KANSAS CITY, MO. – Danielle Hunter played the entire sequence perfectly. Well, almost perfectly.
On a game-winning field goal attempt, Hunter hurdled the line at the snap, lunged at the kicker and grazed the football with his fingertips, causing the ball to rotate sideways.
Didn’t matter. The ball still cleared the uprights.
The close-but-not-close-enough finish served as the final frustration in a performance crammed full of them, a new month starting with a thud after the Vikings made October look so easy.
Facing a Kansas City Chiefs team missing six starters, including reigning MVP and Superman quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Vikings executed a face plant.
Want to assign blame for a last-second 26-23 loss at Arrowhead Stadium? Throw a dart. It will hit bull’s-eye no matter where it lands — offense, defense, special teams, coaching … all of the above.
The Vikings committed killer mistakes in every phase when gifted a golden opportunity to extend their winning streak against a depleted squad in a venue that typically is nightmarish on road teams but felt like a 50-50 split in crowd noise thanks to half of Minnesota traveling down Interstate 35 to support the Purple.
“I’m frustrated,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We wanted this win. We’ve just got to go out there and execute better.”
One road loss against a playoff-bound team isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but the manner in which the Vikings lost felt troubling. Or at least annoying. And it will reignite conversation about their struggles when the opponent isn’t a doormat.
The Vikings caught a break with Mahomes still sidelined because of a knee injury, but the NFL is too competitive and too bunched together by parity for a team to play the way the Vikings did and expect to win.
“I really treat [the season] as 16 separate entities,” Kirk Cousins said. “If you put four [wins] together, it doesn’t really mean anything. You never know what the next game is going to bring, and this is a great example. There is no narrative you can put together.”
The narrative of Sunday’s game was $@%#!!
The offense never got in rhythm. Cousins’ accuracy was off. The NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense bottled up Dalvin Cook. The offensive line had a rough outing. Fullback C.J. Ham produced the longest play, a 32-yard catch. And the play-calling was weird at times.
Defensively, Mike Zimmer’s unit gave up too many explosive plays, including a 91-yard touchdown run.
“We messed it up,” safety Harrison Smith said when asked about Damien Williams’ long run. “That’s about it.”
Not every NFL game will be a Picasso, but this looked like slinging paint against a canvas. It was messy.
A missed extra point by Dan Bailey allowed the Chiefs to tie the game late with a field goal rather than need a touchdown. Backed up deep with less than two minutes left, Britton Colquitt shanked a 27-yard punt, giving the Chiefs ideal starting field position for the game-winning drive.
Can’t win that way against good teams.
Penalties on the offensive line negated positive plays twice in the third quarter, stalling both drives. An earlier drive ended when a scrambling Cousins slid 1 yard short of a first down, with more room to run, because he thought he had reached the marker.
“In critical situations we have to do things better to put ourselves in better position to win that game,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
Credit the Chiefs for finishing in those critical moments. Their kicker, Harrison Butker, made field goals from 54 and 44 yards in swirling wind in the final 2 minutes 30 seconds. Journeyman backup Matt Moore made several clutch throws to give his team a chance.
On the other side, the Vikings’ final two possessions went three-and-out and netted minus-7 yards.
To reiterate: Can’t win that way.
“You’ve got to give that team credit, they played well,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “They executed at the end of the game. But this game won’t define our season.”
One loss shouldn’t be defining, but it certainly can be maddening based on how it unfolds. The Vikings had a lot of things tilted in their favor, and they still didn’t take advantage.