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A borderline Carolina blowout turns into a tie ball game, which turns in to a tough loss.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

When the Vikings schedule came out, most everyone looked at a five game stretch in the second half that would either make or break the season, depending on how they navigated it. As the team hit the bye, it felt like 3-2 was doable, and as long as one of those wins was against the Lions on Thanksgiving, there was a clear path to a division title and the playoffs. Well, they didn’t go 3-2, they went an even better 4-1, and got the win over the Lions. Yes, the Vikings lost today, but they’re still the heavy favorite to win the division and get a first round bye in the playoffs. And with the way they have played most of the season, this feels like an anomaly, and not a trend. I’ll be the first to admit the loss to Carolina was ugly, and we’ll talk about it, but let’s not view this as the end of the world. They just need to take this loss, shake it off, and get ready for the Bengals and the home stretch. Don’t they, Taylor?

But I keep cru-ooh-sing

Can't stop, won't stop mo-ooh-ving

It's like I got this music in my mind

Saying it's gonna be alright

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

Shake it off, Shake it off

Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break

And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake

Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off

The SMR that still has a three game lead in the NFC North and an inside track for a first round bye follows.

Blue Chip Stocks:

No one, because no one had a clean game. HOWEVAH, there is a silver lining, and it’s this: For every player that put up really good numbers today, you can think of at least one really bad play they made that was just crippling, and came at the worst possible time. Dropped TD pass, sack, interception, big runs given up, Devin Funchess more wide open on the goal line than a two dollar Philippine hooker, you name it. But when this team was down 24-13 with 7:04 left, this game looked and felt over. The Vikings offensive line (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), was decimated with injuries in this game, and was a sieve. The running game was fooling no one, the passing game had been off all day, and the defense jumped into a time machine and turned in to a 2013 Leslie Frazier cover band.

Yet, the Vikings rallied on a quick strike TD to Adam Thielen, an interception that became a field goal, and with three minutes left, bada bing bada boom, this game was tied. I’m irritated that they ended up losing, especially in the manner in which they lost, but in past seasons this team doesn’t make that comeback. It was a hell of an effort, and there’s no moral victories in the NFL. But this was, arguably, the Vikings worst performance of the season, and the damn near pulled it off. Until it happens again, I’m going to look at this performance as more of an anomaly than anything else, and I’m going to make the Vikings prove me wrong. With the way they’ve played most of this season and their ability to put bad games behind them, I think the Vikings will be fine.

Solid Investments:

Adam Thielen, WR: Just when you thought the Vikings were done for the day, Thielen took a Case Keenum pass, cut upfield into open space, and 52 yards later we had us a football game. For all the controversy of the TD catch that wasn’t (we’ll get to that), and the rare drop in the end zone, without Thielen the Vikings don’t have a chance at making a comeback today.

Jerick McKinnon, RB: In the first half, Jerick McKinnon was gouging the Panthers run defense. At the end of the first half McKinnon had 46 yards on seven attempts, and had one reception for three yards. He had no rushing attempts in the second half, and only one more reception, and it was puzzling to me why the Vikings avoided him like a crazy ex-girlfriend in the second half. Yes, injuries took their toll on the offensive line in the second half, I get it, but even after the Panthers scored on their first possession of the second half...it was still only an eight point game. Latavius Murray was about as effective as aspiring taking on the Ebola Virus (nine carries, 14 yards, 11 on one carry), yet they didn’t even try to run the ball with McKinnon after halftime. Just felt it was a strange decision.

And even if Minnesota decided that running the ball would be folly because of the injuries, I was still a bit surprised they didn’t try to involve him more as a receiver. It seemed like they could have made some money with McKinnon there once the pass rush started to get to Keenum in the second half, and the Vikings adapted and started throwing the quicker three step drop routes.

Linval Joseph, DT: Joseph seemed to be the only consistent run stopper today, and he also registered one of two sacks on Cam Newton. On a day when the Vikings defense was about at their worst, Joseph was about the only consistently decent player on the field.

