The Vikings didn't do anything on Sunday that suggests they're likely to go on a run and get back into playoff contention this season. Not in the slightest.
However, they did just enough to beat the woeful Lions, who are still in search of their first win this season. The Vikings' defense played well and one touchdown and a game-winning 54-yard Greg Joseph field goal was all the offense needed to win 19-17 in an ugly game that moves them to 2-3 and at least keeps their season alive for another week.
For a few minutes, it looked like this was going to be an all-time collapse by the Vikings. Their conservative decision-making allowed the Lions to hang around all game, and then an Alexander Mattison fumble suddenly opened the door for a shocking upset. Trailing 16-9 thanks to a missed field goal by Joseph, the Lions scored and converted a two-point attempt to take a 17-16 lead. U.S. Bank Stadium was stunned.
But Kirk Cousins hit Adam Thielen for two big gains on the final drive and Joseph remained perfect from 50-plus on the season by nailing the game-winning field goal as time expired. It must've been a great feeling for Joseph, who missed a potential game-winner in Week 2 and whose miss earlier in the fourth quarter kept the Lions alive.
The Vikings can exhale. Mike Zimmer's job is safe. But they're going to need to be a heck of a lot better going forward if they're going to have any chance to get back into the playoff picture.
This was a rough game for first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, in particular. Justin Jefferson, one of the best receivers in the league, was getting open at will in this game. He had 104 yards on five catches in the first half alone. But the Vikings didn't get Jefferson the ball nearly enough, as he finished with 124 yards on just eight targets. Adam Thielen didn't catch a pass until the final 37 seconds.
Instead, the Vikings were content to feed Alexander Mattison all day long. Mattison recorded 32 touches, ending the day with just one fewer target than Jefferson in the passing game. Yes, Mattison racked up 153 yards from scrimmage on those touches, but 48 of those yards came on one play and the playcalling was far too conservative overall. Runs on second and long, screens on third and long, and a general refusal to air the ball out against one of the NFL's worst secondaries resulted in the Vikings scoring just 19 points.
Minnesota still doesn't have a second-half touchdown since Week 1. The offense has scored 18 points in its last four second halves. That's not going to get it done against good teams.
Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer also deserve their share of blame for this uninspiring performance. Cousins could've been more aggressive, frequently settling for checkdowns to Mattison instead of giving his receivers chances to make plays down the field. He also threw a bad interception on a ball that deflected off of K.J. Osborn, who was blanketed.
Zimmer was oddly conservative as well. When the Vikings got the ball with 37 seconds left before halftime, possessing two timeouts, he elected to run out the clock and was met with raucous boos from the sellout crowd in Minneapolis.
To be fair, the Vikings' defense deserves a lot of credit for their performance in this game, holding the Lions to just nine points before the late touchdown against a short field. If there's a path to the Vikings turning their season around, maybe it's the defense becoming really good again. Everson Griffen had two of the Vikings' four sacks, Eric Kendricks picked off Jared Goff, and players like Danielle Hunter and Patrick Peterson also had strong days. The defense did allow 100 yards on the ground for a fifth straight game, though.
Christian Darrisaw saw his first offensive snaps in the NFL, but the Vikings oddly rotated Darrisaw and Rashod Hill throughout the game. It's not clear what their approach was in that regard.
This game shouldn't have been as close as it was. That type of performance won't be nearly good enough going forward. But the Vikings won.
Next week, they'll take on the Carolina Panthers on the road with a chance to get back to .500.
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