And then there was none.
Playing like they were still in their bye week, the Minnesota Vikings looked like a different team than the one that was victorious in its first five games of the season, losing on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles, 21-10.
Whatever could go wrong did for the Vikings offense, which had 4 turnovers after entering the game with only one, two of which were in the red zone in the first quarter.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, the talk of the league for five weeks with no interceptions and a 109.7 passer rating, was intercepted once, fumbled 4 times, while losing 2 on sacks, and was also sacked 6 times as a relentless Philadelphia defense took advantage of an offensive line missing its two starting tackle for the rest of the season.
Bradford’s final numbers didn’t look too awful (24 of 41, 224 yards, 71.6 passer rating), but those were inflated when he went 9 of 9 for 90 yards on a meaningless end-of-the game touchdown drive. Prior to that possession, his passer rating was 45.7. The Vikings had 113 yards at halftime (the Eagles had just 107), and then added 2 yards on their first possession of the second half.
In the first quarter, Minnesota ran 16 plays for 25 yards on four possessions, while Philadelphia had 12 yards on 11 plays in its first four possessions. At one point in the opening quarter, there were turnovers on five consecutive possessions (3 by the Eagles) in a span of 11 plays.
Still, the biggest concern for Minnesota has to be its beleaguered line. Left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Andre Smith are on injured reserve. Replacing them in the starting lineup are T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles, respectively. The Vikings were so desperate they signed left tackle Jake Long during the bye week and he played some snaps against the Eagles. It wasn’t pretty.
His whiff on one block led to one of Bradford’s sacks/fumbles and Long has not been the same player since he was signed by the Rams in 2013 because of a succession of knee injuries. A missed block in a 2014 preseason game resulted in Bradford re-tearing his ACL and missing the entire season. He played just seven games that season and four last year with Atlanta. He had not been with any team this year until signing with the Vikings on Oct. 11.
When asked about the line, Zimmer said, “We didn’t block anybody. We were soft. We got overpowered. The safety beat the tackle one time, the safety beat the back a couple times.”
Acknowledging that Long was rusty, Zimmer was asked if his knee issues create more questions going forward, he curtly said, “More questions.”
Still, the problems weren’t solely with Long. Zimmer said, “We need to do a better job. We’re not going to go down the street and pick up a bunch of guys. We need to get these guys better and do it quickly. I’m disappointed that we allowed that to happen. You kind of know going into the game that they’re going to come after Bradford. I didn’t go to Harvard but I can probably figure that out and we didn’t get it done.”
That’s why Zimmer wouldn’t put all the onus on Bradford. He said, “I thought he missed some throws today that he normally makes. We dropped balls; it’s hard to win football games when you do things like that. He got hit a lot, so it’s hard to evaluate his performance when we looked like a sieve in there.”
Said Sirles, “At the end of the day, we put it on us. If Sam is getting hit (he was 12 times), if Sam doesn’t feel comfortable back there, it’s our fault. It’s not one guy’s fault. It’s five guys’ fault. But we all took our turn. I know I took my turn there at the end a couple times and some other guys took their turn. You don’t win and lose as an individual as an offensive lineman. You lose as a group. You win as a group. And we lost as a group today.”
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said Minnesota’s tackle situation was a talking point during the week.
Cox said, “I think (defensive end) Brandon (Graham, who had 1 sack and 5 hits on Bradford), a lot of defensive ends did a real good job today. Just taking advantage of their backup tackles and that was a challenge for us this week. It was, ‘Are our defensive ends better than their backup tackles?’ I think the guys did a really good job of taking on that role and embracing the challenge. We got a lot of sacks and we had a lot of fun.”
They also benefited by knowing Bradford. Before the game, a point of discussion was how Bradford might be helped by knowing the Eagles. The flip side was the Eagles also knew Bradford, and it apparently helped.
Said safety Malcolm Jenkins, “There were one or two looks that we know Sam didn’t like. It was based off of practicing against him and knowing some things that he couldn’t pick up in camp. I think we only ran two of those throughout the game. One ended up being a sack and I think the other one, he threw it away. Other than that, a lot of them were guys on the back end disguising things; showing one thing and pressuring up the other and then showing the same look and then the zone; it is tough to figure that out. When you have me, Jaylen (Watkins) and Rodney (McLeod) out there who are interchangeable, you never know who is the nickel or who is the safety and that makes it hard.”
Bradford summed up the afternoon by saying, “The way we played today was unacceptable. Obviously we did a lot of things that we haven’t done in the first five weeks. Things we did today will keep you from winning football games and we have to figure out a way to not make mistakes. We can’t turn the ball over when we’re in the red zone. We’ve got to come away with points, especially early in the game. There were too many self-inflicted wounds today and you’re not going to overcome that on the road against a good team.
“We have to come back and get ready to go for next week,” while knowing they are now just one game ahead of the 4-2 Packers and 1 ½ ahead of the 4-3 Lions.