PHILADELPHIA – Two minutes remained in Sunday’s 21-10 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field when Vikings left guard Alex Boone finally exploded.
“I couldn’t take it anymore and just lost it,” said Boone, who turned first-and-goal at the 8 into first-and-goal at the 33 with penalties for holding and, well, exploding in utter frustration in as bad a game as an offensive line can play at the sport’s highest level.
So what sent Boone’s blood pressure soaring the highest?
Was it quarterback Sam Bradford’s two pressure-induced turnovers on consecutive snaps in the red zone? Was it Philadelphia hitting Bradford 19 times, sacking him six times and recovering two of his four strip-sack fumbles? Was it the failed experiment that featured recently signed left tackle Jake Long rotating into the game and giving up two critical strip sacks before halftime?
Was it running the ball for 93 yards and a 3.4 average seven days after Washington tagged the Eagles with 230 yards and a 7.0 average? Was it his head coach, Mike Zimmer, calling Sunday’s game “embarrassing” for the offense and special teams while adding: “We didn’t block anybody. We were soft. We got overpowered”?
Much of that bothered Boone. But nothing got to him more than two snaps in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.
The Vikings trailed 18-3 and faced third-and-1 at the Eagles 6-yard line.
“It wasn’t even a yard,” right guard Brandon Fusco said. “I think it was only a couple of inches.”
The Vikings went with a quick handoff to fullback Zach Line on a straight-ahead dive. He was stuffed for no gain.
Zimmer decided to go for it. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner called for more beef up front. Guard Zac Kerin’s 305 pounds were added as an extra tackle on the left side. Blocking tight end Rhett Ellison’s 250 pounds stood next to him.
The ball was handed to 219-pound running back Matt Asiata, who followed the 233-pound Line.
Nothing. Nada. Eagles ball.
“We needed a couple of inches and we get stopped?” Boone said. “It doesn’t matter if they knew what we were going to do. It’s a couple of inches. That’s where I lost my cool. We can’t even get a couple of inches, and that was pretty much the story of our day up front.”
Not entirely. As soft as the running game was at times, the pass protection was, well, as Zimmer said, “embarrassing.”
An Andrew Sendejo interception handed the offense its second possession of the game at the Eagles 2-yard line. Long entered the game at left tackle, sending T.J. Clemmings to right tackle and Jeremiah Sirles to the bench.
Ellison was flagged for a false start on second-and-goal from the 1. An incompletion set up a passing situation from the 6. Defensive end Brandon Graham lined up outside of tight end Kyle Rudolph, rushed hard, knocked Clemmings off balance and delivered the hit to Bradford that led to safety Rodney McLeod’s interception in the end zone.
“I set too wide; that’s on me,” Clemmings said.
As for the added difficulty of having to rotate tackle spots before the Vikings finally had to abandon the idea of Long continuing to play, Clemmings said, “I was prepared for it earlier in the week, so I expected it.”
On the Vikings’ very next snap, Long showed the rust of a 31-year-old player with a history of knee injuries and only 11 snaps of football since 2014. He gave up the first of two first-half strip-sack turnovers.
One snap after the Vikings defense recovered a fumble by Carson Wentz at the Eagles 17, end Connor Barwin beat Long badly for the strip.
“I had some bad plays today, and I can’t keep getting Sam hit like that,” said Long, who was later beaten easily by the 195-pound McLeod’s speed rush off the edge. “I think they can be corrected, get back to practice and everything will be all right.”
The Vikings are 5-1, but it’s obvious the next 10 weeks could go either way depending on whether a beat-up offensive line can truly get things corrected or is simply not up to the task physically.
“We’re not going to go down the street and pick up a bunch of guys,” Zimmer said. “So we need to get these guys better. And do it quickly.”