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Vikings game, but still come up short at Denver

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings did enough things right to be encouraged going forward, but too many things wrong to escape Denver with a win over a beatable Peyton Manning Broncos team on Sunday.

So they head into their bye with a 2-2 record that’s neither satisfying nor deflating. They’re 0-2 on the road, but 2-0 at home with their next game against the Chiefs at TCF Bank Stadium a week from Sunday.

“I like this football team,” head coach Mike Zimmer said the day after the Vikings bounced back from deficits of 10-0 and 20-10 only to lose 23-20 on a Manning-led field-goal drive in the closing minutes. “I think they work real hard. We have to get better. There’s no question. I think the teams that we played, three out of the four were playoff teams last year. The last team we played was 23-2 or something at home over the last two years. But I’m not happy with where we’re at, no.

“I think we have a chance to be a good football team. And if we ever do put it all together, we could be a really good football team. But that’s a lot of ifs and injuries and all kinds of things. But there’s a lot of football left to be played.”

The Vikings won the turnover battle (2-1) against the league’s leader in turnover differential. They turned two Manning interceptions into 10 points, including a game-tying field goal with 5:11 left.

The Vikings converted six third downs to equal the combined total of Denver’s first three opponents. They also had a 97-yard touchdown drive, which ended with Adrian Peterson’s 48-yard run on fourth-and-inches.

But the Vikings also gave up seven sacks, including a strip-sack fumble that clinched the game with 29 seconds left, and a 72-yard touchdown run to the league’s 31st-ranked rushing attack. Peterson was held to 33 yards on his other 15 carries and kicker Blair Walsh hooked a 38-yard field-goal attempt no good.

As the Vikings were leaving the locker room, they were being asked if the 2-2 start was a good thing for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012 or won a playoff game since 2009.

“No,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It’s average. It’s just as bad as it is good. But as long as we build and continue to get better, there’s a lot of football to be played.”

REPORT CARD VS. BRONOCOS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus. There were good things, but all of them get overshadowed by the seven sacks allowed. QB Teddy Bridgewater hung in with poise and somehow posted a 92.4 passer rating with a touchdown and no interceptions. But the Vikings simply couldn’t protect him behind a line that’s missing two starters and a star running back – Adrian Peterson – whose only weakness is pass protection. A strip-sack of Bridgewater clinched the game on a lost fumble with 29 seconds left.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus. Yeah, Peterson scored on a 48-yard burst on fourth-and-inches to make it a 20-17 game late in the fourth quarter. But he also was a non-factor on his other 15 carries. He mustered only 33 yards on those carries. That put too much pressure on the passing game and Bridgewater.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. The Vikings turned interceptions by linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith into 10 points. Barr’s pick gave the Vikings a short field with seconds left in the first half. They scored on a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. Smith’s pick allowed the Vikings to tie the game at 20-20 with 5:11 left in the game. On a negative note, Manning was Manning on the game-winning field-goal drive. He completed two passes for 28 of the 55 yards to move the Broncos into position.

–RUN DEFENSE: D-minus. The Broncos came into the game as the only 3-0 team in NFL history to not rush for at least 70 yards in a game. They snapped that streak with one terribly defended toss sweep in the second quarter. Ronnie Hillman went around left end for a 72-yard touchdown as five defenders missed chances to bring him down. C.J. Anderson also busted a 13-yard run up the middle to put the Broncos in field-goal range for the game-winner late in the fourth quarter.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. Blair Walsh made two of three field goals, but one of them was a badly hooked 38-yarder from a guy who has one of the strongest legs in the league. Mid-range attempts are causing Walsh to press too much. He missed one in a game his team lost by three. Punter Jeff Locke had a strong game with a 43.0 net, three punts inside the 20 and a long of 54 yards. Kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson needs to be more selective in bringing kickoffs out from the end zone. His 14-yard return to the 10-yard line was made even worse by an illegal block that pushed the Vikings back to their 5.

–COACHING: C. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but the Vikings were so much better in this road game than they were in the 20-3 season-opening debacle in San Francisco. Head coach Mike Zimmer was aggressive and it paid off a number of times. He went for it on fourth-and-1 in his own territory and converted. He called a timeout with 40 seconds left in the half and Manning facing a third-and-10. Manning converted, called his own last timeout and then threw the pick to Barr. Offensively, the Vikings could have done more to protect Bridgewater from the seven sacks he suffered, but that mainly was players just getting beat by better players on the road.


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