Junk Bonds:

The run defense: That was just atrocious, and there’s no other way to put it. Jonathan Stewart broke the 100 yard mark against the Vikings defense, the first RB to do so this year. He also had a 60 yard run, and three touchdowns. He was like a bull running through Pamplona all day, and the Vikings were the dudes in all white getting right the hell out of the way thank you very much. Cam Newton also ran for a back breaking 62 yard run that set up the game winning touchdown for Carolina. In all, the Vikes gave up a stunning 216 yards rushing, only the second time under Mike Zimmer the Vikings defense gave up 200 yards rushing. They gave up 230 to the 49ers in the 2015 season opener.

Nick Easton, Rashod Hill, And The LOOKOUT Gang, featuring Danny Isidora and Riley Reiff: The Vikings were going to be challenged by Carolina’s defense today, and that was before Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers were deactivated. When you add in Riley Reiff’s in game injury, a difficult task became almost impossible. The makeshift line, which reminded us a bit of 2016 for a time, seemed to steady late, as the Vikings switched to a quick passing, up tempo offense. But on the final drive they gave up a sack on first down, and for most of the day Case Keenum was running for his life.

Buy/Sell:

Buy: Stefon Diggs’ six catches for 64 yards. Diggs’ six catches against Carolina was the most since his epic eight grabs for 173 yards and two TD’s against Tampa Bay way back in week three. His longest reception was only 22 yards, but he was a consistent target in the offense and had a few big grabs.

Sell: Stefon Diggs’ hitting the deck right after a couple of said catches. But there were a couple times when Diggs caught the ball and went right to the deck. One of them seemed legit; there were three Panthers defenders around him, so yeah, just take what you can get and don’t risk a fumble. But on one grab, he caught the ball near the sideline, and it looked like he had some real estate in front of him. But instead of pivoting and going upfield, he just hit the deck. I didn’t see any impending hit or tackle coming from a defender, so it looked unusual. I’m not saying it was a lack of hustle or taking a dive or anything like that, it just seemed like a weird choice.

Buy: The Vikings have a slew of sure handed receivers. Between Diggs, Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, and Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings have a bevy of sure handed receivers. Coming into today, Vikings receivers had only dropped five passes all year. That’s an amazing statistic, and goes to the quality depth the Vikings receivers have.

Sell: The Vikings had sure handed receivers today. The Vikings had as many drops today as they’ve had all year, and no one was immune. Kyle Rudolph dropped what would have been a HUGE play on the Vikings second drive that if he caught, I think he’d still be running. The Vikings ended up having to kick the ball, and on the heels of two facemasking penalties on the previous Panthers drive that ultimately ended in a Carolina TD, it felt like we were in for ‘one of those’ kind of games.

/Narrator voice: They were in for one of those kind of games.

Adam Thielen had an uncharacteristic drop on what would have been a touchdown, and instead of six, the Vikings had to settle for a field goal. And don’t worry, we’ll talk about his nullified TD in a little bit.

And finally, Stefon Diggs had what was I thought the play that sealed the game for the Panthers. Case Keenum threw him a screen pass in the flat, and it was high. Diggs was able to get both hands on it, though, and he should have caught it. He didn’t, and when it bounced off his hands it landed in the arms of James Bradberry. The Vikings were still able to rally, but that was really brutal as the Vikings had driven down to the Carolina 26, and were in line to at least get a field goal.

Diggs also had a drop in the end zone that would have given the Vikings a late lead after the Andrew Sendejo interception. Keenum’s throw was a little more inside than it should have been, and the defensive back got his arm in there, but even with all that I thought Diggs had a chance to bring the ball in.

Buy: Andrew Sendejo’s interception. For as bad as the Vikes defense played, they damn near made up for all of it right after Thielen’s 52 yard catch and run TD. Cam Newton was high and outside on a ball intended for Christian McCaffrey, it bounced off his hands, and Sendejo grabbed it and returned it to the Panthers six. At that moment I really felt the Vikings were going to pull this one out of the fire, and we were all going to be going WHEW HOW ABOUT THAT SCARE YOU GUYS HOO BOY!

Sell: Andrew Sendejo whiffing on two big runs. But what Andrew Sendejo giveth, Andrew Sendejo taketh away. In the first quarter he missed a tackle on Jonathan Stewart’s 60 yard TD run, and right after the Vikes tied it up, he was the only guy standing between Cam Newton and a 62 yard dagger run. He missed, and the Panthers epitaphed the Vikings. I think that Sendejo’s jockstrap is still sitting in the middle of the field.

