Why The Vikings Always Play Close Games
The Vikings’ five-game unbeaten run came to a disappointing end on Sunday night in Denver. A game the Vikings had a firm grip on slipped away. As with any loss, fingers were pointed, and blame was attached. No matter the opposition, why the Vikings always play close games is a conundrum worth investigating.
Why the Vikings Always Play Close Games
Minnesota took the lead in Denver through a Josh Oliver touchdown catch with the first play of the second quarter. They held that lead until the Broncos scored their first touchdown with 1:03 remaining in the game. Minnesota dominated most of the game but failed to put the Broncos away when they had the chance. The Broncos kept the game close, allowing the Colorado team to sneak in the back door and snatch the win.
Alexander Mattison was responsible for the game-changing moment. Minnesota was up by eight points and in field goal range on a fantastic drive before Mattison coughed up the ball — and momentum swung. Instead of a possible two-score game with the fourth quarter on the horizon, the Broncos cut the Vikings’ lead to five, and the home crowd sensed their team had a way back into the game. Declaring the one fumble by Mattison as why the Vikings lost, though, is an overly simplistic view.
There were still chances for the Vikings to win the game, and the Vikings have failed to keep two-score leads in previous games. Mattison took the brunt of the criticism for the Vikings’ late-game collapse, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. The Vikings’ failing to finish teams off and putting their fans through the grinder is an almost weekly occurrence. Since 2020, no team has had more games decided by eight points or fewer than the Vikings. The reasons it keeps happening are vast, but there has been one particular problem this season.
The Vikings’ offense turned the ball over three times in Denver, and the Viking defense, despite doing well to restrict the Broncos to field goals until the final drive, couldn’t create any turnovers. When a team loses the turnover battle 3-0, it is doubtful they will win. The turnovers have killed the Vikings this season, and if it’s not Mattison, it’s someone else. If they had looked after the ball better, their record would be better than the 6-5 after 11 games.
The Vikings have turned the ball over a staggering 20 times this season. Only the Raiders and Commanders have turned over the ball more — they are also the only teams with a worse turnover differential than the Vikings -6. Both sit with losing records, and one has fired their head coach. There will be no such drastic action in Minnesota as the Vikings seemed to have solved that problem during their win streak, leaving their playoff hopes in their control. However, the return of the turnovers in Denver is a concern.
That’s not the only problem the Vikings have, either. Minnesota can’t put together four good quarters of football on offense. At some point in every game, the offense goes off the boil. It’s frustrating to watch, although recent injuries give mitigating circumstances. This was an issue when the Vikings were at full strength.
4th Quarter Play Calling
Kevin O’Connell is doing a good job for the Vikings. Coming into a difficult situation with no experience, he has an uncanny knack for winning games. There were some blowout losses last season outside of the close games. We aren’t getting those this season, as this is a better Vikings team — even if they won’t win as many games. O’Connell’s regular season record currently stands at 19-9, which is impressive, but he will be the first to admit that he still has many areas to improve. One area he’s coming under fire for is his late-game play-calling when the Vikings have a lead.
The play-calling clams up, and when a sustained drive could see the Vikings finish the game on offense, it just doesn’t happen. Back-to-back run plays in such a situation have become a major frustration among the fanbase. It’s sensible to keep the clock running and force the opposition to use up timeouts. The problem is the Vikings rarely get a yard, never mind a first down. The improved Vikings defense under Brian Flores had been doing a good job of seeing the ball out on defense, but not this time.
Can the Vikings be more aggressive in those situations? Certainly, but that would be much easier with Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson in the lineup. Did O’Connell trust his defense more than a Dobbs-led offense sans Jefferson? Possibly, they had given good reason to in recent weeks. The long-term progression of this Vikings team needs to see the Vikings finishing games on offense. There should be enough talent on the team to do that.
The next chance comes on Monday night football against the Chicago Bears. Strangely enough, the only two score wins of O’Connell’s tenure have come against NFC North opponents — Green Bay (twice) and Chicago (once).