Another Painful Vikings Home Loss Full of Missed Opportunities against Chiefs
The Vikings miscues started on the very first play when tight end Josh Oliver coughed up the ball after a 15-yard gain, which led to the Chiefs’ first touchdown in their 27-20 victory. Oliver later dropped a catchable deep ball, and his tight end partner T.J. Hockenson had a down game with three drops and lining up wrong, which caused a fourth-quarter delay of game penalty.
Another Painful Vikings Home Loss Full of Missed Opportunities against Chiefs
Alexander Mattison had a crucial drop on a screen on that same drive that ended with a controversial call as the officials picked up the flag that was thrown against L’Jarius Sneed for interfering with Jordan Addison (and I thought Sneed clearly impeded Addison’s opportunity to catch a touchdown pass on 4th-and-12 with the Vikings trying to tie the game).
Even superstar Justin Jefferson had a drop before he exited the game with a fourth-quarter hamstring injury.
These are the kinds of mistakes a team can’t make in a close game against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and their All-Pro QB Patrick Mahomes, who played great but gave the Vikings a couple of good shots at interceptions that were not hauled in by Mekhi Blackmon and Cam Bynum (on a critical 3rd-and-18 that set up Kansas City’s third quarter go-ahead TD).
The Vikings now stand 1-4 after their third straight home loss and face a virtual must-win game at Chicago against the revived 1-4 Bears (after their impressive win in Washington with QB Justin Fields throwing three TD passes to D.J. Moore, who had 230 receiving yards and the Bears D rising up with five sacks).
I witnessed close-up in 2002 with my Tennessee Titans team that 1-4 is not fatal as we rebounded with 11 wins in our next 12 games to claim the AFC South title, and we beat the Steelers in a divisional playoff game before falling in the AFC title game at Oakland. But the turnaround for the 2023 Vikings has to start in Soldier Field on Sunday.
Here are my other reactions to the Vikings-Chiefs game:
1. One of the encouraging signs in the Chiefs game was an excellent performance by QB Kirk Cousins, who should have had well over 300 yards passing if not for the six dropped balls. He made several excellent off-schedule throws, including a 27-yarder to K.J. Osborn that was a big play on the failed fourth-quarter drive. His second-quarter TD pass to Jordan Addison at the back of the end zone was another beauty, and Cousins had several clutch conversions on third and fourth downs.
The third and fourth down efficiency improved as the Vikings converted 10 of 19 (including 4 of 5 on fourth down with a terrific fake punt call by Coach Kevin O’Connell and execution by Josh Metellus taking the direct snap and handing to Ty Chandler for a 15-yard run on the second quarter touchdown drive).
The red zone issues reappeared with having to settle for a second-quarter field goal after Cousins and Osborn mistimed a 3rd-and-4 pass play from the Chiefs 11, but I think Osborn should’ve been looking for the throw into the end zone.
2. The Vikings defense is also on the rise after a strong game in Carolina was followed up by holding Mahomes and Company to 333 yards of total offense and limiting a good rushing team to only 67 yards on the ground. The D kept the mobile Mahomes from any runs off scrambles. And the defense stopped the Chiefs on both their fourth-quarter drives to give the offense a chance to tie the game.
But there were those missed opportunities for interceptions by Blackmon and especially Bynum, who mistimed his jump on the 33-yard reception by Justin Watson as Mahomes burned the Vikings on a blitz.
I also didn’t like the Vikings coverages on All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce when he returned to the game in the third quarter after spraining his ankle. Kelce should’ve been double-covered on key plays, such as the 3rd-and-8 leaping catch he made over Metellus (on the last K.C. TD drive). Then the Vikings allowed Kelce to get wide open on his 4-yard TD reception after Metellus blitzed, and both Bynum and Byron Murphy were several yards into the end zone as Kelce was uncovered.