Buy: Case Keenum was just okay today. A lot of today’s issues with the Vikings offense weren’t Case Keenum’s fault. But on a day when the Vikings defense couldn’t get it done, Keenum had to be laser-accurate on almost all his throws, and he wasn’t. His receivers failed him, as annotated above, but he also made some bad throws, too. His first interception on Minnesota’s opening drive was a WHHHHAAAAAAAAAAT throw, he lost a fumble, and on the 4th quarter interception that Diggs bobbled, he threw the ball way too high. Even if Diggs comes down with it, the play goes for either no gain or a short loss because Diggs had to jump for the ball. After Sendejo’s pick, Keenum had Diggs in the end zone, and if he throws the ball two feet to the right it’s a touchdown. But he threw it too far inside, and it was broken up even though you could make an argument it could have been caught. Yet, for all those issues, his TD throw to Rudolph was money, and he had 280 yards passing today, drops, bad protection, and all.

Sell: Teddy Bridgewater should have played. All those issues aside, pulling Keenum for Teddy Bridgewater would have taken a bad situation and made it worse, I think. as bad as the offensive line was playing, I think Teddy going in would have been setting him up for failure. Keenum wasn’t great, but for the most part, he ended up making lemons out of five 55 gallon drums of lemons that were trying to protect him today.

Buy: Case Keenum, escape artist. Because Case Keenum was ducking and moving like Muhammad Ali in his prime. On a day when Carolina had six sacks, you could argue they should have had at least three more, if not more. But thanks to Keenum’s duck and move game, he turned several big losses into positive plays.

Sell: Case Keenum cannot escape an onslaught. But no one can withstand an assault forever, and Keenum was hit early and often. It was far and away the worst performance of the offensive line this year, and Keenum paid the price. I honestly believe that if Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, and Pat Elflein are back in the lineup soon, the line will be fine.

But if they don’t...yeah.

/sobs, throws up, rolls into the fetal position

Buy: Going 4-1 through this five game stretch. If you told me that a five game gauntlet of @Redskins, Rams, @Lions with first place on the line, @defending NFC champion Atlanta, and @probable playoff team Carolina would result in a 4-1 record, with the Vikings three games clear in the NFC North with three to play and the second seed in the NFC, I’d take that 11 times out of 10.

Sell: Winning back to back to back road games against .500 or better teams. I was watching the NFL Network pregame show this morning, and they mentioned that the last time a team won all three back to back to back road games against teams above .500 (excluding playoffs), it was the Oakland Raiders. In 1967. Winning in the NFL is tough. Winning games against good teams is tougher. Winning them on their field is even more difficult still, and even with today’s loss, the Vikings are still 5-2 on the road with one road trip left to Green Bay in two weeks.

Buy: Thielen should have had two touchdown receptions. Right before halftime, Thielen appeared to make yet another remarkable catch for a touchdown, and had it counted the Vikes go to the locker room with a 17-14 lead. But after he had caught it and established both feet in bounds, as he hit the ground he bobbled it as he landed out of bounds, but retained control of the ball. No catch. because literally no one knows what’s a catch in the NFL anymore. But it sure looked like a catch.

Sell: Jonathan Stewart’s goal line TD late in the game was good but Thielen’s wasn’t. Before I go any further, by the rule it was good. It was a touchdown, and I’m not trying to say it wasn’t. But this is my whole issue with the catch rule of having to maintain possession all the way to the ground. A runner doesn’t have to do that. All Stewart had to to was get the ball over the goal line, and it was a touchdown, play over and ball is dead. Didn’t matter that the ball was knocked loose before Stewart came to the ground, and he didn’t maintain possession through the play. Had Stewart been tackled as he was going into the end zone and the ball came loose, it would have been a TD as the ground can’t cause a fumble.

If you apply that to a catch, clear possession is established, both feet were in bounds. It should be a TD, but the receiver has the added obligation of making sure he doesn’t lose the ball all the way through the ground...but if that happens to a running back, the ground can’t cause a fumble. Look, if the runner gets the ball over when he jumps and comes down with the ball, call it a TD, fine. But the way the rules are currently set up, it’s seems to be a glaring inconsistency. And it cost the Vikings today.

So the Vikings return home at 10-3, and a three game lead in the NFC North with three to play. Today was a disappointment, but tomorrow will be a better day, kids. It’s just football, after all.