In the Minnesota Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns, it came down to one quarterback who was able to get it done when it mattered, while another fell well short. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer overcame two second-half interceptions just in time to lead his team to the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game.
The Cleveland defense limited Adrian Peterson to only 88 yards on 25 carries. Again, it came down to the Vikings offense needing a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game away and settling for a field goal. Christian Ponder finished 25-of-42 with 228 yards. He also rushed five times for 46 yards and two touchdowns.
This was supposed to be an easy game for the Vikings defense after the Browns lost their starting quarterback and traded away their leading rusher. Instead, it turned into a nightmare, as the Browns were able to move the ball at will during the first half.
The loss drops the Vikings to 0-3 and practically makes the Vikings' quest to return to the playoffs almost impossible. After a very good showing in Chicago, that resulted in a one-point defeat, this loss is much more devastating and leaves the Vikings with a lot questions.
Here are some of the takeaways from the game.
The Minnesota Vikings defensive line has three of their starters playing in the last year of their contract. Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams may be playing their last season in Minnesota, and, perhaps, the Vikings' management has been smart in not extending any contracts.
Since Allen joined the Vikings in 2008, the defense has finished in the top five for sacks in four of those five years. Allen set the franchise, single-season record with 22 sacks in 2011.
This season, through three games, the defensive line has a total of two sacks—one for Allen and one for Robison.
Coming into the game, the Browns had given up a total of 11 sacks in their first two games. Against the Vikings, they were able to limit that to only three. Linebacker Erin Henderson recorded two sacks in the game, as the Vikings turned up the pressure in the second half and blitzed more frequently.
Adrian Peterson set a very high goal for himself—rush for 2,500 yards.
So far in three games this season, it looks like it's becoming more and more of a pipe dream. The Cleveland Browns held Peterson to 88 yards on 25 carries. He also fumbled in the game for the second consecutive week that stopped the Vikings first drive of the second half.
For the six running backs who finished with more 2,000 yards in a season before Peterson, all of them saw a drop in performance the following season. Excluding Terrell Davis who suffered a season-ending injury in 1999, following his 2,008 yards in 1998, the drop in rushing yardage has averaged 39 percent.
If that holds true for Peterson, that means his season total will be around 1,280 yards for 2013. Right now, he is on pace to finish with close to 1,500 yards rushing. While that is very good, it might not be enough to lead the Vikings to the playoffs.
Heading into the season, cornerback Chris Cook wanted to be the man to cover the opposing team's best wide receiver. The Minnesota Vikings would just like to have him play an entire season.
In his three previous seasons, he has played in only 22 games—an average of 7.3 per season.
He left the game in the first half with a pulled groin and did not return. In the second half, he was standing on the sideline without pads.
It leaves a huge hole in the Vikings secondary as Marcus Sherels saw plenty of action. He finished with a game-high eight tackles as the Browns decided to throw his way.
At least Cook wasn't the victim this week again, yielding the game-winning touchdown reception.
Perhaps it's time to entice Antoine Winfield out of retirement.
For the second week in a row, it came down to needing a touchdown and coming away with a field goal.
The Cleveland Browns tried to give this game back to the Vikings. After scoring 24 points in the first half, they opened the second half with an drive ending with an interception.
In total, the Browns had seven drives before their last one ended in the game-winning touchdown. They turned the ball over on downs and punted four times to give the ball back to the Vikings repeatedly.
The Vikings responded by kicking a field goal on their last scoring drive that stalled at the Browns' 12-yard line. It gave the Vikings a three-point lead. After that, they could not even get close enough to attempt another field goal on their next two drives before the Browns scored a touchdown.
Last week head coach Leslie Frazier took the blame for the Vikings' one-point loss to the Chicago Bears.
If he takes the blame again this week, it could cost him his job. Something has to be done, and if Frazier cannot find the problem, then the owners might take a long hard look at him.
With the expectations for another winning season, this season is looking more like 2011, when they finished 3-13, than their 10-6 season last year.
Someone needs to take a hard look in the mirror. It's either head coach Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator Alan Williams or special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
The Browns were able to pull off two trick plays to perfection. The first was a fake punt on a 4th-and-1 on their own 38-yard line. Backup safety Josh Aubrey took the snap and ran right up the middle for 34 yards. He was able to rush all the way to the Vikings' 28-yard line. About the only good thing from that drive was that the defense held the Browns to a field goal.
The next time the Browns had the ball, they drove to the 11-yard line. Facing a 4th-and-4, the Browns lined up for a field goal. Inexcusably, tight end Jordan Cameron lined up wide to the left, and no one took any notice.
Punter Spencer Lanning was able to loft a touchdown pass to Cameron who scored one of his three touchdowns in the game. At the time, it gave the Browns a 10-point lead.
The Minnesota Vikings, and their fans, can take some solace that they are not the only team without a win on the season. In fact, there are a total of five teams that will head into Week 4 looking for their first victory.
The Minnesota Vikings' defensive secondary is in real trouble. In the game against the Browns, they lost both cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford to injury.
With backup safety Mistral Raymond inactive for the third straight game, it pressed special teams players Marcus Sherels and Andrew Senjo into significant action. It was the first time all season either played a snap on defense.
Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was inactive the first two weeks, was able to complete 30 passes and throw three touchdowns against this defense.
Things will only get worse with Ben Roelisberger, Cam Newton, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers, the next four quarterbacks they will face. The defense better find some asbestos underwear—they are going to get burned—repeatedly over the month.
About the only bright spot for the Vikings was Harrison Smith, who finished with five tackles and an interception. It was his second consecutive game with an interception.