Three takeaways from Thursday’s Vikings-Lions game
1. Yes, Sam Bradford botched the end of the game, but he otherwise was again a bright spot. Three months ago, Bradford was not even on the roster. Now he is being asked to carry a Vikings offense that has had 10 linemen play meaningful snaps and no running backs averaging more than 3.2 yards per carry. There was a lot of grumbling on social media about all the short throws after Bradford averaged a depth of target of 3.5 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. But given the Vikings’ injuries and their personnel at wide receiver, these quick strikes are probably their best approach. They put a lot of pressure on Bradford to quickly read defenses and get the ball out of his hands before he gets buried by the pass rush. And on his most important dropback of the season, Bradford made the wrong decision. Let’s not bury the guy, though. He has been performing admirably this season.
2. The defense isn’t stomping out fires like it did last season, and it cost them again. The Vikings had those pesky Lions right where they wanted them. Big game. Late lead. Mike Zimmer’s defense on the field. Sound familiar? When the Vikings got the Lions into third-and-8 from their 18-yard line with about three minutes left, ESPN’s win probability model gave them a 79.3 percent chance to win. Zimmer sent seven defenders after Matthew Stafford. But the Lions line gave Stafford enough time to wait for ageless slot receiver Anquan Boldin to fool Captain Munnerlyn and get open for a 29-yard catch. A few players later, Lions kicker Matt Prater came out to tie the score 13-13 and Bradford would soon get baited into a back-breaking interception. Bradford made his biggest blunder in the season’s biggest moment yet. But let’s not let the defense off the hook for coming up small once again.
3. The Vikings were right for sticking with punter Jeff Locke, who has been excellent. After Locke’s net punting average dipped in each of the past two seasons, many argued, and I was one of them, that the Vikings should bring in competition for the underperforming 2013 fifth-round pick. The Vikings believed Locke was bound to have a breakout season if he could just kick with a little more consistency, and they thought the move back indoors would help him do it. Turns out they knew what they were doing. He is on pace to set career highs in punting average (44.5 yards) and the more important net average (41.1). And his 28 punts inside the 20-yard line are already his best mark. He has delivered in big spots, too, booming that late 72-yarder against the Cardinals on Sunday and pinning the Lions deep with five minutes left Thursday. Locke absolutely should be in the Pro Bowl conversation.