By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings reverted back to their 2013 ways. The offense failed to put a team away and the defense gave up a last second touchdown. The Buffalo Bills scored with one second remaining on a one-yard touchdown pass to beat the Vikings 17-16 Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Both teams suffered a pair of big injuries during the game. The Vikings lost No. 2 right guard Vladimir Ducasse — who became the starter when Brandon Fusco was lost for the the season following a Week 3 loss — and starting center John Sullivan went out with a concussion in the first half. The Bills on the the other hand lost their top two running backs to various injuries. Fred Jackson went out with a upper leg issue and CJ. Spiller suffered a broken collarbone.
The Vikings (2-5) never led by more than six points, but had three separate leads.
Offense Grade: D+
The offense failed to capitalize on turnovers and good field position. It was the same story for the offensive line. They struggled to give Teddy Bridgewater much time to throw or an opening to escape the pocket.
Bridgewater and Christian Ponder were sacked 14 times the previous two weeks. The Bills finished the game with five sacks, including a pair on back-to-back plays in goal-to-go situations.
The most impressive aspect of the game was the Vikings ability to run the ball. Jerick McKinnon had 103 to become the first player this season to reach the plateau. The Bills entered the game as the league’s best against the run at less than 70 yards per game. McKinnon and four other runners totaled 158 yards on the ground.
McKinnon and fullback Jerome Felton had runs of 29 and 21 yards, respectively. The longest run the Bills had allowed entering the game was 16 yards.
For all the good the offense did — the rushing yards, Bridgewater’s first touchdown pass, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings getting more positively involved in the offense — it recorded just nine points off four turnovers and failed to put the game away with less than six minutes remaining by getting into the end zone.
Defense Grade: B-
The defense was fantastic, but a few bad plays ruined their day.
The Bills got the board following an interception with a 26-yard pass from Kyle Orton to Sammy Watkins. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got beat on the play and could not catch up.
Then after the Vikings came right back and re-claimed the lead, the defense allowed Spiller to run up the middle and bounce back to the weak side and run down the side line for 52 yards. The defense re-group and held the Bills to a field goal.
Finally on the game-winning drive, several big plays cost the Vikings. Watkins was left wide open for a 19-yard gain. A few plays later, tight end Scott Chandler got behind Chad Greenway for 24-yard completion on fourth-and-20. Watkins converted a third-and-12 play with an 18 catch after he beat Josh Robinson off the line of scrimmage. Two plays before the game-winning touchdown, Orton launched a 28-yard pass to Chris Hogan along the side line that Xavier Rhodes couldn’t knock down.
Enough of the negatives, there were more positives. The team totaled six sacks, led by Everson Griffen’s three. Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph added one each. Robert Blanton recorded an interception and a fumble recovery. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr added two fumble recoveries.
Quarterback Grade: C-
Bridgewater is still a work in progress. He is still learning the speed of an NFL regular season game. He still needs to improve on working through progressions quicker and how to feel the pocket collapse before it happens.
Bridgewater finished the game completing 15-of-26 pass for 157 yards. He threw his first career touchdown pass, but added a pair of interceptions. He finished the game with a 56.1 quarterback rating.
Special Teams Grade: C-
The special teams were a slight disappointment again Sunday. The only positive for the unit was Blair Walsh. The kicker made all three of his field goal attempts, including a 55-yarder, and only extra point.
Jeff Locke had a high punting average of 47.3 yards per punt and had a long of 54, but his touchback with three minutes and sevens remaining had no chance of being downed before going into the end zone. The Vikings gained just 28 yards of field position by punting.
Marcus Sherels and Patterson had decent returns of 12 yards on a punt and 24 yards on a kickoff, respectively. Sherels also missed a tackle that allowed Leodis McKelvin to return a punt 13 yards.
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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.