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Quick takeaways from Week 9 early action: Minnesota Vikings’ ‘D’ and special teams deserve blame for another crushing loss

November 6, 2016

Here are Arthur Arkush’s five quick takeaways from the Week Nine noon slate:

1. Perhaps the wrong guy resigned from the Vikings. Blair Walsh’s league-leading third missed PAT, not to mention a blocked field goal, directly contributed to Minnesota’ third consecutive loss, a 22-16 home stunner in overtime. The Vikings still weren’t good offensively, but Sam Bradford drove them for what should’ve been the game-winning score in the final minute, except Walsh’s earlier miss made it a 16-16 tie. If we’ve learned anything about the Lions this season, 23 ticks is an eternity in crunch time for Matthew Stafford — but more on that in a minute.

Bradford was efficient, his pass protection wasn’t abysmal and Pat Shurmur’s play-calling did help spark the Vikings’ offense, albeit not enough in the red zone, where their only conversions in five trips were in the third quarter, preceded by Walsh’s miss, and with the game on the line. But in addition to Walsh, the Vikings defense again faltered, with Xavier Rhodes committing a pair of killer penalties on third down, one to extend Detroit’s overtime drive, and a missed tackle on Golden Tate’s game-winning touchdown. The pass rush managed just one sack, a number they haven’t exceed in four of the past five games.

Indeed, this crushing defeat by Minnesota — which amazingly places Detroit one game out of first place in the North, was a collective failure. And the likelihood of the Vikings regrouping ahead of a Week 10 trip to Washington seems nearly as improbable as their 5-0 start.

2. Conversely, the best player on the field for the Lions on Sunday was kicker Matt Prater, who drilled a 58-yarder as regulation expired. It was only possible because of a Stafford-to-Andre Roberts 27-yard connection over the middle with just xx ticks left, wherein Roberts somehow corralled the ball while laying on his back. Detroit feverishly rushed to the line to clock it with just xx remaining, setting up the overtime heroics for Golden Tate, who made one of the plays of the year by staying keeping his feet in bounds on a xx-completion on third down and eluding Rhodes and Harrison Smith to waltz — read: celebratory somersault — into the end zone for the game-winner.

Jim Caldwell’s Lions have won four of five games, all on the final possession. Cardiac cats, indeed. They’re squarely in the wild-card, if not NFC north, mix and still have an opportunity to get healthier with No. 1 CB Darius Slay and perhaps even DeAndre Levy’s returns on the horizon.

3. No one will doubt the toughness of Ben Roethlisberger, but no one should refrain from questioning Mike Tomlin’s decision to rush Big Ben back from a knee surgery requiring a 4-6 week recovery in just 20 days. Roethlisberger’s Steelers were nothing short of dreadful in their 21-14 road defeat in Baltimore, a score not nearly reflective of Pittsburgh’s offensive ineptitude.

The Steelers didn’t have their first third-down conversion until midway through the fourth quarter in arguably the worst offensive showing by any team in the NFL this season. Roethlisberger 23-of-45 with 264 yards, a TD and an INT, but he had at least three INTs dropped by Baltimore. The remaining two-thirds of Pittsburgh’s triplets, Antonio Brown (zero catches at halftime, a padded 7-85-1 by the days end) and Le’Veon Bell (15-36), were equally ineffective.

Pittsburgh has to hope Roethlisberger’s knee held up OK, because all it has to show for the decision is a 4-4 record and now looking up at Baltimore in the disappointing AFC North standings.

4. Credit Baltimore and specifically unheralded NT Brandon Williams for the Ravens’ massive victory. Save for a Mike Wallace 97-yard touchdown in the first quarter — yes, Wallace, who turned a quick slant into a scoring blur against his former team, can still fly — the Ravens’ offense accomplished little Sunday.

But Williams, one of the NFL’s best nose tackles, in line for a monster payday, tipped the one Roethlisberger pass that was corralled by the Ravens, and he was the leading lynchpin of the defense’s shutdown effort against Bell. The Ravens still must get their run game sorted out — neither Terrance West, nor a more involved Kenneth Dixon were the answer Sunday — but after taking a three-game slide into the bye, to be in first place in the North is obviously the best-case scenario for John Harbaugh’s club.

And like Detroit, Baltimore should get reinforcements, as it played Sunday without Elvis Dumervil and Kamale Correa, and with Steve Smith and Marshal Yanda, both figuring to improve as they get their legs back underneath them.

5. The day Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys continued setting records by laying waste to the Browns might also serve as the one the Giants and Eagles headed in opposite directions in a stacked NFC East.

Philadelphia dropped its second straight within the division, as it failed to overcome another slow start by rookie Carson Wentz. Rookie coach Doug Pederson made questionable decisions, twice foregoing field goals deep in Big Blue territory and coming away with nothing.

After a red-hot start including four touchdowns to build a 28-17 lead midway through the third quarter, Eli Manning and the G-Men tried to gift Philadelphia the game with two fourth quarter interceptions. But it was Steve Spagnuolo’s ‘D’ in the end standing tall in the red zone, where the Eagles were just 2-of-6.

The Giants’ win, their third straight, keeps them within striking distance of the Cowboys, whom they hold a tiebreaker against. Philadelphia’s loss drops them to the division’s only .500 club with a brutal stretch ahead — vs. ATL, @ SEA, vs. GB and @ CIN.

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