By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings had no problem moving the ball and getting scoring drives during Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The problem was that the Vikings settled for field goals and led only by nine points after one quarter, instead of getting touchdowns and leading by 21.
The Vikings entered the game with a very good 60 percent touchdown scoring in the red zone, but got into the end zone seven times Sunday and got just two touchdowns out of the opportunities. The percent dropped to 50 and the Vikings are now in the middle of the pack in the NFL. The Vikings’ red zone scoring efficiency has been dropping over the last three games.
Head coach Leslie Frazier could pinpoint the one missed opportunity that hurt the most. It came toward the end of the first quarter after Antoine Winfield intercepted Robert Griffin III on a third-down play right in front of the Vikings bench.
The Vikings needed just 35 yards to score, but could not get the ball past the Redskins nine-yard line. Blair Walsh connected on a 27-yard field goal, his second on the day from that distance.
“When we got the turnover from Antoine, the emotion on our bench was like, ‘OK, this is it. We’re getting ready to really put the pedal to the metal here,’” Frazier said. “When we came away with a field goal, and I know how we are on defense, after that turnover, when you hold a team to a field in plus territory, it’s like a win.”
The Redskins took momentum from that defensive stand and took over the game until the fourth quarter.
“So I would imagine from their standpoint it reversed,” Frazier said. “Instead of us getting inflated, they were the group that got inflated from being able to hold us to a field goal. So that one, because of the emotion from our team and our bench and everybody being involved, that was the one I really wanted to see us get in the end zone.”
The Vikings will spend the week trying to find out what went wrong and how to fix it. The coaching staff thought they had a good game plan.
“When that happens, when you get thwarted like we did in the red zone, you look at everything – what we’re calling, the plays that we’re running, how we’re calling those plays,” Frazier said. “We really stressed not kicking field goals and trying to get touchdowns.”
“Even if we get one touchdown in any one of those three situations, it’s probably going to affect the way they’re going to call the game on the other side at that point. But it didn’t happen, so, yes, we’re going to go through it with a fine-toothed comb – what could we have done a little bit better.”
The Vikings signed free agent offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz to provide depth at both tackle and guard. Sunday, the veteran made his debut with the Vikings. It was the first time he played an NFL regular season game since 2010. He missed all of the 2011 season due a right hip injury that kept him on the Carolina Panthers’ injury reserve list.
He played a couple series in place of starting right guard Brandon Fusco during the second and third quarters. Frazier said last week that he wanted to see Fusco, a second-year veteran, play with more confidence.
Frazier said during his Monday press conference that the coaching staff wanted to get Schwartz some reps and see what he can do. He also said that they are not going to force him more reps, but will keep putting him out there to see him play more.
On Sunday before the Vikings lost to the Redskins, reports surfaced and were confirmed that the Vikings will play a regular season game in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Then Tuesday, the public found out who and when the Vikings would play. The Vikings will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, 2013.
“This is a unique opportunity for the Vikings organization to highlight our brand on an international level,” Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said. “Playing in London provides exceptional exposure to the team as well as Minnesota’s impressive business community and tourism industry. We are honored to represent the NFL on a global level, and we look forward to playing in front of our international fan base.”
The 5 p.m. United Kingdom kickoff (Noon CT) will be the first regular season international game for the Vikings. The team has played four previous games on foreign soil (all exhibition matches). The Vikings won all four games. The first foreign trip was to London in 1983 – a 28-10 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals). Since then the Vikings have played in Goteburg, Sweden (28-21 over the Chicago Bears), Berlin (20-6 over the Buffalo Bills) and Tokyo (17-9 over the Kansas City Chiefs).
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.