The Vikings played the Chiefs tough for most of the game but couldn’t overcome six drops by receivers and once again losing the turnover battle, falling 27-20 to the Chiefs in a game that was a winnable game for them had they been able to avoid some of the mistakes that have been costing them games all season.
Chiefs Made the Plays the Vikings Didn’t
As is the case in most NFL games, especially one-score games, the game came down to a handful of plays. Kansas City simply made more of them than the Vikings did.
For example, on the first drive of the second half, the Chiefs were in a 3rd-and-17 hole deep in their own territory. The Vikings blitz, causing Patrick Mahomes to throw it off his back foot. It’s a bit of a floater, but Justin Watson is able to pull down the contested catch away from Cam Bynum, who was in position to either break-up or intercept the ball. He did neither and the Chiefs converted the third down and went on to score a touchdown.
The first play of the following drive, Cousins hits the outstretched hands of TJ Hockenson for what would’ve been an explosive play to start the drive and put the Vikings around midfield. But Hockenson dropped it and the Vikings went 3-and-out.
Later in the 4th quarter, 2nd and 7 from the Chiefs’ 19-yard line, the Vikings run a screen to Alex Mattison. Cousins makes a perfect little dump to Mattison, blockers are in place, and only one or two Chief defenders are in position to prevent Mattison from getting to the end zone if they can beat the blockers. But Mattison drops the pass. The next play was an incompletion to Addison and the 4th down play, after a delay of game penalty, was the pass interference call against Addison that was reversed, along with the missed hands-to-the-face penalty and a turnover on downs. But if Mattison makes that most routine of catches, the Vikings likely score and tie the game.
Another example. First quarter, Vikings driving and inside the red zone, 3rd-and-7. Cousins hits an open TJ Hockenson in his outstretched hands inside the ten yard line, but he can’t make the catch. 4th down, the Vikings kick a field goal.
Later in the 3rd quarter, the Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-7 from their own 29. Mahomes floats one to Travis Kelce, who comes down with it despite Josh Metellus draped on him in a contested catch situation. Metellus stripped the ball from Kelce after he was down, but the ruling on the field was confirmed after a challenge and the Chiefs went on to score a touchdown- the drive when Harrison Smith was later called for defensive pass interference on a 4th-and-1 play.
And then there was the Josh Oliver fumble to start the game. It would’ve been a big 20+ yard play to start the game for the Vikings, but instead it was a big takeaway for the Chiefs that gave them an early 7-0 lead.
There was also the missed TD pass to an open KJ Osborn on 3rd-and-4 from the Chiefs’ 11-yard line in the second quarter when Osborn wasn’t looking for the ball in time despite being open in the end zone. The Vikings had to settle for a field goal.
These are the plays that the Chiefs made and the Vikings didn’t. Had the Vikings converted their opportunities, they would’ve won despite the plays the Chiefs made. And they would’ve avoided some of the worst calls that went against them by the referees. But they didn’t, as has been the case most of this season, and they paid the price.
Execution is to Blame
So much of the criticism after the game about coaching or clock/time out management/bad referee calls becomes ancillary if the Vikings’ players are able to execute plays that they were in position to make. Not all of them were easy, but this is the NFL and these are plays key players like Hockenson and Mattison and Osborn and Bynum need and are expected to make. But they didn’t and that’s why one score losses happen- not making the key plays that are expected to be made when the player is in position to make them.
In terms of yards, drives, first downs, and time of possession, it was pretty even between the Chiefs and Vikings. But the Chiefs were 3-3 in the red zone and the Vikings were 2-4. And once again, the Vikings lost the turnover battle 0-1. The Vikings were in good position to have eliminated 1-2 red zone opportunities for the Chiefs, while converting both of their failed red zone opportunities, but they failed to do so. It wasn’t the Chiefs that caused Mattison to drop an easy dump-off pass, or Osborn to not look for the ball in time when crossing into the end zone open. These were unforced errors. These and other missed opportunities on makeable plays for the Vikings is what has plagued them this season, whether turnovers, drops, or missed takeaway opportunities. This is the difference between 5-0 and 1-4.
It’s not like the Vikings haven’t made any plays or even just a few. They have. And they have the talent to be in a position where they should be able to make more of them and to win instead of lose games because of it. Not having the talent or coaching is when a team and players aren’t even in a good position to execute makeable plays. The Vikings players have been in position- through coaching and talent- but have fallen short due to lack of focus/intensity/awareness - whatever it is that causes players to fall short on plays within their ability to make.
Vikings’ Playoff Hopes Go from Slim to Very Dim
At 1-4, and with the Lions leading the division at 4-1 and looking pretty solid, the Vikings would need to go at least 9-3 over their remaining twelve games- seven of which are on the road- including sweeping the Lions late in the season, to have any chance at winning the division. Even then they’d need some help from the Lions. Absent that, they’d still likely need to go .750 the rest of the season to have a good shot at a wildcard spot. 9-8 may get it done if they win tie-breakers, but any prospect of postseason play for the Vikings seems far-fetched at this point. We also don’t know the extent of the hamstring injury to Justin Jefferson, which could cause him to miss some games potentially.
For perspective, the Vikings would need to have the type of turnaround the Lions had last season (they started 1-6 with a bunch of turnovers) and win tie-breakers the Lions didn’t win last season to make the playoffs. But in order to do that they need to become a team that makes the key plays rather than misses them or gives them up as they have for five games now. That change has to come from the players themselves. Coaching has put the Vikings in position to win games this season. So has the front office. But too often it’s been key players that have fallen short in executing plays they’re in position to make. That has to change for the Vikings to win games. That requires leadership from captains and players holding each other accountable.