The Minnesota Vikings again came within a minute of winning a game this week.
This time the Cleveland Browns offense shook off two second-half turnovers and scored with 0:55 remaining—their only points after intermission.
This was supposed to be an easy game for the Vikings. It was their home opener, the Browns were starting their third-string quarterback, and they traded their leading rusher just days before the game. Christian Ponder, who looked good in the second half of the game against the Chicago Bears' last week, rushed for two touchdowns, but threw his fifth interception of the season.
Again it came down to the offense needing a touchdown on their last scoring drive of the game, and coming away with a field goal.
A playoff team last year when they finished 10-6, the Vikings now sit at a 0-3, a performance that does not allow for the handing out of many good grades. Don't expect any A's in this home-opening stinker.
The grading criteria is based on what difference each player could have made in this game if they had made the most of their opportunity.
Another game and another interception for Christian Ponder, his fifth in a season in which he has thrown but two touchdown passes.
He looked sharp in the Vikings' opening drive of the game. He was 3-of-4 with 47 yards, as Minnesota drove 80 yards on 11 plays to take 7-0 lead.
He finished 24-of-42 with 228 passing yards and the interception as the Browns defense kept him under constant pressure. He was sacked six times—including one at the end of the game when trying to throw a Hail Mary—and was also hit eight times. His passer rating for the day was a dismal 64.4.
He was effective when he needed to run the ball, as he scored two touchdowns on runs of six and eight yards.
Still, when the Vikings needed the offense to step up and get one more score, it stalled on its last three drives. Two ended with a punt, and the last drive had Ponder getting sacked on the Browns' 42-yard line while trying to throw a Hail Mary on the game's final play.
Overall grade: D+
Adrian Peterson: C-
It was tough running for Adrian Peterson as the Cleveland defense held him to only 88 yards on 25 carries. He did score the Vikings' first touchdown, covering the final 15 yards of the drive on three carries.
On the negative side, he also had a fumble for the second consecutive game.
He led the Vikings with six receptions but those catches only gained 27 yards. That's only 115 total yards from a player who averaged 131 yards rushing last season.
Toby Gerhart: C
With Peterson getting the ball 25 times, the only contribution from Toby Gerhart was two catches for 14 yards. Still, it's not his fault that he doesn't get more opportunities.
Overall grade: C-
Christian Ponder targeted Jennings six times in the game, but the two connected on only three passes for 43 yards. The Vikings are still looking for Jennings to take over a game; Week 3 wasn't that game.
Jerome Simpson: C-
Ponder's favorite target in Week 1, when he caught seven passes for 140 yards, Simpson has caught only five passes in the last two games. Against the Browns he was targeted a team-high eight times but finished with only three catches for 29 yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson: C+
In a report this week from the Star Tribune, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that the plan was to use Patterson more. Patterson finished with two catches for 49 yards, including a 37-yard reception that was the longest completion on the day for Minnesota.
Jarius Wright: C
Jarius Wright caught three of the four balls thrown his way for 35 yards, including a 20-yard reception on a 3rd-and-5 on the Vikings' opening drive.
Joe Webb: D
Webb needs to make the most of every opportunity. Following Erin Henderson's interception that gave the Vikings the ball on the Browns' 9-yard line, Webb was targeted on a jump ball in the end zone. Even though the pass was a little high, Webb didn't come down with the ball.
It was a play he needed to make.
Overall grade: C
Kyle Rudolph: C
Like Jerome Simpson, tight end Kyle Rudolph was targeted eight times. He finished with five catches, but they only gained 28 yards. The Vikings are going to need more from Rudolph if they are going to turn things around.
John Carlson: F
This cannot be the same tight end that caught more than 50 passes in each of his first two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He finished with one catch for only two yards.
Overall grade: D—
Only 30 yards on six catches from the position against Cleveland; from here on out, it needs to be more.
Pass Protection: D
Quarterback Christian Ponder was under constant pressure. The Browns sacked him six times and hit him another eight times.
Run Blocking: D
Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL, but he had only 88 rushing yards in Week 3, as the offensive line continues to struggle to open holes for him.
Overall grade: D
Jared Allen: F
The Vikings leading sack producer since joining the team in 2008, Allen has only one on the season. He was shut out again in Week 3, finishing with no tackles and only one quarterback hit in the game.
Kevin Williams: F
Like Allen, Williams did not make the stat sheet. The Browns finished with 103 net-rushing yards, but 34 of them came on a fake punt.
