The Minnesota Vikings had their eight-game win streak snapped on Sunday after a 31-24 loss at the Carolina Panthers.
The Vikings committed three turnovers, the defense gave up a few costly big plays and committed costly penalties and wide receivers who have been solid all year suddenly were dropping passes. It was an uncharacteristic performance by a Vikings squad that has been one of the best teams in the NFL with Case Keenum at quarterback and a dominant defense.
Despite all the adversity, the Vikings had a chance to win the game late. Their chances to win the NFC also arguably got better despite the loss. That's because Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury Sunday afternoon. He's out for the season with a torn ACL.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday's loss, and why it may not matter with the playoff picture and Wentz's knee injury.
Offensive Line Banged Up
The Vikings entered Sunday's game without two of their starting offensive linemen. Mike Remmers has been dealing with concussion issues and a back injury, and missed Sunday's game. The hope is he can return this week. Center Pat Elflein also was inactive due to a shoulder injury, the first game he's missed this year. Elflein's loss was far greater, he makes the calls at the line and has been a key run blocker in his rookie year. They were also without tight end David Morgan, another key player in their run-blocking schemes.
That was bad enough, but then Riley Reiff went out with an ankle injury and didn't return. At one point late in the second half, the Vikings were without four of their regular starting offensive linemen and trying to make a comeback from an 11-point deficit. They were struggling to run the ball, and Keenum was under pressure with a patchwork offensive line, and they still had a chance to win the game. Every team has injuries, but the Vikings will need their offensive line to get healthy in a hurry.
Wide Receiver Drops
Wide receivers dropping catchable passes isn't something the Vikings offense has had to deal with a lot this season. It happened Sunday. Kyle Rudolph, despite catching a touchdown pass, dropped a perfect pass from Keenum that would've been a big gain and moved the ball into Panthers' territory. The drive stalled. Stefon Diggs bobbled a wide receiver screen play that was intercepted. Adam Thielen is one of the top receivers in the league, and dropped two passes that would've been touchdowns.
The game-changer was late in the first half. Thielen was open in the back of the end zone and Case Keenum delivered a perfect pass. He had the ball caught, two feet down, a knee down and an elbow down in the field of play. But the ball popped loose as he hit the ground out of bounds. The initial touchdown call was overturned after review, and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal and a 14-13 deficit at the half. He didn't complete the process of the catch, better known as the "Dez Bryant" rule. It changed the momentum of the game, when the Vikings could have had the led despite a mostly poor first-half effort.
Defense Gives Up Big Plays
The Vikings defense hadn't given up many big plays this season and hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. That changed Sunday. Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers. The first came on a blown assignment defensively on Carolina's second offensive play, which led to the 60-yard score. His third score sealed the Panthers' win from 1 yard out after Cam Newton ripped off a long run.
The Vikings also had a busted coverage that left Devin Funchess wide open for a touchdown when it looked like they had Newton sacked. The 31 points Carolina scored is the most the Vikings have given up all season, so fans can bet they'll be angry when they take the field Sunday against Cincinnati with a chance to clinch the NFC North Division at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings Had Chance To Win Despite Adversity
Despite everything that went wrong for the Vikings on Sunday, Keenum managed to lead a fourth-quarter comeback when they were down 11 points. They were poised to take a late lead after Andrew Sendejo's interception, but settled for a field goal to tie the game. It's hard for fans not to feel optimistic when as bad as some things went against one of the top teams in the NFL on the road for the third straight week, you still had a great chance to win.
The Vikings will be favored to beat the Bengals at home, which would clinch a division title. The Packers head to Carolina, with a loss essentially killing their playoff hopes, especially if the Vikings win. Monday's news out of Philadelphia also changed everything in the NFC. With Carson Wentz out for the season, the Vikings are primed to take over the No. 1 seed if they can win two of their final three games. You have to like their chances against the Bengals and Bears at home. Facing the Packers at Lambeau Field will be a toss-up regardless of whether Aaron Rodgers returns, but it may not matter by that point.
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