This wasn’t the Vikings loss anyone expected.
Oh, people expected the Vikings to lose. It was hard to find a more downtrodden fan base from a first place team in the 100 or so hours between the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to Seattle and Thursday’s deck-stacked-against-them game at Arizona.
On the road. In prime time. On short rest. With many defensive starters out. Against a dominant team.
No, many of us expected a blowout — or, failing that, a game that wasn’t competitive. What we got instead was a thriller, a game that would restore faith (and still might once the dust settles) had it not ended with such a maddening sequence.
That final play. It will be analyzed and scrutinized all day Friday and into next week, as the Vikings and fans have 10 days to think about it.
On a night when the offense worked about as well as it’s capable of working in its current formulation — Adrian Peterson ran effectively for much of the game and Teddy Bridgewater threw for more than 300 yards after a week of hard questions — the final offensive play was a microcosm of the offense’s four-headed struggles.
Coaches can be second-guessed for calling one more play instead of trotting out Blair Walsh for a potential game-tying 49-yard field goal. With 13 seconds left and no timeouts, it’s certainly reasonable to think that was the way to go. Then again, if they send Walsh out and he misses, there can be second-guessing as to why they didn’t try to get him a few extra yards. Still: questionable.
The offensive line, which held up reasonably well for much of the game, allowed pressure and eventually the strip-sack that finished things off at the least opportune time. Matt Kalil was wrecked by Dwight Freeney. So that’s the lasting image of an offensive line that has been a problem in pass blocking all year.
Receivers on the play didn’t seem to get much separation.
But the real focus, for better or worse, will be on Bridgewater. If you believe he holds the ball too long and lacks enough of an internal clock, then the final play was Exhibit A. He stepped up and double-clutched. It’s a feel thing. Throw the ball away. Someone’s coming. He didn’t, and it cost him dearly — just as it did at Denver, a game that ended in identical fashion by an identical score against a similarly very good team. There were good signs from Teddy on Thursday, but there is also no column in the standings for moral victories.
Big picture, encouraging things happened Thursday. The Vikings have time to get healthy and refocus for two very winnable home games. If they win both of them, they will ensure that they will play in week 17 with the NFC North on the line. So they still control that destiny.
But they will also have time to think about a game few expected them to win that became very winnable — and a play that exposed all their offensive flaws at the worst possible time.