KANSAS CITY, MO. – Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes balled up his fists and stared at the sideline in frustration after Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill’s 11-yard catch converted a critical third down in the fourth quarter.
In a “game of big plays,” which coach Mike Zimmer labeled Sunday’s 26-23 loss in Kansas City, this catch by Hill was not one of the defense’s season-worst four plays of at least 30 yards allowed to the Chiefs offense.
But Rhodes’ frustration peaked because Hill pulled a bait-and-switch at the end of a game in which the Chiefs’ speedster had explosive plays of 30, 40 and 41 yards. This 11-yard catch brought Chiefs quarterback Matt Moore to midfield, from where he set up a game-tying 54-yard field goal.
Rhodes was expecting Hill to take him downfield again.
“[Hill] had been going deep all game,” Rhodes said. “I played the double move and he stopped it on me with a triple move. He ran the corner-post-sit, so I played the corner-post and he sat it on me [underneath the coverage]. It was a good route, good call. It was a tough loss.”
That’s the kind of cat-and-mouse game Vikings defensive backs played Sunday against a loaded Chiefs offense that, despite missing MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, gained 377 yards — with 202 coming on only four plays.
The big plays, including Hill’s 40-yard touchdown over cornerback Trae Waynes in the first quarter, uncharacteristically came in bunches against a Vikings defense that had surrendered only eight plays in eight games that gained at least 30 yards.
Asked about the coverage on Moore’s big throws, his defensive backs’ inconsistency was fresh in Zimmer’s mind. The Vikings coach first mentioned Hill’s 41-yard catch — the next snap after the 11-yard grab on Rhodes. It was a jump ball over Waynes that set up the game-tying field goal.
“Thought [Waynes] should’ve made the play there,” Zimmer said. “The [Hill touchdown] early was a double move we didn’t play very good. The tight end, [Travis] Kelce, caught the ball on the inside-breaking route late. We were in good position; we just didn’t make the play.”
Then there was the longest rushing gain against Zimmer in his NFL career since becoming a defensive coordinator in 2000. Chiefs running back Damien Williams broke free up the middle for a 91-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving Kansas City a 17-16 lead. It was the longest run surrendered by the Vikings defense under Zimmer. The play surpassed former Packers running back Ahman Green’s 90-yard run against Zimmer’s Cowboys defense in 2004, according to Pro Football Focus.
Zimmer pegged the busted play on his defensive call — “we had a pressure coming off the outside” — and a couple of defenders getting out of line. Safety Anthony Harris missed the tackle as the last chance.
In so many words, safety Harrison Smith said the defense just botched it.
“That’s about it,” Smith said.