The best first-half team in football is 0-2, talking about a must-win situation in mid-September and desperately searching for answers after being outscored 41-3 in the second half of its first two games.
"I think the word for the day is, 'Wow, not again,' " Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers erased a 17-0 halftime deficit en route to a 24-20 victory in front of 62,461 stunned fans in the Vikings' home opener at the Metrodome.
The Vikings blew a 10-point lead at San Diego, losing 24-17 in Week 1. But as bad as that was, the sequel was much worse considering the level to which the Vikings were dominating the league's youngest team at home at halftime.
The Vikings led in total yards, 284-62; first downs, 17-3; rushing yards, 137-23; and, well, everything else.
"I've been playing a long time," receiver Michael Jenkins said. "Eight years now, and I don't think I've ever seen a game that different from one half to the next half."
Obviously, a pattern has been established: The Vikings are a 30-minute team in a 60-minute league. And they trail the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions by two games in the NFC North heading into Sunday's home game against a Lions team that has won six consecutive games and is coming off a 48-3 victory over Kansas City.
"For me," said Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb, "the attitude is, it's a must-win situation."
The odds suggest it may already be too late. Since 1990, only 12.5 percent of the teams that started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs. Of course, the Vikings did it in 2008, the same year the New York Giants won the Super Bowl after an 0-2 start.
"It's tough to swallow," coach Leslie Frazier said. "When you play as well as we were playing, to have the tide turn as quickly and as dramatically as it did is frustrating. We got to come back Monday, figure out what the problem is and get it fixed in a hurry."
Amazingly, the Vikings can't blame turnovers for being outscored 41-3 in the second half. In fact, their only second-half turnover of the season was a fumble that came as time expired Sunday.
"I'm almost bewildered to the fact that it couldn't have happened again," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Especially with the way we were playing and everybody was flying around making plays and getting off the field on third down [in the first half]."
The Vikings have simply been outplayed in the second half. Opposing quarterbacks Philip Rivers of San Diego and Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay have completed 33 of 43 passes (76.7 percent) for 284 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Meanwhile, McNabb has completed eight of 19 (42.1) for 77 yards and no TDs.
On Sunday, the Vikings went 0-for-4 on second-half third downs while the Bucs were going 5-for-6. The Bucs also outgained the Vikings in total yards 273-114 in the second half.
In the first half, Adrian Peterson ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount ran for 4 yards on five carries. In the second half, Peterson was held to 37 yards on 10 carries, while Blount ran for 67 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries (8.4 average).
The Vikings' second-half blunders began early. On the opening drive, right tackle Phil Loadholt false-started on third-and-3. Peterson then negated a first-down pass when he was called for holding in pass protection.
A 38-yard punt gave the Bucs a short field at the Vikings 44. Two plays later, Blount scored easily from 27 yards.
The Vikings were leading 17-7 and had the Bucs pinned down in a third-and-17 situation when left end Brian Robison jumped offsides on a play on which the Bucs fumbled. That gave the Bucs another chance to convert, which they did with a 51-yard pass to Preston Parker that set up a 36-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Jared Allen was called for roughing the passer on a 19-yard completion. Freeman threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn on the next snap.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Booker returned the ball from 6 yards deep in the end zone and was stopped at the 9. The Bucs defense held and Freeman completed the comeback.
It looked incredibly easy, too: Freeman completed six of seven passes for 51 yards against a soft zone that, unlike in the first half, didn't apply much pressure. Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson dropped what should have been an interception on first down from the Vikings 16 with 1:56 left, and Blount scored the game-winning 4-yard TD with 35 seconds to go.
"They kicked the crap out of us in the second half," Allen said. "We've got to find a way to play for 60 minutes."
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org