The Gophers and Vikings lost close games this weekend, and the big reason was because they beat themselves.
On Saturday, the Gophers played nothing like they had in building a 3-0 nonconference record. They gave up 31 points to Maryland after giving up only eight points per game in their first three contests, they allowed 262 rushing yards after leading the country in allowing only 59 yards per game coming into Saturday, and they held the ball for only 27 minutes, 45 seconds after averaging 36:44 in time of possession.
They also played terribly on special teams, with two kickoffs going out of bounds and missing a field-goal attempt.
“Our team did not play well [Saturday], and that falls 100 percent on me,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
And most costly for the Gophers, just like the Vikings, they lost the turnover battle with the Terrapins, throwing two interceptions and not recording a turnover on defense.
Vikings follow suit
Then on Sunday, if a team ever beat itself, it was the Vikings against the Lions.
Kai Forbath, who had made 23 consecutive field-goal attempts, missed a 39-yarder late in the third quarter. The offense also had committed only one turnover all season but had three fumbles, which led to 11 of the Lions’ 14 points.
A big turning point of the game came at the start of the second half when Jerrick McKinnon fumbled and lost a Wildcat formation handoff after a 22-yard pass interference penalty on the Lions had moved the Vikings near midfield with a 7-3 lead.
The next series was even more costly. Dalvin Cook, who had 66 yards rushing on 13 carries, suffered a left knee injury and fumbled, and that led to Detroit’s lone touchdown.
The worry is that Cook might be lost for the season because of a possible ACL injury. His replacement, Latavius Murray, didn’t look like anything special with 21 yards on seven carries and now has 38 yards on 14 carries this season.
Following Cook’s injury and fumble, the Lions scored on a Ameer Abdullah 3-yard run and added a two-point conversion pass from Matthew Stafford to TJ Jones to help beat the Vikings 14-7.
The last-gasp chance the Vikings had was when they had a first-and-goal at the Detroit 8-yard line with 3:59 left. They reach the 3-yard line on third down, but then quarterback Case Keenum was sacked by Lions defensive tackle Anthony Zettel for a 11-yard loss and the Vikings couldn’t convert on fourth-and-goal.
“That was totally on me,” Keenum said. “I thought I saw something and got fooled. I changed the protection to the wrong protection and I got fooled. That’s a huge play in the game, obviously, and that’s one where we’ll look back and learn from it, get better from it.”
A tough break
This is the third time in his short career with the Vikings that coach Mike Zimmer has lost a standout player because of a noncontact knee injury.
He lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in practice last season to a severe knee injury, lost QB Sam Bradford after the first game this season to an unspecified knee injury, and now the worry is he’s lost standout rookie running back Cook.
“Dalvin is a really explosive player and has such great big-play ability,” Zimmer said. “We’ll have to look at things differently, but if you lose a guy like him, you lose a lot of firepower.”
Did he have anything to say to Cook?
“I just went in and talked to him and told him he’s not the first great running back to have an ACL, if it is one, and come back pretty good. Dalvin will have a great career.”
When asked about the Vikings’ performance on Sunday, Zimmer said they beat themselves.
“We turned the ball over too many times; really, that was the difference in the ballgame,” he said. “We missed a field goal in the third quarter. We gave them 11 points off turnovers and that’s what happens when you turn the ball over.
“We turned the ball over three times and they had zero. Part of the deal was that I felt like we had to win the turnover battle [Sunday] going into the football game, and we didn’t do it.”
The Lions were averaging 28.3 points entering the game, and Zimmer said the Vikings defense’s ability to hold them to only 14 was commendable.
“We want to [intercept] the football when we have a chance, but Stafford is an excellent quarterback and he’s not really going to throw them to us,” Zimmer said. “I thought the defense played their hearts out [Sunday]. We didn’t tackle in some situations as good as I would have liked.”
When asked if the defense did enough to win, Zimmer’s answer implied that it did.
“We sacked them six times, we had three out of 13 on third-down [conversions],” he said.
Keenum, who was tremendous in throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns last week in beating Tampa Bay 34-17, finished 16-for-30 for 219 yards and no scores on Sunday. Zimmer said the Lions deserved a lot of the credit.
“There wasn’t as many wide-open receivers,” he said. “I think he did OK. It’s hard to tell during the course of the game.”
Keenum on officials
During the broadcast of the game, FOX announcers Chris Spielman and Thom Brennaman criticized game officials for not calling several obvious pass interference calls on Lions defensive backs. And they pointed out the officiating crew — which included Bill Vinovich, Dan Ferrell and Phil McKinnely — had the fewest penalties called of any group of officials in the league last year.
Keenum was asked if the Vikings were hurt by penalties that weren’t called on the Lions.
“Those are unfortunate breaks,” he said. “We can’t ever count on officials bailing us out, we have to make plays. Whatever it is, I mean, we still need to do better on third downs. There’s a lot of areas we can work on.”
Did Keenum feel like the Vikings gave the game away?
“We did,” he said. “You can’t give Stafford that many extra chances with the football. The fact that our defense played and held them to 14 points … they played really, really well. It’s unfortunate [the offense] couldn’t back them up and couldn’t score to win the ballgame.”
Now the Vikings get the Bears (1-3) in Chicago on Oct. 9, then face the Packers (3-1) at U.S. Bank Stadium six days later. Zimmer had mentioned during the week how important it was to play well with three consecutive division games. Sunday’s start certainly didn’t get the Vikings off on the right foot.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org