Now that the Chicago Cubs have vanquished the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Vikings own the most prominent mammalian jinx in American sports.

They are 0-3 since Mike Zimmer passed out stuffed animals.

His players should have returned the favor by buying him a watch, or a calculator. Then maybe the Vikings wouldn't be 0-1 when a game comes down to the head coach's math skills.

In the past three weeks, the Vikings have experienced what Twins bosses like to call total system failure. Missed tackles, lousy blocking, stupid penalties and shanked kicks have caused a season-threatening losing streak.

But it was Zimmer's decision at the end of regulation in a 22-16 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday that kept the Vikings from reaching 6-2 and maintaining control of the NFC North.

The Vikings trailed 13-9. They had a first down at the Detroit 3 with 1:13 remaining.

Bradford passed to Stefon Diggs for 1 yard. There were about 46 seconds remaining when Matt Asiata plunged to the 1.

Zimmer approached the sideline official as the clock ran. The crowd began screaming for him to call a timeout, and he did with 27 seconds remaining.

The crowd was wrong. So was Zimmer.

That was his second timeout. On the next play, Rhett Ellison scored. There were 23 seconds remaining, meaning Matthew Stafford, who has emerged in the last year as one of the league's better quarterbacks and clutch performers, would have time to drop back at least twice.

Stafford scrambled and gained 8 yards with a pass to Golden Tate, who stepped out of bounds. He then gunned a beauty down the middle of the field for 27 yards to Andre Roberts.

Stafford spiked the ball with two seconds remaining. Matt Prater kicked a 58-yard field goal. The Lions won in overtime.

Had Zimmer run the clock down to, say, 15 seconds before taking his second timeout, the Vikings could have run any play they wanted on third down, knowing they could stop the clock with plenty of time to run a fourth-down play if necessary.

The Lions had no timeouts remaining. They would have gotten the ball back with no more than 10 or 11 seconds remaining — not enough time to complete a pass far downfield, spike the ball and kick a field goal. Certainly not enough time to complete two passes and spike the ball.

Zimmer is a smart, experienced coach who has run himself through enough mock late-game situations to know better.

He made a mistake, and now his team travels to Washington trying to avoid paying homage to Mike Tice with a midseason collapse.

Asked about the scenarios in play when he called timeout, Zimmer said: "Well, I thought about all those, but there was no confusion in the play call. I was trying to let the clock run down a little bit. I knew we still had another timeout left and if we didn't score, then I was going to let it run down a little bit if it was going to be the end of the ballgame.''

That's an answer. It's just not one that makes much sense. The Vikings' goal was to score a touchdown and leave as little time on the clock as possible. They had the ball at the 1. They had to factor in the possibility of scoring on third down.

For all of the Vikings' mistakes Sunday, they played well enough to win 16-13 despite a missed extra point and a blocked field goal that would have missed if it hadn't been touched.

Zimmer blew it by leaving time on the clock, then he exacerbated that mistake by rushing only three players on Stafford's long pass to Roberts — a mistake he admitted he regretted after the game.

Zimmer's coaching and leadership ranked among the biggest reasons the Vikings started the season 5-0. And his late-game decisions were the primary reasons his team lost a meaningful game on Sunday.