The Vikings battled the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in a classic back-and-forth contest that could have gone either way down the stretch. But the Vikings offense shut down late in the fourth quarter and the Chiefs kicked two field goals to tie and then win it, 26-23 as time ran out.
The Vikings played in fits, both on offense and defense, never getting a running game going and giving up some big plays when it mattered most. But they also put up enough points to win this game, but came up short as each facet of their team had some troubles.
“We gave up too many big plays and didn’t make enough big plays,” head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN radio succinctly.
The loss drops Minnesota to 6-3 and another game behind in the NFC North, where a two-team race between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers has materialized. Next week, the Vikings travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who have bounced back from their three-game losing streak. But let’s take a look at what went wrong in Kansas City.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, the toast of the NFL during the Vikings’ four-game winning streak, came out tight in the first quarter of this game. It led to two consecutive 3-and-outs and put the Vikings in an early hole. On the third series, Cousins benefitted from a Chiefs penalty and moved the moribund offense down the field for a tying touchdown pass—a bullet to Bisi Johnson in the endzone.
Cousins settled down as the game went on. He did slide short of the marker on a third-down scramble (a play that went from great to a bust in an instant), but ended up with three touchdown passes—two of them which were great throws in tight coverage (one score went to Kyle Rudolph and the third to a wide open Ameer Abdullah). When Cousins is decisive, puts some smoke on and fires, he is very good today. Throwing to the flat or some of the other touch passes, he has been high and inaccurate. Edgy Kirk is the best Kirk, as we have seen.
On the afternoon, Cousins struggled. He battled the wind, but too many balls floated on him. He was 19 of 38 for 220 yards, the three scores and a 94.2 rating. He didn’t lose the ball game, but he wasn’t able to move the team in his final two drives that would have allowed them to win it.
The Vikings defense started out the game by returning to their typical bend, but don’t break form. They gave 10 points in the first half, which was good enough for a tie on the road at the break. But a backbreaking run (see below) to open the second half cost them the lead and great grades on the day.
They were up against it (despite the absence of quarterback Pat Mahomes) with the Chiefs’ team speed, and that hurt them more than once. They came up strong late in the game, sacking Chiefs quarterback Matt Moore four times in the final quarter (five on the day), but the secondary wasn’t able to stop Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce late, who put their team into field goal position—which cost them the win. The Vikings defense was tough in the red zone, but field goals did them in today.
The offensive line had an up-and-down performance. At times they helped move the ball and other times a penalties (center Garrett Bradbury had a couple) or sack might stymie forward motion. The Chiefs sold out on the run to stop Dalvin Cook, but the line should have helped him out a bit. In this game, screens, misdirection and play-action were beneficial, but they need more on the straight-ahead blocking in the run game.
On the pass protection side, they generally kept Cousins clean (who came into the game one of the best passers in the league when not under pressure). Cousins suffered just one sack and four hits, but it was the lack of a running game (Cook had 71 yards rushing on 21 tries) against the 30th ranked defense against the rush coming in really hurt the team on Sunday.
Bisi Johnson is becoming everything the Vikings and their fans could have hoped for when he was drafted in the seventh round last spring. His work ethic on the field and in the classroom led to him making the team (and to the cutting of former first rounder pick Laquon Treadwell) and injuries have found him working his way into the starting lineup. Adam Thielen started in Kansas City, but he left early after re-aggravating his balky hamstring, and Johnson took advantage. Johnson only had the one catch for the score, but he keeps doing what is asked of him, which will keep the team going until Thielen can return.
Speaking of Laquon Treadwell, Cousins went to him early, overthrowing Treadwell in double coverage on the opening drive. But Treadwell, with the loss of Thielen, became important to the offense—making two big third down catches on the first scoring drive. In the first half, Treadwell put up a career-high 58 yards receiving on three catches—which made him the top receiver in Purple in the game (Dalvin Cook had four catches for 45 yards). Treadwell’s future is still uncertain, but his performance offers hope that he will still be around when Thielen gets back on the field.
The Vikings special teams was heading toward a perfect game—decent punting (in the contest between Colquitt brothers), great coverage, a decent kicking performance, a forced fumble and recovery that led to a score to open the second half—until Dan Bailey missed an extra point—his second of the season. Bailey, the two-time (and current) NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, came back with a big extra point later but the miss changed the game. When Vikings punter Britton Colquitt shanked his last punt, it help put the Chiefs in a position to eventually get in position for the winning field goal. All in all, not a great day for the special teams unit.
Should be Ending
Challenges to pass interference. It is almost to the point of saying PI calls (or non-calls) are not worth challenging anymore. Sammy Watkins blocked Eric Kendricks downfield, which is a penalty. The play was challenged by Zimmer and the call was not reversed—that is to say no PI was called—even though the broadcast ref said it was a penalty. I am not sure anyone, including the refs, know when it is a good time to challenge PI with the new rule change. Best to just keep the red flag in your pocket unless you are the New Orleans Saints.
Not taking advantage of field position. The Vikings have not allowed a rushing touchdown since week three, and Damien Williams changed that. The Vikings had the Chiefs backed up to near their goal line, Watkins makes an incredible catch on first down and then on second down, Williams takes it to the house for a 91-yard score (the longest in Chiefs history). Not only did field position change, but the Chiefs took the lead and momentum on the play. That should have been a series in which the defense put the game well into the Vikings’ favor.
Staying with what you’re are good at. We are likely to hear how the Vikings got away from what they do best, which is run the ball. In fact, Zimmer told the broadcast team that he thought the offense was trying to get too cute in the first half by throwing the ball all over the field. The Chiefs were all in to stop the run, and the essentially bottled up Cook and company, but the Vikings have to figure out how to get past a team that is loaded the box to stop their best weapon (there is a history of that with this team).