MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The turnover bug that bit the Minnesota Vikings hard at the beginning of the season apparently wasn't fully exterminated.
The Vikings sure felt the sting in Denver on Sunday night.
Due in large part to three giveaways the Broncos converted into field goals, the Vikings saw their five-game winning streak end in excruciating fashion with a 21-20 loss.
“We've learned this lesson before,” said coach Kevin O’Connell, sounding as annoyed as he’s been all year. “Playing good football teams, you can’t give them three extra opportunities.”
The Vikings (6-5) had more turnovers than their opponent in each of their first five games, losing four. During the streak, they had a total margin of plus-six.
“Clearly, it’s a winning and losing stat in this league," O'Connell said. "No matter what you do every other play in the game, you’re just setting yourself behind and have to overcome even if you do have the lead."
On the third play of the game, O'Connell tried to surprise the Broncos by lining up tight end T.J. Hockenson on third-and-1 at the Minnesota 34 for the snap and an unorthodox handoff to the quarterback. Joshua Dobbs veered left and lost the ball at the first-down marker on a jarring helmet-first hit by safety Kareem Jackson that went unpenalized. Ja'Quan McMillan recovered.
Late in the third quarter, Alexander Mattison — who otherwise played one of his best games of the season — ran up the middle and had the ball knocked out at the Denver 35 and gobbled up by the home team.
The Broncos recorded a takeaway on the next possession deep in Minnesota territory, when McMillan picked off a hurried pass by an under-pressure Dobbs and returned it to the 9.
The defense delivered for the Vikings all night, forcing the Broncos to kick five field goals and not yielding a touchdown until Courtland Sutton's superb catch for the lead with 1:03 left. But there weren't any turnovers on that side of the ball to counteract the offense's flubs.
On third-and-5 from the 34 with 11 seconds left before halftime, Josh Metellus made a leaping grab of Russell Wilson's throw into the end zone but failed to secure the ball as he hit the ground for an incompletion instead of an interception. Will Lutz then made a 52-yard field goal to trim Minnesota's lead to 10-9.
Then with the Broncos driving for the go-ahead touchdown, Samaje Perine caught a short pass and headed toward the sideline. Ivan Pace Jr. punched the ball out as he tackled Perine but was unable to fall on it before it rolled out of bounds at the 22 with 1:21 left. The Broncos scored three plays later.
“We played well the whole game. Not well enough. We didn’t create any turnovers,” safety Camryn Bynum said. “As a defense, we take pride in taking the ball. If we don’t take the ball away, it makes it harder on the rest of the team.”
The Vikings rushed 36 times for 175 yards, both season highs, against the team ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and per attempt. The true test of improvement on the ground will come in the next game against Chicago, which is giving up a league-best average of 3.39 yards per rush.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Vikings are third-to-last in the league in goal-to-go situations, with touchdowns on just 55% of those possessions. Dobbs has added a valuable dimension with his running ability, but the Vikings have been stuffed for a loss on 35% of their rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season, according to Sportradar. That's the worst rate in the NFL.
Ty Chandler had a career-high 73 yards on 10 carries, including a 31-yard scamper on a fake punt. He also had four catches for 37 yards, both career highs.
“Ty in general is explosive. You can feel it when he’s out there,” O'Connell said.
K.J. Osborn returned from a one-game absence because of a concussion but had only one reception for 7 yards on two targets despite playing more than 95% of the snaps on offense.
Cornerback Akayleb Evans (calf) was inactive on Sunday night, replaced by rookie Mekhi Blackmon, who lost his individual matchup with Sutton in some critical situations. O'Connell said Evans likely will be questionable to play against the Bears, along with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (hamstring). Jefferson has missed six straight games. Defensive lineman Dean Lowry suffered a season-ending pectoral muscle tear that requires surgery.
24 — The number of fumbles recovered in games by Minnesota's opponents this season. Not only have the Vikings lost 14 of their 21 own fumbles, they have recovered only five of 15 fumbles by the other team.
The Vikings are three losses behind NFC North leader Detroit (8-2), damaging their already difficult road to repeating as division champions. They might not be able to afford any more losses, even though they play the Lions twice in the last three weeks.
With a 6-2 record in conference play, however, the Vikings remain in control of the third wild-card spot. They have one fewer loss than the next four teams in the NFC standings with a favorable outlook for potential tiebreakers. The Vikings host the Bears (3-8) on Monday night before entering their bye week.
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