The Vikings couldn't overcome mistakes in a 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Daniel House breaks down the game and what went wrong.
In a game riddled with mistakes, the Vikings still had a chance to win the game. They just couldn’t make the necessary plays to overcome all of the poor situations they placed themselves in. The Vikings committed three turnovers, including a costly interception in the early stages of the fourth quarter. An Adam Thielen drop and a catch which was overturned were two costly miscues. The Vikings allowed a 62-yard run by quarterback Cam Newton just moments after they tied the game at 24. Minnesota kicked three field goals in the red zone and couldn’t convert after an interception by Andrew Sendejo set them up with a short field. Uncharacteristic plays on both sides of the ball were just too much to overcome as the Vikings snapped their eight-game winning streak on the road.
Red zone offense, turnovers are costly
One of the main takeaways from the Vikings’ last eight wins was their red zone offense. Sunday was an example of what kicking field goals will do to you. The Vikings settled for three points in the red the entire day. Minnesota’s creativity has allowed them to come away with points in those situations. In one instance, the Vikings ran four plays and lost six yards. The final red zone trip was costly as Minnesota had 1st-and-goal and came away with a field goal. Quarterback Case Keenum poorly placed a pass to Stefon Diggs, who needed the throw on his outside shoulder. Had the Vikings scored a touchdown, the entire complexion of the game would have shifted. Minnesota simply made too many mistakes. Quarterback Case Keenum was intercepted on a high throw to Stefon Diggs that went through his hands. Keenum was picked off twice and fumbled to provide the Panthers with ample opportunities. It is very hard for your offense to compete when you lose the turnover battle in a lopsided manner. Minnesota’s defense didn’t show up, so three turnovers, multiple dropped passes, and a fizzling red zone offense wasn’t a recipe for success.
Offensive line faces adversity
The offense was also impacted by the loss of offensive linemen. Center Pat Elflein missed the game with a shoulder injury. Late in the third quarter, Riley Reiff injured his ankle and exited the game. It caused the Vikings to shift Rashod Hill to left tackle and Jeremiah Sirles to the right side. Only one Minnesota starter was playing their natural position. Case Keenum was extending plays, but had never faced this much pressure in any game. The Vikings surrendered a season-high six sacks and it placed a strain on the entire offense. More spefically, the rushing lanes just weren’t there and it impacted the play-action looks. The Vikings rushed for a combined 100 yards and Keenum padded the stats with several impressive scrambles. Everything was out of sync for the Vikings’ offense as they missed opportunities throughout the day. Now, the attention shifts to the future health of left tackle Riley Reiff, who was seen leaving the locker room in a walking boot, per reports.
Defense allows explosive plays
Minnesota’s defensive success has been largely fueled by their ability to stop the run. The longest run the Vikings had allowed entering the Panthers game was 37 yards. They surrendered two explosive plays on Sunday, including a 60-yard touchdown and a 62-yard scramble by quarterback Cam Newton. Andrew Sendejo committed a mistake on the Newton run and Stewart’s long score was fueled by a missed assignment in the linebacker corps. The Panthers carved up the Vikings’ run defense for 216 total yards and three touchdowns. An early Carolina scoring drive was also fueled by two facemask penalties, including one on 3rd-and-16. The Vikings allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season and it was one major difference in this game.
The Panthers had too many explosive plays, which is something the Vikings hadn't provided for opposing teams this year. Minnesota’s offense scored more than 21 points, including a huge 52-yard score by Adam Thielen to narrow the gap. The defense simply couldn’t make an impact play one final time. No matter how you look at it, the Vikings played poorly across the board and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities available. The Panthers picked up timely third down conversions to keep drives alive and the big plays were something the team couldn’t overcome.
Minnesota will need to eliminate the self-inflicted errors. They still finished a difficult road trip with a 2-1 record, despite the disappointing loss on Sunday. The Vikings made plenty of errors and one last charge at the end, which is still the sign of a talented team. Now, it’s all about how the Vikings bounce back as the attempt to claim a critical first round bye for the playoffs.