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Vikings vs. Lions: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the five most important plays from the Vikings’ loss to the Detroit Lions.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
The latest “oh no” moment for the Vikings.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

To whomever is operating the roller coaster that is the current Minnesota Vikings season, I have a simple request:

Please stop the ride. I want to get off.

I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I think I’m getting vertigo. We aren’t even a month into the season and the highs and lows this team have gone through are already bordering on the ridiculous. To wit:

Week 1: Sam Bradford and this offense might actually be good! The Vikings win! This team might actually be good!

Week 2: Sam Bradford out indefinitely. The Vikings shoot themselves in the foot and lose. This team is screwed.

Week 3: Case Keenum might actually be good! And if he isn’t, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook definitely are! The Vikings win! This team might actually be good!

Week 4: Dalvin Cook tears his ACL. The Vikings squander a bunch of golden opportunities and lose. This team is screwed.

And we have three full months of this left. Let’s just get to the five biggest plays from Sunday’s loss before I need to be committed.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 4th & 1 at the Minnesota 36. Second quarter, 9:21 remaining. (Punt formation) R.Quigley punts 42 yards to DET 22, Center-K.McDermott, fair catch by G.Tate.

Wait, what? Why am I starting with a second quarter punt as one of the game’s biggest plays? Actually, I’m including it for what didn’t happen right before the punt.

Down 3-0 in the second quarter , it looked like the Vikings were going to go for it on 4th and inches after Stefon Diggs was tackled just short of the sticks on third down. Chris Spielman pointed out on the telestrator that Keenum had a big gap for an easy quarterback sneak. If not, the Vikings had C.J. Ham blocking for Dalvin Cook. It’s a bit of a risk, but surely they could pick up at least a foot in this situation on their home field to set the tone early in the game...right?

We’ll never know. The Vikings called timeout and punted it away. Not to get too hot take-y here, but the lack of confidence in the offense to get those few inches may have set the tone for a day where the offense struggled throughout.

(OK, maybe that was a little hot take-y. But in the moment it felt like a big decision, so I’m going to include it.)

Play 2: Vikings ball, 2nd & 6 at the Detroit 49. Third quarter, 14:21 remaining. J.McKinnon to MIN 47 for -4 yards. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by DET-A.Zettel at MIN 47. A.Zettel to MIN 47 for no gain (M.Remmers).

There’s a fine line between being creative on offense and getting a little too cute. This may have fallen in the latter category.

I’m not saying that the play call was indefensible; the Vikings weren’t exactly moving the ball well for most of the day and they had found some success with Wildcat plays last year. But I’m guessing this play looked a lot better in practice. Jerick McKinnon and Dalvin Cook messed up their exchange, Anthony Zettel hopped on the ball, and the rest of the game went downhill for the Vikings.

Like, REALLY downhill.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 18. Third quarter, 10:35 remaining. D.Cook up the middle to MIN 28 for 10 yards (T.Wilson). FUMBLES (T.Wilson), RECOVERED by DET-T.Whitehead at MIN 29. T.Whitehead to MIN 29 for no gain (D.Cook).

The play that ended the season of one of the most promising young players in the league.

The turnover was a huge play for all the wrong reasons. It was the last time we’ll see Dalvin Cook on the field in 2017. The Lions scored on the ensuing drive to take the lead for good. And now going forward, the 2-2 Vikings will have to figure out the best way to handle their running attack.

But even after Cook’s devastating injury, there were a couple great opportunities for the Vikings to go 3-1.

Play 4: Lions ball, 3rd & 9 at the Detroit 41. Fourth quarter, 12:25 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short right to G.Tate (M.Alexander) [E.Griffen].

Oh, what could have been.

Matthew Stafford was flushed out of the pocket once again by Everson Griffen. He made an ill-advised throw to Golden Tate on the sidelines. Mackensie Alexander broke perfectly on the ball...only to bobble it and secure it well after he drifted out of bounds. If Mack catches that ball cleanly, the game is likely tied. Even if Alexander catches it and immediately goes out of bounds, it gives the Vikings great field position. Instead, the Lions punted on the next play and pinned the Vikings on their own 5 yard line. (By the way, so nice of Jeff Locke to finally have a great game at U.S. Bank Stadium.)

The drop by Alexander was one of four excellent opportunities the Vikings had to pick off Stafford on Sunday. Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, and Trae Waynes all let opportunities literally slip through their hands as well. The defense was definitely not to blame for the loss, but they had several opportunities to salvage a win on a day the offense wasn’t clicking.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 3rd & goal at the Detroit 3. Fourth quarter, 2:31 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum sacked at DET 14 for -11 yards (A.Zettel).

Even after all the fumbling and the missed opportunities and the injury, the Vikings still found themselves three measly yards away from tying the game late in the fourth quarter. And this is what happened.

Anthony Zettel came in completely unblocked for the sack. Not ideal.

At first, it looks like a horrible miscommunication between Joe Berger and Mike Remmers. But Case Keenum has already taken responsibility for it, claiming that he “changed the protection to the wrong protection” pre-snap. Perhaps Keenum thought Kyle Rudolph would be open right away on the quick slant and didn’t think Charles Washington would shift over to him. Either way, it was a crucial miscalculation at the worst possible time. The Vikings turned it over on downs the next play and that was basically that.

The changed protection was a microcosm of how Keenum was off most of the day. He air mailed a couple of relatively easy throws to Rudolph earlier in the game and forced Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen into some unnecessarily difficult catches. Keenum wasn’t an abomination on Sunday, but his play did make us wonder whether the outcome would have been different with Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater at the helm.

As always, we welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. If you think we missed a few that should have been included, please add them in the comments.


What was the most important play of the Vikings’ loss to the Lions?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Not going for it on 4th and inches
    (67 votes)
  • 12%
    The Wildcat fumble
    (95 votes)
  • 55%
    Cook’s injury/fumble
    (436 votes)
  • 2%
    Alexander’s dropped possible pick six
    (19 votes)
  • 18%
    Sack on third and goal
    (142 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (21 votes)
780 votes total Vote Now