Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings challenged the team record for futility in a 16-game season, ultimately equaling the mark set in in 1984 at 3-13.
Eight games into this season, this year’s team is doing something neither the 1984 or 2011 teams did. With a 27-23 loss at Dallas on Sunday, Minnesota equaled the worst start in franchise history, tying the 1-7 start from the 1961, the first year of the franchise’s existence.
The 1961 Vikings went on to win three games in a 14-game season. The 1962 team holds the record for fewest wins in a full season with a 2-11-1 record. For the second time in three years, Minnesota has work ahead to avoid an undesirable team record.
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Here’s five things we learned from the Vikings’ loss on Sunday: 1. Can’t close out the close ones
Tony Romo’s touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds was the third time this season Minnesota allowed a come-from-behind touchdown pass in the final minute. The Vikings have lost all three of those games. The first was the second week against Chicago, which scored with 10 seconds left. The next week Cleveland came from behind to win with 51 seconds left.
Minnesota’s defense has struggled much of the season, but particularly in late-game situations. The Vikings have been less aggressive with the “prevent” defenses and it has cost them. Sunday, Minnesota stopped putting as much pressure on Romo on the final drive and he was 7 of 9 for 90 yards passing on the drive, taking the Cowboys the entire way in 2 minutes, 9 seconds on the drive.
The Vikings had held up particularly well earlier in the game, holding Dallas to 260 yards before the final drive and 5 of 14 on third downs. Minnesota’s pass rush also sacked Romo three times, held the Cowboys to nine carries for 36 yards and A.J. Jefferson recorded the first interception by a Vikings’ cornerback all season. But when it needed to stop Dallas — which entered with the league’s eighth-ranked passing offense — Minnesota lost what it had done well early in the game.
2. Round and round they go
The quarterback carousel had stopped with Christian Ponder for the second straight game. Starting again, he looked like the Ponder of 2012 early in the game, going 14-of-21 passing for 117 yards and running twice for 22 yards and a touchdown as the Vikings led at halftime. Ponder looked to end any quarterback rotating.
Then, deep in his own territory on his first offensive play in the second half, he received pressure from the right side in the end zone, had the ball knocked away for a fumble and Dallas recovered for a touchdown. Ponder seemingly responded, leading Minnesota on a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. But he also threw a poor interception in the fourth quarter for another two-turnover game and his last-second Hail Mary attempt from 50 yards out didn’t even reach the end zone.
Ponder finished 25 of 37 for 236 yards passing with one touchdown, one interception, the rushing touchdown and the lost fumble. It was another up-and-down performance that has marked his career. Coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder will likely start on Thursday when the Vikings host the Washington Redskins. With the short week of preparation, and Ponder looking better for much of Sunday, another start isn’t surprising. Even an improved game Sunday didn’t do enough to prove Ponder should be trusted long-term.
3. Peterson enjoys his time in Texas
Adrian Peterson grew up about two hours from the Cowboys’ stadium and had struggled somewhat in his two NFL games back in Texas, rushing for 149 yards in two games, one in Dallas and one in Houston. He was also coming off three games with under 100 yards rushing. Back home, he looked a little more like the vintage Peterson against Dallas.
The going was slow early, but Minnesota stayed with the running game on Sunday in a close contest. Peterson averaged 12 carries in the past three games. He had 14 carries for 60 yards in the first half against the Cowboys. Peterson started finding more room in the second half, including ripping off a 52-yard run off the right tackle.
He finished with 25 carries, tied for the second-most he’s had in a game this season, and had 140 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown showed off his power, slicing through the line on a fourth-and-1 carry, getting stood up by a defender and then pushing forward another five yards into the end zone with a little help by tight end Chase Ford, who helped push Peterson in for the score.
4. Health is an issue
The short week before Thursday’s game will also affect Minnesota in another way. The Vikings don’t have much time to get several injured players healthy. Minnesota was already playing without cornerback Chris Cook, safety Jamarca Sanford, defensive tackle Fred Evans, tight end Rhett Ellison and running back Matt Asiata.
Then the Vikings lost right tackle Phil Loadholt to a concussion, tight end Kyle Rudolph to an apparent foot injury and defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes also appeared to suffer a leg injury and missed time late in Sunday’s game.
Frazier confirmed a concussion for Loadholt after the game and admitted it would be tough for Loadholt to make his way through the league’s concussion testing before Thursday night’s game. J’Marcus Webb made his debut for Minnesota after Loadholt was hurt, and was beat on the outside with his player knocking the ball away from Ponder for the fumble and touchdown. Frazier didn’t have word on any of the injured players and their availability for Thursday.
5. A rare miss and then no chance
Kicker Blair Walsh has been dealing with a left hamstring injury, to his non-kicking leg. But Walsh and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had said the hamstring isn’t an issue when it comes to Walsh’s kicking at this point. He came up short on a 50-yard field goal attempt on Oct. 21, his first-ever miss from 50-plus in his two-year career. Sunday he missed an extra-point attempt for the first time with Minnesota. He was 57 of 57 before pushing an extra-point attempt wide right after Peterson’s touchdown.
The missed point would come back to haunt the Vikings. Frazier didn’t give Walsh a chance at a 54-yard field-goal attempt before Dallas’ game-winning drive, instead choosing to punt. Frazier said after the game that Walsh’s injury was a consideration in his decision to punt instead of trying to let Walsh give the team a 6-point lead. The missed point-after attempt and the no-go for the long field goal meant Minnesota had to score a touchdown on its final drive trailing by four points. Instead of having a chance to win or tie with a field goal, the Vikings had to try and score a touchdown and Ponder’s final throw ended up short.