Naturally, a missed field goal that would've won the game as time expired gets all the attention. Greg Joseph going wide right from 37 yards out was the latest in a long line of high-profile failures from Vikings kickers, and it's both easy and understandable to point that out as the obvious moment in which the game was lost.
But in their 34-33 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday, the Vikings had a ton of opportunities to not let it come down to a field goal at the very end. Let's run through the list of plays that could've changed the game, from the obvious ones to some you may have forgotten about.
1. The Vikings go three-and-out on their second possession
After scoring in just two plays to open the ballgame, the Vikings' defense got off to a great start. Arizona committed two false starts on third down and went three-and-out on its opening possession. The Vikings got the ball back already up 7-0 and hoping to add to that lead. On 3rd and 2, Kirk Cousins had K.J. Osborn and Dalvin Cook open to his left but forced one to a blanketed Tyler Conklin over the middle for an incompletion. The Cardinals tied the game on the ensuing possession thanks to some Kyler Murray magic.
2. Joseph misses an extra point
The final play of the game wasn't Joseph's only miss of the day. The Vikings had just taken a 20-7 lead with two fantastic touchdown drives, but their kicker pushed the extra point wide right. “Just caught a bit of ground before [impact]," Joseph said. "It kind of slowed down my hips and didn’t let my hips get all the way through the kick."
That one point would end up being the final margin of defeat.
3. The Cardinals had a wacky TD drive that could've ended three different times
Following Joseph's missed extra point, the Cardinals got quite lucky on their next drive. First, there was the pass that was tipped multiple times, going from a potential Eric Kendricks interception in great field position to a 34-yard gain for Maxx Williams.
That wasn't all. Later in the drive, Danielle Hunter's first sack of the day set up a 3rd and 16 for the Cardinals. The Vikings only rushed three, and Murray threw a dart between multiple defenders for a 19-yard conversion to Christian Kirk. With better defense on that play, the Vikings could've forced a long field goal attempt that would've kept it at a two-score game.
Then the weirdest play of the drive happened. Rondale Moore took a little touch pass running to the right, but was popped by Bashaud Breeland at the one-yard line and lost the football. Almost no one watching on TV saw it in real time, but the ball went right into Nick Vigil's hands for what was initially ruled a turnover. However, Vigil only got one foot down inbounds, so he didn't establish possession. If he would've been able to drag the second foot like a wide receiver, that would've been a massive takeaway for Minnesota. After all of that, the Cardinals finally scored to make it 20-14.
4. The final two minutes of the first half were a disaster for the Vikings
The final two minutes of the first half have been a nightmare for the Vikings in each of their first two games. They gave up two touchdowns to the Bengals during that time frame in Week 1, and they once again had critical defensive lapses prior to halftime in Arizona.
It started with a three-and-out in which Cook was stuffed on 3rd and 1. That gave the Cardinals the ball back, and they took the lead on the very next play from scrimmage, with Murray finding Moore for a 77-yard touchdown against a busted coverage by the Vikings.
The Vikings then drove down the field and went back on top with a 52-yard Joseph field goal, but there were still 21 seconds on the clock. They weren't very aggressive on that drive, running the ball with Cook twice in a row for some reason.
Zimmer then made the odd decision to call a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, which gave the Cardinals the ball at their 34. “Trying to run some time off the clock," he said. With ten seconds left and the Cardinals at their 38, Moore juked Mackensie Alexander, got away from Kendricks, and was able to get out of bounds with one second left. That allowed Matt Prater, a longtime Vikings killer, to step up and drill a 62-yard field goal to give Arizona the lead back at the half.
In total, the Vikings have allowed 24 points in the final two minutes of two first halves.
5. O'Neill's false start sets Vikings back
Each team scored early in the third quarter, with the Vikings getting a Nick Vigil pick-six — and deciding not to go for a two-point conversion — but then allowing a fairly easy TD drive to make it 31-30 Cardinals.
On the Vikings' next possession, Brian O'Neill false-started on 3rd and 8. Cousins hit Justin Jefferson for a 12-yard gain on the next play, but it wasn't enough to move the chains and Zimmer elected not to go for the 4th and 1 from his own 40.
6. Cousins' first sack comes at a poor time
The Vikings' struggles on third down were a problematic theme throughout this game. They were so good on offense overall because of their success on first and second down, but third down execution was lacking. Facing a 3rd and 4 from the Cardinals' 33 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Cousins seemed to have Adam Thielen and Tyler Conklin open near the line to gain. But he tried to step up in the pocket and was hit by Markus Golden, losing the football. He was able to fall on it and Joseph made another deep field goal for a 33-31 lead, but getting a touchdown on that drive could've been huge.
7. Dede Westbrook's mental error puts Vikings in tough spot
The Vikings got another stop thanks to Danielle Hunter's second sack of the day, but a special teams mistake hurt them. Cardinals punter Andy Lee unleashed a beauty that traveled roughly 70 yards in the air, and Westbrook decided to catch it at his own 7. Who knows how it would've bounced if he let it go, but there's a good chance it would've kept going forwards for a touchback. Then Westbrook compounded the mistake by spinning back towards his own goal line, trying to do too much, and being tackled at the 2.
On 3rd and 3, Cousins decided to take a deep shot for Jefferson but overthrew it. He may have had Thielen underneath.
8. Murray works his magic again on 4th down
The Vikings had a chance to get the ball back and give their offense another opportunity to seal the game, but Murray made a heck of a play. Zimmer sent seven on 4th and 5, Murray recognized the blitz and threw a rainbow off his back foot that Christian Kirk was able to run down with Alexander in coverage. The Vikings held Arizona to a field goal, but they still gave up the lead for the final time.
9. Another back-breaking penalty
On the first play of the Vikings' ensuing possession, Rashod Hill was called for holding when he clotheslined Budda Baker. That set the offense back and resulted in a three and out when Cousins threw short of the sticks to a covered Ameer Abdullah on 3rd and 6. Zimmer chose not to go for it on 4th and 6 from his 29 with less than three minutes left, trailing by a point. He trusted his defense, and that decision ended up working out, but the Vikings ideally would've liked to just go down and get a touchdown on that possession.
The Vikings would get the ball back thanks to Hunter's third sack of the day, and they drove deep into Cardinals territory. That set up the final sequence of events that everyone knows about.
10. Settling for a 37-yard field goal
It's already been discussed plenty, so I won't belabor the point here. It's hard to blame Zimmer for trusting an NFL kicker to make a 37-yarder from the middle of the field. But with the benefit of hindsight, you have to wonder if the Vikings would've been better served by playing aggressively and trying to get even closer or into the end zone. They still had 40 seconds and a timeout when they let the clock run down to set up Joseph's final attempt.
Of course, he missed it. You already knew that. But there were many different plays throughout the four quarters prior to that miss that put the Vikings in that position. If even one of those goes differently, maybe it doesn't come down to Joseph at all.
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