By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings had the perfect opportunity to right the ship after struggling through the first two games.
The Cleveland Browns came to Mall of America Field Sunday after a week of speculation that it was phoning in the rest of the season to improve its draft status.
The Browns named third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer as their starter and traded second-year running back Trent Richardson during the week.
Everything was in the Vikings favor.
However, in the final minute of the game, Hoyer dropped a pass over Harrison Smith and into the hands of tight end Jordan Cameron for a seven-yard touchdown pass to give the Browns a 31-27 lead with 51 seconds remaining.
The Vikings had one last chance, but Desmond Bryant sacked Christian Ponder on the final play from the Browns 34-yard line.
The Vikings offense was not expected to do a whole lot against an underrated defensive unit.
The Vikings were able to move the ball, but did not execute very well.
The Browns finished with six sacks, including a seven-yard loss when nose tackle Phil Taylor rushed up the middle untouched to tackle Ponder.
Ponder missed multiple open receivers, including a critical miss of Greg Jennings on third-and-four late in the fourth quarter that could have almost ended the game.
The offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks also did not give Adrian Peterson the running lanes he needs to break off a long run. Peterson finished the game with 88 yards on 25 carries for one touchdown and a long of nine yards.
The Vikings defense had three sacks, three interceptions and held the Browns to 40 percent on third down.
That is the good news.
The rest of the story is that the entire unit was picked apart by the Browns’ third-string quarterback, who had one previous start while playing for three teams over his five-year NFL career.
The secondary and linebackers couldn’t cover anyone – especially Josh Gordon and Cameron, who combined for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
The back-seven got little help from the pass rush, that was non-existent for most of the game.
The Browns finished the game with 5.5 yards per play for 409 yards. They also converted two fourth-down attempts.
Ponder actually didn’t play that badly. His game can probably be characterized as somewhere between blah and bad. He did a good job of running the ball, but missed a few open receivers and tried to throw through traffic for a deflected interception.
The third-year quarterback finished the game with 228 yards on 25 completions in 42 attempts. He was sacked six times, but not all of them are on him, and was intercepted once for a 64.4 rating.
Ponder was at his best when running the ball with 46 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.
The Browns converted two fake kicks against the Vikings special teams units.
The Vikings fell for a fake punt on a fourth-and-one play at the Browns 38-yard line. The personal protector Josh Aubrey received the snap and ran and broke several tackles before getting tackled by Sherels at the Vikings 28-yard line – a 34 yard gain. The Browns eventually kicked a field goal.
Then after Ponder threw an interception on second down, The Browns moved the ball down to the Viking 11-yard line with relative ease. The Vikings defense made a stand to force a fourth-and-four. The Browns lined up in field goal formation with 10 players and tight end Cameron sneakily positioned near the sideline closest the Browns bench. Spencer Lanning received the snap and threw a pass to a wide open Cameron. The Vikings recovered to nearly tackle him short of the goal line, but it was too late.
Falling for a fake kick once happens, but twice in back-to-back drives is really bad for Mike Priefer’s units.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
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. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.