By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings did it again. Marcus Sherels couldn’t stay with Dwayne Harris as Tony Romo found the wide receiver over the middle for the game-winning score with 35 seconds remaining as the Vikings fell 27-23 to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
For the third time this season the Vikings had a lead into the final minute and surrender a game-winning score.
Adrian Peterson put the Vikings in front with five minutes and 40 seconds remaining on an 11-yard touchdown run. Blair Walsh missed the extra point to keep the lead at just three points.
Romo threw an interception to A.J. Jefferson, but the Vikings failed to get a first down and had to punt at mid field.
Harris was forced into a fair catch at the 10-yard line and the rest was history.
Romo completed 7-of-9 passes for all 90 yards as the Cowboys took just two minutes and nine seconds to get the winning score.
The Vikings had one last chance, but a Hail Mary throw by Christian Ponder from just inside the 50-yard line fell well short of the goal line.
The Vikings may be playing hard for head coach Leslie Frazier, but the players may be turning on the two coordinators – Bill Musgrave on offense and Alan Williams on defense.
According to Chip Scoggins via his Twitter account some players (Kevin Williams and Brian Robison were named) were upset with the play calls on the game-winning drive. He noted specifically that they were angry with the decision to rush three linemen and drop one into coverage. Players were also mad about the play calling after Jefferson’s interception.
The Vikings are now 1-7 on the season, which equals the worst start through eight games in the franchise history. The other time it happened was the team’s inaugural season in 1961.
Here’s a look at how each unit performed in the loss to Dallas on Sunday.
Offense Grade: B-
The Vikings offense did some good things and had the advantage of the Cowboys in total plays, total yards, yards per play, total first downs, rushing yards, yards per rush and time of possession.
The time the Vikings needed to get a first down, they couldn’t. Following Romo’s interception with four minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the game, the Vikings ran three plays without gaining a yard (the five yards gained on second and third down were negated by a delay of game penalty) and taking just one minute and 38 seconds off the clock. Getting just one first down would have taken at least another minute or so off the clock and would have gotten into definite Blair Walsh field goal range.
Peterson ran for 140 yards, including a 52-yard carry in the second half, and one touchdown. Greg Jennings caught six passes for 56 yards and Kyle Rudolph hauled in two passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. Rudolph did not play after catching his touchdown in the third quarter because of a foot injury.
Defense Grade: B
The Vikings defense made some plays, but couldn’t make the one or two that they needed to in the final minute.
The Vikings, by the looks of it, got into the prevent defense. The passive nature of this defense is designed to keep the offensive players in front of the defenders to keep them from scoring. However, when the offense has over two minutes to move the ball, they will score more often than not. So far this season, the Vikings are 1-for-4 when running the “prevent” defense.
The Vikings got two sacks from Brian Robison and one from Everson Griffen. Four other players added one tackle-for-a-loss each.
Jefferson replaced Xavier Rhodes, who left because of an injury, and intercepted Romo on the first play.
Quarterback Grade: B-
Christian Ponder played arguably his best game of the season, but it was by no means terrific. It also was not enough to prove he can be the Vikings long-term starter. That ship sailed awhile ago.
He made some good throws and completed 25 of 37 passes for 236 yards. He also threw a touchdown and posted a respectable 82.7 quarterback rating.
However, he made two embarrassingly bad under-thrown passes. One was intercepted near midfield and the other was on the Hail Mary as time expired. The other mistake he made was holding onto the ball too long in the end zone and getting stripped for a Cowboys defensive touchdown.
Special Teams Grade: B
The special teams units had some ups and downs. Cordarrelle Patterson had a couple very good kick returns and also dropped a ball that trickled out of bounds inside the five-yard line. Marcus Sherels had one really good punt return. Walsh made a field goal and two extra points, but missed a point-after try in the fourth quarter. Jeff Locke hit a 48-yard punt and downed one inside the 20-yard line, but also kicked a short punt that did not get to the 20-yard line.
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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. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.