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There was really only one reason amongst all others that lost us the game yesterday. Just... one... reason.
First off: Taken 2, very good movie. Ignore the critics and check it out. (The critics didn't like the first one either, by the way.) It was sufficiently different enough from the first movie that you could enjoy watching Liam Neeson kick serious arse without feeling you were just watching Taken all over again. There was, however, one LOLWUT part that would make for a perfect base for a spoof. Second off: duck bacon. You read that right. Yesterday was my brother's birthday (well actually it's today but we celebrated it yesterday), and for breakfast we went to a diner that had... duck bacon. Let me tell you, it was delicious. If you ever have the chance, take the shot. Yummy.
Third off: ehhhh. Mrrrrhhhh. RRRRRGH. Those of you who know me at all know I do not take a Vikings loss well. But yesterday was extra horrible for a number of reasons: one, I expected a win. I knew there was a chance for a loss, but I still expected a win. It was a bit different than, say, all those losses later in the season last year because you just figured we were cooked. It was also worse because the Vikings never gave up. Don't get me wrong; I do like that, it does give me hope. It's not like I wanted the Vikings to quit, or for it to be a blowout from start to finish. But I've always said that it's emotionally tougher to take a loss where you were in the game right up until the end than an out-and-out blowout. Hell, there was even a theoretical hope right up until Ponder's final INT; if we had scored, gotten the 2 point conversion, recovered the onside kick, and hit a field goal (I'll admit that's an extremely hopeful series of events, right up except for the hitting the field goal part; but it was in fact possible all the same), we would have had an OT game on our hands. And, of course, the final cherry on top was Green Bay's very convincing victory over the previously unbeaten Texans. It was a bad Sunday for football all around.
Before we get on with this, let me add something here: if you follow me on Twitter, and are sensitive to foul language, I do apologize. I actually mean that; I was trying to at least use the little asterisks to cover up my words until a certain point, when the rage, depression, and alcohol all combined into a storm that turned me into a sailor. I really shouldn't drop the f-bomb like that quite so much, or really at all, on a public forum such as Twitter. That said, I will be perfectly honest about something here: I can't promise that won't happen again. So, you are warned.
The Vikings should have won the game yesterday. Like Chris said, it's not the Vikings "were the better team but lost", "the Vikings beat themselves", blah blah blah excuses. Yes, the Redskins earned their victory clean and clear, and pretty much in all phases of the game yesterday. Their defense overpowered our offense. Their offense overpowered our defense. Even their special teams was solid, preventing our returners from really getting any solid runs off (including one freaking hell of a hit on Sherels at one point, yikes), and that Kai Forbath fellow seems to have solved their kicking woes. A hat tip to the victors, for they came, saw, and conquered. And it's hard to hate RGIII; the guy's a great football player and a classy dude who's easy to like. I'll be spending the rest of the season now rooting him on. If Cam Newton was Tebow 2.0, then RGIII is Newton 2.0.
But, that said, there was only one part of the game that, had we just been a liiiiittle bit better at, we would have won: the red zone offense. Yes, the offense had its breakdowns and turnovers well outside the redzone. Yes, the defense let RGIII and the rest of the Redskins offense gash it wide open after the first quarter, with our now-celebrated secondary looking like its 2011 version at one point. *shudders*
But one does not march with ease into the red zone and score on your first three possessions, alongside incredibly vicious defensive stops in between, and lose the game. Unless, of course... those three scores are only field goals. By the end of the first quarter this game should have been ours. Even if the rest of the game had featured the Redskins' offense exploding, the Vikings defense imploding, and the two really, really bad turnovers (ignoring the last second pick in the end zone here), the Redskins should have never really been in the game. 12 points... 12 points is what we lost by. It's also the exact amount of points we left off the board those first three scores. And let's face it, had we made those scores, that final drive wouldn't have ended with a desperation throw-that-was-intercepted into the end zone; it would have in all likelihood ended with a field goal, because in that situation, that would have been OK. So, had we made those first three scores touchdowns, that's pretty much an extra 15 points we would have had at the end of the game. We would have won, even with all else that happened happening, by 3. (No, the Redskins likely would not have had a chance to tie- we wouldn't have burned our timeouts stopping the clock, and would have instead in all likelihood had the opportunity to run it down to 1 second before the kick.)
