-up deal,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “It was a bunch of them today.”
The first fingers pointed should probably be aimed at the five guys up front, though.
The Lions routinely rendezvoused at Bridgewater’s torso, with their defenders splitting three of their eight sacks. Ansah racked up 2½ sacks. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh bullied his way to two more. Seven Lions were credited with at least half a sack.
Running backs and tight ends also faltered in pass protection at times, but the offensive line was physically no match for a defense that is one of the stingiest in the league.
“They kicked our butt,” Zimmer said. “Give credit to Detroit. They did a good job.”
And for the first time since replacing Cassel in Week 3, Bridgewater looked very much like a rookie.
On the team’s first drive, after the Lions roared down the field for a touchdown, Bridgewater threw his first career interception. He locked on to Patterson, who was running a deep post into the end zone, and expected Lions safety Glover Quin to be preoccupied with Jennings, who was running a shallower route. The veteran defender baited Bridgewater into making the throw and picked it off.
Bridgewater’s final two interceptions came on deflections. The second one clanked off Asiata’s hands into those of Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead. The third was batted at the line, and Whitehead was there again to come up with the diving interception.
“There’s things that are going to happen throughout the game that you’re not going to be able to control,” said Bridgewater, who completed 23 of 37 attempts for 188 yards. “But at the same time for me, it was an eye-opener because of my performance against Atlanta.”
Bridgewater was not the only Vikings player left shaking his head after another ugly offensive performance loomed large in a second consecutive NFC North loss.
“It’s frustrating to see your defense holding your opponents to a point total that we can overcome but we just can’t get the ball into the end zone,” Jennings said. “We’re not doing that and we’re not taking care of them.”
Added fullback Jerome Felton: “The execution wasn’t there. The play wasn’t there. The calls weren’t there. I think just all around it was a bad game.”
After the Vikings replace the Bridgewater-sized divots at TCF Bank Stadium, they must quickly figure out what has happened to this offense since everything clicked a couple of weeks ago.
If they don’t, the sack-happy Buffalo Bills will gladly pile on Bridgewater and help the Vikings make it three bad games in a row.
Matt Vensel firstname.lastname@example.org