– On the biggest and most important night of their maddening season, the Vikings offense displayed great balance.

They were bad at everything.

Totally and utterly incompetent.

They came within one garbage-time touchdown of being shut out and limped off the field in need of serious soul searching after laying a prime-time egg in a 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

The game was billed as a quasi-playoff test, a chance for the Vikings to alter their season narrative and prove that they can win against a quality opponent. And maybe create momentum that makes the next few weeks feel like more than a slow march to a predictable ending.

They flunked their test.

The offense played so poorly that a three-point deficit felt insurmountable. When the Seahawks kicked another field goal to stretch their lead to 6-0, the game officially became a rout.

Everyone associated with the offense had a hand in the debacle. The line had its typical problems with being overmatched physically. Kirk Cousins looked skittish even when he wasn’t feeling pressure and lacked basic pocket awareness. John DeFilippo’s play-calling was weird, most notably in short-yardage situations. Receivers dropped passes.

The entire offense is a mess right now, and there are no quick fixes.

“It’s frustrating when you don’t execute,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We’ve got to put it together. We have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do. We practice so hard. Coach Zim tells us the right things we need to do. He puts us in the right place. All the coaches put us in the right place. We just didn’t execute.”

The offense managed only 276 total yards — 70 on a meaningless touchdown drive in the closing minutes. They converted only two of 10 third-down opportunities.

Cousins invented a new concept: the panicked backward pass, which he executed flawlessly in the first half when he unloaded the hot potato to Latavius Murray standing 4 yards behind him. That play should have been accompanied by circus music.

Third-and-short became an exercise in futility. The Vikings made those situations look more laborious than coal mining.

On the first possession of the second half, they faced third-and-inches from their own 39. DeFilippo called play-action pass with Cousins moving to his right. Naturally, the Seahawks pressured him, Cousins scrambled for dear life and threw the ball away.

The team’s medical staff should have checked Mike Zimmer’s blood pressure after that play call.

VideoVideo (02:53): Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs analyzed the struggles of the team's passing game after a 21-7 loss to the Seahawks on Monday night.

The next series exposed the deficiencies even more. On fourth-and-1, they brought in an extra lineman (Rashod Hill) and fullback C.J. Ham to provide muscle. Didn’t matter. Murray was stuffed at the line for no gain.

Cousins’ inability to overcome poor line play continues to be a problem. He looked jittery even when he had time in the pocket. His screen pass to Cook in the first quarter looked like a baseball pitcher throwing a wild pitch.

Even when the offense managed to get something cooking, things ended in a thud. An acrobatic 48-yard catch by Stefon Diggs helped set up first-and-goal from the 4 in the fourth quarter. That produced zilch.

On fourth down from the 1, Cousins threw behind Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone and his pass was broken up.

The game was ripe for the taking. The Vikings defense came up with stop after stop to get the ball back, but the offense did nothing with it.

The game felt pivotal for the Vikings’ psyche and playoff readiness, a chance to make a statement. They made a statement all right. Loud and clear.

The loss doesn’t knock them out of the playoff picture because of the ineptitude of teams wedged in the middle of the NFC. It wasn’t a must-win in the strictest sense. In perception though, the Vikings needed to show that they can rise to the occasion in big moments. They didn’t come close.

A performance so abysmal with everything at stake hardly inspires confidence that a playoff appearance will be anything more than one-and-done.


Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com