Vikings Are a Team Riddled with Mistakes

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The Minnesota Vikings left Cincinnati emptyhanded despite leading the Bengals 17-3 as the fourth quarter began at Paycor Stadium on Saturday. The Vikings could and probably should have had an even healthier lead and also had chances to win the game.

They didn’t, largely because the Vikings are a team riddled with mistakes. The 27-24 loss to the Bengals in overtime was frustrating. Victory was in Minesota’s grasp, but they couldn’t finish it.

Vikings Are a Team Riddled with Mistakes

Mistakes are not a new phenomenon that suddenly appeared for the Vikings in this Week 16 matchup. The season’s story in Minnesota is one of fumbles, interception, dropped passes, and missed kicks. Playing a mistake-free game is obviously important, but the stats hammer the point home for the Vikings. In regular season games under head coach Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings are a perfect 17-0 when they don’t lose the turnover differential — they are 3-11 when they lose it.

Must fix himself
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Minnesota had improved their turnover differential during their five-game win streak, but it’s back to -6 for the season — the 6th worst in the league. If the Vikings look after the football, they win.

Turnovers are always critical, and the two interceptions by Nick Mullens with the Vikings in field goal range were killers. The Vikings should have had an even healthier lead of 17-3 as the fourth quarter began, which should have been insurmountable.

Then there’s the game-defining turnover on downs in overtime. O’Connell came under fire for his decision to run back-to-back QB sneaks. Needing just inches for a first down and being within Greg Joseph’s field goal range – albeit on the edge of the inconsistent Joseph’s capabilities — the Vikings failed miserably. 

The decision to run the QB sneak not once, but twice, with a small QB and a small WR (180 lb Brandon Powell) as the man chosen to give him the “tush push,” was eyebrow-raising. The Vikings had successfully run the ball all game, with Ty Chandler gaining 132 rushing yards and a touchdown at an average of 5.7 yards per carry on his first career start. In just his second year as a head coach and full-time play-caller, O’Connell hasn’t been immune from mistakes himself. Like the players on the field, he needs to learn and clean up on the errors.

How Do the Vikings Fix Their Problems?

The Vikings aren’t going to fix all of their problems within the next three weeks. Injuries ravage the squad, and some issues will require personnel changes. Some things can be addressed during the season, and that was showcased on Saturday.

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The Vikings’ ball security was much better, with Mullens at quarterback and Chandler at running back. Outside of the two interceptions, Mullens ran the offense well, and Chandler did all you can ask of an RB1 – adding three catches for 25 yards to his century on the ground. Chandler should remain in pole position in the RB room even if Alexander Mattison shakes off his ankle injury.

In a season plagued by drops, Vikings receivers caught everything on Saturday, there were no fumbles, and Greg Joseph didn’t miss a kick. The return of Justin Jefferson was a huge boost, as he hauled in catches many receivers wouldn’t have. T.J. Hockenson, who has had issues this season, hauled in some difficult grabs. It was close to being the perfect offensive game – but for two mistakes from the quarterback.

The Defense Not Immune

The Vikings’ defense, which had been so stingy in recent weeks, including the first three quarters against the Bengals, suddenly gave up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. It was a surprising and unfortunate turn of events. Mistakes were a problem again when Akayleb Evans talked Tee Higgins out of the end zone. The big Bengals receiver muscled his way into position to reach the ball over the line for a game-tying touchdown that would ultimately send the game to overtime. 

Mekhi Blackmon made the rookie mistake of celebrating his teammate’s play before the play was over instead of rallying to the football to help. Blackmon could have not only stopped the touchdown but also the way Higgins reached out the ball with one hand, which would have allowed him to take the ball away. That would have all but sealed the win for Minnesota.

Team Riddled
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The Vikings can’t seem to put a complete game together this season. Whether they will ultimately get into the playoffs remains to be seen. That will be answered over the next three weeks. Ultimately, the Vikings aren’t a team that can win the Super Bowl right now. That shouldn’t be a big surprise when you are on your fourth starting quarterback of the season. The Vikings are close to being a genuinely good team, but good teams don’t make as many mistakes as the Vikings.

There’s plenty for the Vikings to do in the offseason, but finding the answer to cure themselves of being a team riddled with mistakes should be top of the list. When the Vikings play clean, mistake-free football, they win.