Denver -

Unless an NFL team is trying to get its coach fired, what you find in a lot of postgame lockerrooms is players repeating themes emphasized by their head coach.

That was the case on Sunday in Denver. The Vikings played well enough to have a chance to beat a good team with an excellent defense in a difficult environment. After the game, you heard these themes from various players:

1. A young team lost a difficult road game but learned from it.

2. The Vikings' disappointment in the outcome was tempered by the way they played in the second half, when they stymied the Broncos' impressive pass rush until the final minute and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to get hot - he completed 13 of his final 15 passes.

3. The Vikings' improved blocking in the second half wasn't so much a function of scheme or the almost-always-overrated ``halftime adjustments,'' but of simply blocking better. And while the Vikings' offensive line is under fire, many of the missed blocks in the first half were the result of poor technique from backs and tight ends.

4. The Vikings have lost five straight on the road but feel they are better prepared to win on the road now than they have been for years, because of Teddy Bridgewater's poise and their defense's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Other points and extra points:

-Ronnie Hillman's 72-yard touchdown run might have been the key play in the game. The Vikings intercepted Peyton Manning twice and sacked him twice. Had they forced the Broncos to methodically drive 72 yards, they might have forced another turnover or created another important sack. On that play linebacker Chad Greenway got cut-blocked, cornerback Terence Newman was either held or well-blocked, and strong safety Robert Blanton took a shallow angle, leaving nobody to cut off Hillman on the sideline. That can't happen.

-Punter Jeff Locke had an excellent day, averaging 43.0 net yard and putting three kicks inside the Broncos' 20.

-Blair Walsh missed a 38-yard field goal that might have been the difference. He half-joked that ``the man upstairs'' was testing him by giving him another 38-yarder from the same spot later. Kickers can't miss short kicks.

-Rookie Stefon Diggs was both as explosive and erratic as you might expect, catching six of his 10 targets for 87 yards, but fumbling twice. ``He did like I expected him to do,'' Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. ``He put the ball on the ground twice, which you can't do. He continues to learn.''

-Adam Thielen played well, catching everything thrown within reach for six receptions for 70 yards.

-Kyle Rudolph remains a bit of a mystery. The Vikings and team observers have been predicting a breakout season for him since he was drafted. Sunday he caught two passes for seven yards.

-Anthony Barr led the Vikings with six tackles. He also had an interception, a 32-yard return and a pass defense.

-The Vikings enter their bye week at 2-2. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season so far is their inability to beat what appears to be a poor 49ers team in the opener. They return to the field on Oct. 18 at home against the Chiefs.


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