4 Downs to 0-3: Failure At Every Key Juncture

1st Down: The last few years have shown the Minnesota Vikings to be good enough to compete with most NFL teams, yet not good enough to decisively beat any of them. Ergo, seemingly every contest comes down to the wire. In those types of games, the outcome is decided by one or two plays--usually in the fourth quarter. Today, the Vikings failed on every opportunity to win those key moments.

The first one came with 8:51 left to play, the Vikings up 24-21, and the Los Angeles Chargers facing a 3rd & 17 deep in their own territory. Utterly undeterred, Justin Herbert found Keenan Allen for 20 yards to move the chains. A stop on that single play does not of course automatically win the game, but the win expectancy % certainly spikes up.

2nd Down: The next failure came, well, on the very next play. Herbert again dropped back and uncorked a bomb towards Josh Palmer at the goal line. The good news: Vikings corner Akayleb Evans had it perfectly measured and squared up between his hands. The bad news: It clanked off both of those hands--directly into Palmers'. 28-24 Chargers.

3rd Down: Responding nicely to that devastating lead-change, Kirk Cousins led a methodical drive in front of the U.S. Bank Stadium faithful and had the offense set up with 1st & Goal at the three yard line. Two Alexander Mattison runs netted one yard, and then two incompletions--both in Justin Jefferson's direction--turned the Purple away at the doorstep of a dramatic late-game TD.

4th Down: Even more remarkably, a stout Brian Flores defensive stand immediately shut down the LA offense and a gutsy/bone-headed decision to go for a 4th & 1--which MN snuffed out--gave O'Connell's unit the ball back with 1:40 on the clock at at the LAC 24. Facing a 4th & 4, a nine-yard strike to T.J. Hockenson produced a 1st and Goal and the LAC 6--but the clock was ticking and no timeouts remained in KOC's back pocket. A clock-spike played seemed in order to get two (perhaps 3) shots at the end zone. But in a moment of disorientation/confusion, precious seconds ticked off the clock as the offense tried to line up for a play, could not get organized, and hastily ran a snap that bounced off T.J.'s outstretched hands and into those of a Chargers defender.

I could write all night about the overall offensive stats, defensive performance, another costly fumble, etc.--but why risk carpal tunnel? This afternoon, the Vikings had four clear opportunities to beat the Chargers and went 0 for 4. In a razor-thin margins league where even one missed opportunity often leads to defeat, those failures were more than enough to ensure a winless September.

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