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Vikings vs. Bills: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the most important plays from the embarrassing 27-6 home loss.

Buffalo Bills v Minnesota Vikings
An all too familiar sight on Sunday.
Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

In my preview of the Week 3 game between the Vikings and the Bills, I opened with this lede:

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, now we definitely know! What went wrong? Let us count the ways:

  • The offensive line gave up four sacks, but it was much worse than that number would indicate. Kirk Cousins was harassed on dozens of dropbacks. Jerry Hughes might have to file taxes in the state of Minnesota next year because he basically established a homestead in the Vikings’ backfield.
  • Four fumbles, including two first quarter strip sacks of Kirk Cousins that led directly to ten points for the Bills. Conversely, the defense didn’t force a turnover despite the Bills fumbling three times themselves.
  • The Vikings had a paltry 14 yards rushing on Sunday, which was the third lowest output in franchise history. They only attempted four designed rushes, since two of the runs were Cousins scrambles. The six rushing attempts tied an NFL record for fewest in a single game. That’ll happen when you’re inexplicably down by a ton of points from the start.
  • The Vikings were just the sixth team in NFL history to lose outright after being favored by 16.5 points or more.
  • The Vikings didn’t take a snap in Buffalo territory until there was 9:32 remaining in the third quarter. That was only because they started there after a Bills penalty on a punt. That drive lasted all of two plays before Cousins was intercepted. The Vikings didn’t actually gain a yard in Buffalo territory for the first 45 minutes and 54 seconds of the game.

We could go on and on and on, but I’m sure you get the point by now. The Vikings were such a no-show on Sunday that it felt like Tony Soprano appointed them jobs at a construction site. Whether they were caught looking ahead at the game this Thursday in Los Angeles or simply didn’t take the Bills seriously until it was too late, the end result was one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory. The game unfolded a lot like we thought it would, only with the roles reversed.

Before we wallow any deeper into self-pity, let’s take our weekly look back at the five biggest plays that led to the big, bad Buffalo blunder.

Play 1: Bills ball, 3rd & 4 at the Buffalo 31. First quarter, 14:18 remaining. (Shotgun) J.Allen sacked at BUF 24 for -7 yards (E.Wilson). PENALTY on MIN-L.Joseph, Lowering the Head to Initiate Contact, 15 yards, enforced at BUF 31 - No Play.

It looked like the Vikings were going to start the game off right when Eric Wilson came through with a sack to force a three-and-out on the opening drive.

Wilson blitzed right up the middle to sack Josh Allen with a perfect form tackle. But a flag went flying. Oh no, were they really going to call roughing the passer on Wilson? Was the slow transformation to two-hand touch pro football really happening again?

It turns out that the penalty was valid. Linval Joseph lowered his helmet into Allen’s after Wilson already had him wrapped up, which kept the drive alive.

After getting new life from the penalty, the Bills didn’t face another third down as they marched seven more plays down the field for a touchdown. The penalty was an omen for how badly things would go for the Vikings and it gave the Bills the confidence they needed to pull off the upset.

Play 2: Vikings ball, 3rd & 8 at the Minnesota 27. First quarter, 6:04 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins sacked at MIN 19 for -8 yards (J.Hughes). FUMBLES (J.Hughes) [J.Hughes], RECOVERED by BUF-M.Milano at MIN 25. M.Milano to MIN 25 for no gain (M.Remmers).

Answering a touchdown by your opponent with a fumble on the third play of your opening drive is bad. Answering ten points by your opponent with a fumble on the third play of your second drive? That’s really bad. And that’s exactly what the Vikings did.

In what would be a theme throughout the day, Jerry Hughes breezed passed Riley Reiff around the edge with a speed rush to pressure Cousins. Hughes ended up with fifteen pressures on Sunday according to NFL Next Gen Stats—that’s the highest total in the past three seasons. This was Buffalo’s second strip sack in six plays. Matt Milano recovered, and once again Buffalo was in prime position to score early in the game.

They did so just two plays later, thanks to one of the easier touchdowns you’ll see scored in the NFL this season.

Play 3: Bills ball, 2nd & 11 at the Minnesota 26. First quarter, 5:15 remaining. J.Allen pass deep right to J.Croom for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The Vikings defense held firm after the first turnover to hold the Bills to a Stephen Hauschka field goal. After the second turnover? Not so much.

Allen faked a swing pass to Marcus Murphy, and Eric Kendricks and Mike Hughes bit hard. (Hughes had an really rough game yesterday, especially after being called upon to play outside corner when Trae Waynes went down.) Jason Croom waltzed into the end zone behind the blown coverage and suddenly it was 17-0 Bills less than ten minutes into the game. The rout was officially on.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 3rd & 5 at the Minnesota 44. First quarter, 3:13 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep left to A.Thielen.

The offensive line was awful yesterday and Cousins shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for the offensive woes. But this throw, on third down, with a perfect pocket, when his team desperately needed a big play, was incredibly disheartening.

Cousins was amazing down the stretch in Green Bay and was an integral part of the comeback last week. So seeing passes like this is even more perplexing since we know what he is capable of in pressure situations. The Vikings were forced to punt after this bad miss to Adam Thielen, and you’ll never guess what happened next.

OK, you’ll probably guess since you watched the game yesterday. But seriously, I did not see this next play coming when it happened live.

Play 5: Bills ball, 3rd & 9 at the Buffalo 36. First quarter, 2:05 remaining. (Shotgun) J.Allen scrambles up the middle to BUF 46 for 10 yards (S.Weatherly; A.Barr).

“Getting posterized” is a term usually reserved for NBA players that get ferociously dunked on. But I think we can use it in this case for Anthony Barr.

Josh Allen looked like he was going to be stopped short on third down until he hurdled over Barr to get a first down. I know gifs don’t have sound, but I swear if you listen closely you can hear R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” in the background. The play was a perfect microcosm of how the Bills embarrassed the Vikings in just about every way imaginable on Sunday. Eight plays later, Allen reached the ball over the goal line on fourth down and the game was effectively over well before halftime.

It’s very unusual that all five “game-changing” plays were pulled from the first quarter, but that’s the kind of game it was. The second half was largely both teams playing out the string; the Bills were able to get super conservative and sit on their huge lead while the Vikings tried in vain to make it interesting. Again, it was how many people saw the game unfolding, just in reverse.

Hopefully this home beatdown at the hands of a team that was previously considered to be one of the worst teams in the NFL will serve as a wake-up call rather than a signal of what’s to come for the Vikings. There is no time to feel sorry for themselves, because up next is a short week for a road game against a team that’s considered to be one of the best teams in the NFL—the Los Angeles Rams. After that, it’s off to Philadelphia and The House That 38-7 Built. If the Vikings can’t clean up their act and get better in a hurry, they could easily have a 1-3-1 record before their next home game.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Or you can just pretend that Sunday never happened and focus on how the Vikings can try to avoid a similar throttling in front of a national audience on Thursday night. We’ll understand.


What was the most important play from the Vikings’ loss to the Bills?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Joseph’s drive-extending penalty
    (442 votes)
  • 27%
    Hughes’ strip sack on Cousins
    (239 votes)
  • 5%
    Blown coverage leading to Croom’s easy TD
    (50 votes)
  • 4%
    Cousins badly missing Thielen on third down
    (40 votes)
  • 9%
    Allen hurdling Barr
    (82 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (23 votes)
876 votes total Vote Now