I know trying to play the ‘what if' game with football is laden with fallacies. But let's face it; putting the Redskins into a 21 point abyss, rather than a very escapable 9 point hole, would have changed the game in our favor. Period.
So what the hell happened? And why has this been a problem? Let's remember this isn't because the Redskins have an amazing red zone defense. This is a Vikings issue that had existed well before this game. Recall the Lions win? We didn't score a single offensive touchdown in that game. If we hadn't netted a kickoff return TD and a punt return TD in that game, we might have been in trouble. And when I say we ‘might have been in trouble', I mean we would have, you know, lost.
And it's happened in our other games as well- it was mentioned in the beginning of that field goal blitz that the Vikings have scored more FGs than TDs this season. And that's... not... good. There's a lot of positives that could be taken from our offense: it's slow and methodical, it wears out the opposing defense and eats up the clock, and, until this game (as well as a part of the last), it was not turnover-prone. And excepting the Indy game, it's been a very un-penalized lot. This is that offense that isn't sexy but will win games, and will beat otherwise ‘better' opponents.
But not if it can't score TDs.
So why is that? Why is this team allergic to the red zone? Kickers are often the highest scoring members of their respective football teams. In fact, in NFL history, kickers are usually the highest scoring players overall. They can be pretty underrated at times in terms of their importance (just ask Peyton Manning the difference a clutch kicker can make for a team... wait, we're Viking fans, you don't have to ask anybody), so the fact that Blair Walsh is Mr. Money is very, very good. But we should not be rolling the guy out this much. And for an offense that seems to be able to get first downs at will, it seems bizarre that we can't impose said will inside the 20.
Is it players? I don't think so. Kyle Rudolph should be a solid red zone target. Adrian Peterson certainly has a history in that part of the field, and he's just fine. Percy Harvin I could understand being a bit of a ghost there, simply because he's doing 90% of the work in getting us that far, and it would be very understandable if he's getting a bit gassed/ sore at that point. And if Ponder is Mr. Dink-and-Dunk, it seems like the red zone could be an ideal place for him (excepting of course the fact that the field is now shorter and the defense can't be stretched).
Maybe we really do need that tall WR to just stand there and catch the balls simply thrown clear over the heads of the defenders. Maybe if we could actually implement a real two-TE set (although to be fair Carlson actually acted at times like he plays for our team yesterday) we could score a bit easier.
Is it play calling? Maybe. Without the benefit of tape it's hard to analyze that area of the field; I know I'll be picking through that section of Arif's breakdown this week. We do at times seem ‘vanilla' and predictable when we're inside the 20, and the ‘gimmick' plays that do show up from time to time don't ever work.
I'm not entirely sure what the problem is, but it's a problem. I did think to myself after those three field goals- and mind you, I thought this while still filled with an unhealthy level of optimism at this point- "sooner or later this is going to bite us in the ass". Well, little did I know that ‘sooner or later' would be yesterday. I understand that the greatest of NFL offenses aren't going to score every single time they hit the red zone. Sometimes settling for the field goal is acceptable. But doing it all the time is not. This team is still a good team. Yesterday was ugly but their ability to stay in it almost the entire way- really, it was still a ballgame by all accounts up until Griffin's "I run for TD now!" moment- shows that. If we can somehow solve this problem, this could still end up having a very pleasantly surprising season.
Whatever the source of this issue is, hopefully the Vikings- players and coaches alike- are investigating as we speak. Really, they should have been doing so before, but now that it's finally blown up in our faces and cost us a game, the urgency should be there like never before.
And if you ever have the chance to try some duck bacon, be sure you do so.