Letroy Guion: D
Guion finished with only one tackle on the day as part of the defensive line that put little pressure on a team with no running game.
Brian Robison: C
Robison's one sack today was just the second for the defensive line on the season. He finished with three tackles—the most on the defensive line—and two quarterback hits.
Everson Griffen: C-
This was supposed to be the year that Griffen was to show the Vikings that he could be a long-term starter at defensive end. So far, he has not demonstrated that. Against the Browns he finished with only two tackles.
Sharrif Floyd: D
Big things were expected from the Vikings' top draft pick. He finished with only one tackle but did deflect a ball at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted by Erin Henderson.
Fred Evans: D
Fred Evans didn't make the stat sheet for the game.
Overall grade: D
A total of one sack and seven tackles for the defensive line will not result in many wins this season.
Chad Greenway: C
The Vikings' leading tackler the past five seasons, Greenway has conditioned Minnesota fans to expect big tackle numbers from him each week. Against the Browns he finished with six tackles and an interception. The six tackles were good for third on the team.
Unfortunately, the Vikings coughed up the ball two plays after Greenway's interception.
Erin Henderson: B
Henderson is starting to get the hang of the middle linebacker position. He led the Vikings with eight tackles and had two sacks along with an interception. He returned the interception to the Brown's 9-yard line, and the offense turned it into Christian Ponder touchdown that tied the score at 24.
Marvin Mitchell: D
With the Browns mainly going with the pass, Mitchell didn't see a lot of action on defense. He finished with only two tackles in the game.
Desmond Bishop: C-
Minnesota fans are still waiting for Bishop to step up and claim the starting weak-side linebacker role from Mitchell. Against the Browns, he played slightly better than he did in the first two games, recording three tackles, one of them for a loss.
Overall grade: C+
Two interceptions helps to raise the grade, but the unit still needs to do more.
A.J. Jefferson: F
With Cook on the sidelines, Jefferson had an opportunity to step up and make a contribution. Instead, he gave up the Browns' first touchdown pass, as he allowed wide receiver Josh Gordon to get behind him for an easy 47-yard touchdown catch.
It pretty much ended his day, as the Vikings went with CB Marcus Sherels.
Xavier Rhodes: C
Another one of the Vikings first-round draft picks, Rhodes has yet to prove he is the answer at cornerback. He finished with two tackles on the day but did not come up with a big play.
Josh Robinson: C-
Robinson was one of the Vikings leading tacklers. But it would be better if he had broken up a couple more passes instead of having to drag down the receiver after making the catch.
Marcus Sherels: B
Browns' quarterback Brian Hoyer picked on the punt returner and reserve CB, who finished with a team-high eight tackles and two passes defensed. He played better than expected and could wind up seeing more action depending the health of Cook.
Overall grade: D
Giving up 321 passing yards to a team's third-string quarterback is not good.
Harrison Smith: C+
An interception and five tackles for Smith is becoming a normal game for the second-year safety. He is a sure tackler and had another tackle for a loss against the Browns.
Jamarca Sanford: F
With Mistral Raymond inactive for the game, the Vikings needed Sanford to step up. He left with a hamstring injury leaving special teams player Andrew Sendejo to see his first action this year on defense.
Robert Blanton: C-
There's a reason Robert Blanton is a special teams player. With the injury to Sanford, he got some snaps on defense and finished with two tackles.
Andrew Sendejo: C
He filled in for Sanford and finished with three tackles. The Vikings like what they see in Sendejo, signing him to a two-year extension this week. Still, he's not ready to be a starting safety in the NFL.
Overall grade: C
It's never a good thing when your safeties wind up making nine tackles in a game.
Blair Walsh: B
Another game, and another perfect day kicking for Blair Walsh. Against the Browns he was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts, hitting one from 43 yards and a second from 30 yards. Of his six kickoffs, only was returned (26 yards).
Jeff Locke: B
Jeff Locke averaged 46.4 yards on seven punts. Only three of them were returned, but one of them was brought back 28 yards. It would be great if we saw less of Locke.
Cordarrelle Patterson: B
After Patterson's 105-yard kick return for a touchdown last week, the expectations are extremely high for the rookie wideout.
Against the Browns, he caught the opening kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone and returned it 29 yards to the 20-yard line and finished with a 29.5-yard average on two returns.
Marcus Sherels: C
Perhaps it was the having to play a lot on defense, but Marcus Sherels only had two punt returns for a two yards. He did a good job of hanging onto five punts without any miscues.
Overall grade: B
Steady play from the special teams, but a big play was needed to turn this game around.