More than five plays tanked the Vikings’ once-promising season.
That season will end with a third-place finish in the NFC North and without a spot in the postseason, even though the Vikings won their first five games. Their fate was sealed Saturday, when they lost 38-25 at Green Bay to drop to 7-8 after that 5-0 start.
Let’s take inventory of some key (non-injury) moments that, in chronological order, led to a 2-8 collapse in the past 10 games, including four consecutive losses in the NFC North. Every phase had an equal letdown even as much of the offseason focus will fall on their 30th-ranked offense.
Offensive line hemorrhages in Philly
Quarterback Sam Bradford was blitzed and battered, taking 19 hits with six sacks during the Vikings’ first loss of the season Oct. 16 in Philadelphia. After losing both starting tackles, a trio of Jake Long, T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles surrendered much of the damage. The offense squandered three consecutive takeaways by the defense, including when Brandon Graham pushed Clemmings aside and drilled Bradford on his goal-line interception. Long, the newly signed free agent, was then beat for a strip-sack to start the next series.
What they said: “You hate to say you have to be punched in the mouth,” left guard Alex Boone said. “But at the end of the day, this better light a fire under some people.”
Prevent defense busts vs. Detroit
On Nov. 6 at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings seemingly put away the Lions off Sam Bradford’s 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive capped by a Rhett Ellison run. With a 16-13 lead in the closing seconds, then-kicker Blair Walsh, who missed two kicks that day, botched the ensuing kickoff with a touchback. Then the aggressive Vikings ran a prevent defense, which surrendered Matthew Stafford’s 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts to set up the tying field goal. The Vikings defense folded in overtime for the 22-16 loss.
What they said: “That’s probably the thing I regret the most,” Mike Zimmer said of his prevent call. “There’s 27 seconds left, they have no timeouts. Even a 60-yard field goal is a long ways to go. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably rush four and try and get it that way.”
Bradford telegraphs pick at Washington
The Vikings 2016 offense is whatever Bradford can produce in spite of a limited scheme and offensive line. In Washington on Nov. 13, Bradford entered down 23-20 with nine minutes left. With no run game, he marched into Washington territory with five straight completions and a roughing-the-passer penalty. Then came the interception on a forced quick throw to Adam Thielen. Bradford didn’t see Washington end Preston Smith dropping into coverage and threw right to him for just the second pick of the season. Bradford also threw a game-losing interception two weeks later in Detroit.
What they said: “Just didn’t see it,” Bradford said. “He made a good play. I’ve got to be able to see him when he drops into coverage.”
Thielen’s fumbled punt against Dallas
The Vikings’ best defensive effort after the 5-0 start came against the NFC’s top-seeded Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 1. They took a 9-7 lead in the fourth quarter, when Adam Thielen fumbled a punt return at their own 11-yard line. The initial ruling had Thielen, who has otherwise enjoyed a breakout season, down by contact before a Cowboys challenge overturned the call. Dak Prescott found Dez Bryant for an 8-yard touchdown pass on the next play in the Vikings’ 17-15 loss.
What they said: “Just didn’t do my job well enough,” Thielen said. “Just bad ball security.”
Joseph’s ill-advised leap on Indy field goal
The Vikings’ first defensive collapse of the season wasn’t a blowout from the start. They held the Colts to two field goals for a would-be 6-0 deficit. But on the second field goal, nose tackle Linval Joseph illegally hit the long snapper while trying to hurdle the line. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was given a first-and-goal. Robert Turbin capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 10-0 lead in the Vikings’ 34-6 loss on Dec. 18.
What they said: “That wasn’t called,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “He was trying to make a play and he made a mistake. That’s going to happen.”