So DC Brian Flores still has things to clean up on defense, and Murphy must play better as the No. 1 corner who makes $9 million per year (he also was beat on a quick slant by rookie Rashee Rice for a third-quarter TD).
3. Coaching miscues: O’Connell made a poor decision to challenge the Kelce catch over Metellus that was upheld (costing a timeout) and left the Vikings with only one timeout after earlier burning a timeout when the play call didn’t get in quickly enough. The Vikings wasted their final timeout with 9:37 remaining when they had the wrong defensive personnel in the game as the Chiefs lined up for a possible 4th-and-1 play (before they punted). This followed the bad clock management when Cousins didn’t spike the ball at the end of the Chargers loss.
4. Hockenson needs to step up his game: he’s one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends after signing his $15 million per year extension, and he’s had far too many drops and tough but makeable catches not made (such as the final play against the Chargers that resulted in the game-ending interception). Hockenson should do more study on Kelce and how he uses his big body to shield defenders and make tough catches in traffic.
As the No. 2 option to Jefferson in the Vikings passing offense (although Addison may soon claim that role if he continues to play well), Hockenson has to be more reliable as he was in clutch situations most of last season.
5. Addison’s growth: the first-round pick is a star in the making, and he stood out with big catches on third and fourth down against the Chiefs, along with running a great route along the back of the end zone on a second-quarter TD catch (his third TD reception in his first five NFL games). Addison had six catches for 64 yards to lead the Vikings receivers.
“Jordan is the real deal,” Cousins said after the game. “We hit on that draft pick. He’s a great player. Has great hands and runs great routes.”
If Jefferson is out for one or more games with his hamstring injury, Addison will be expected to play the role of No. 1 receiver, and he’ll have to further elevate his already strong performance. Brandon Powell also played well in his limited snaps, with four catches for 43 yards and a big third-down conversion.
6. It’s incredible the difference from last season to this season with the one-score games. After going 11-1, including the playoff loss, the Vikings have had every game as one-score and are 1-4 with the four losses by a total of 20 points.
The team’s minus 9 turnover ratio ranks last in the league and is the main reason for the team’s bad start. Seven of those turnovers have come in the first quarter as the Vikings have been outscored 27-3. The first-quarter woes must stop if the team expects to get back in the playoff hunt and NFC North race, with the Lions now 4-1 after beating the Panthers on Sunday. Detroit is at 3-1 Tampa Bay (coming off their bye) next Sunday.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. Make it three straight weeks that one of the league’s hottest teams was upset. It was the Cowboys losing at Arizona in Week 3, the Dolphins getting crushed at Buffalo in Week 4 (after scoring 70 points the week before against Denver), and then the Bills falling 25-20 to the Jaguars in London. Upset alert this Sunday will be on the NFL’s two remaining unbeaten teams. The 49ers take on the 2-2 Browns (off their bye) in Cleveland, while the Eagles are at the 2-3 Jets.
2. The 49ers and Eagles are riding their hot QBs. Brock Purdy threw four TD passes in the Niners’ surprisingly easy 42-10 blowout of the Cowboys. Purdy leads the NFL with a 123.1 passer rating and has not thrown an interception this season. He has now won 12 straight games he started and finished in his young career.
Jalen Hurts had 375 combined yards rushing and passing as the Eagles rallied to beat the Rams 23-14 in L.A. First-round DT Jalen Carter had two sacks of Matthew Stafford, who was happy to have receiver Cooper Kupp back in the lineup for the first time this season (8 catches, 118 yards).
3. Yikes, New England: the Patriots followed up the worst loss of Bill Belichick’s 20-plus years as Pats’ head coach (38-3 in Dallas last week) with the second worst loss for Belichick with the Patriots—a 34-0 shutout at home by the Saints. QB Mac Jones was benched during the game for the second straight week. Tough times in Foxboro with the boobirds out in force.
I’m back with my Vikings-Bears prediction on Friday in a critical road game for the Purple.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl