EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings returned home from Carolina as a defeated team for the first time in 10 weeks, carrying with them a long list of cringe-worthy and uncharacteristic blunders that contributed to the loss.
The outcome, though, could actually work in their favor.
With all that postseason capital built up over the eight-game winning streak, the Vikings had a margin for the error they exhibited Sunday while being beaten by the Panthers 31-24 . Provided they can steer themselves back on track over the remaining three games on the schedule and maintain their grip on a first-round bye for the playoffs, they will have rid themselves of some sloppiness before it truly hurts them. They host the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) this weekend.
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”It could be way worse. We’re in a good situation, and we’ve just got to keep it going that way,” said defensive end Everson Griffen, one of several upbeat players in the locker room Monday at team headquarters. ”We’re a very composed team, and I don’t think we’re going to let this get to us at all. We’re going to go back to work. We’re going to have that sense of urgency.”
Playing on the road against a confident and deep team, the Vikings (10-3) trailed by one point at halftime despite an opening-drive interception thrown by Case Keenum , a 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart against a defense that has surrendered few long gains all season, and rare dropped passes by Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen.
A reception by Rudolph likely would’ve put the Vikings in field-goal range during a possession that ended in a punt. Thielen had two chances for a touchdown with the Vikings sniffing the end zone late in the second quarter, but after one throw hit him in the chest and bounced away, he bobbled another that was ruled incomplete by a replay review that angered head coach Mike Zimmer. Thielen sounded resigned to the controversial rule requiring receivers to fully control the ball without any movement when they hit the ground.
”The ball moved a little bit,” he said. ”That’s just how it is.”
The second half included a fumble by Keenum that looked like an incomplete pass, leaving the Vikings unaware they needed to try to cover the ball, and a second interception off a bobble by Stefon Diggs.
”We don’t want to have any mistakes, regardless, whether it’s now or later on,” running back Latavius Murray said. ”But the fact that they’re right now and we still have everything we want in front of us, I think that’s a good thing. So it’s a chance for us to learn from that.”
The Vikings fell one game behind Philadelphia for the NFC lead, though the Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury.
With right tackle Mike Remmers missing for a fifth straight game, the last two because of lower back trouble, center Pat Elflein joined him on the sideline with a shoulder injury in his first career scratch. Then left tackle Riley Reiff hurt his ankle in the third quarter, prompting Remmers’ replacement Rashod Hill to switch sides; Jeremiah Sirles to move from left guard to right tackle; and Danny Isidora to enter at left guard. Nick Easton had slid over from left guard to center to play for Elflein, which thrust Sirles into the starting lineup.
”Even with how poorly we played up front, which we thought we played poorly watching the film, we still had a chance to win it there at the end,” Sirles said. ”Which just goes to show if we can be on our game up front, it doesn’t really matter who’s in there, we can do well.”
Elflein practiced last week on a limited basis, so his injury is not serious. Reiff’s departure from the stadium in a walking boot raised a significant concern, but Zimmer said his ankle was ”a lot better than he thought it was going to be” when he was treated Monday.
”When you have injuries, you’re going to have backup players play in there,” Zimmer said. ”We’re not going to make an excuse for this game or for players that come in or anything else. We’ll take ownership of what we did Sunday, and we’ll move forward.”
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