Vikings still dealing with defeat despite strides by young D
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The fourth-and-10 pass by Russell Wilson floated in the air, as Minnesota rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler awkwardly overplayed the 39-yard pass to D.K. Metcalf and allowed Seattle’s winning drive to stay alive.
As Wilson added yet another layer to his late-game aura in rallying the Seahawks to a 27-26 victory, the Vikings paid their most devastating price to date for going young on defense. After a commanding performance that included four first-half sacks, a crucial fourth-quarter interception and only 220 yards permitted over the first 58 minutes, the Vikings (1-4) withered on the two plays that mattered most. Metcalf’s second fourth-down grab came in the end zone with 15 seconds left.
Dantzler and fellow rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney took every snap, valuable experience that provided little solace in the soggy aftermath in Seattle.
“They’re disappointed. They fought their rear ends off tonight, and we didn’t get what we needed to get to. We’ll just keep fighting and keep getting better,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who at times had four rookies on the field on a defense currently carrying only three starters in the same places in the lineup they finished last season.
The Vikings held the Seahawks scoreless in the first half, only the sixth time in nine seasons that’s happened with Wilson at quarterback. They still found themselves wincing about a couple of loose coverages at the end.
For all the success they had on offense, too, — even after running back Dalvin Cook departed with a groin injury on the first snap of the second half — the Vikings were left shaking their heads. Kirk Cousins had a fumble and an interception that fueled a 21-0 surge by the Seahawks in a span of just 1:53. A failed 2-point conversion attempt later in the third quarter, when a draw by Cousins was thwarted, loomed large. Alexander Mattison’s no-gain run at the Seattle 6-yard line on fourth-and-inches after the two-minute warning gave the ball back to the Seahawks.
Had the Vikings kicked that earlier extra point then settled for the easy field goal, they would have led by nine.
“Honestly, the message in the locker room is we can be a dang good football team. We saw it tonight. We saw it the last couple weeks,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “We’ve just got to finish. One more play.”
Can Minnesota maintain a thriving ground game if Cook misses time? But Mattison’s performance alleviated some concern. He finished with 20 carries for 112 yards, nearly doubling his career high, and caught three passes for 24 yards.
The Vikings lead the NFC with 160.6 rushing yards per game, with offensive line coach/ running game coordinator Rick Dennison contributing meaningful behind-the-scenes work on scheme and technique.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Pass protection is a much different story for the offensive line, and right guard Dru Samia’s vulnerability was glaring in his fourth game filling in for Pat Elflein. Samia was consistently overpowered by DT Jarran Reed and penalized three times for holding, twice on passing plays.
Eric Wilson has been one of the team’s most valuable role players since latching on as an undrafted rookie in 2017. With unrestricted free agency waiting for him next spring, he’s become even more than a special teams standout and injury fill-in/situational contributor at linebacker.
The season-ending torn pectoral muscle for Anthony Barr handed Wilson his most vital task yet. He produced the best game of his career at Seattle: two of his six tackles for loss, one sack, three quarterback hits, one pass defensed and a leaping interception that nearly sealed a victory. Wilson has two of Minnesota’s three interceptions and is second on the team with two sacks.
“I feel like I’m getting better every game. Especially a big game like this one, Sunday night football against a good team, it’s great to make big plays,” Wilson said. “But it’s even better to win, so we have to put it all together.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has continued to hold a critical blocking role, but the 10th-year veteran has only been targeted on 10 passes over five games for seven receptions and 76 yards. Cousins made a concerted effort to get tight end Irv Smith Jr. more involved, connecting with the second-year player four times for 64 yards.
Mattison and Mike Boone give the Vikings temporarily viables fill-ins for Cook, who has missed 21 of 57 games including the playoffs to injuries in his career.
Holton Hill (foot) and Kris Boyd (hamstring) were inactive; 23-year-old Mike Hughes was the only healthy cornerback who’s not a rookie. The Vikings have played well enough on defense lately to minimize the absence of Barr and end Danielle Hunter. Losing Elflein, their other starter who remains on injured reserve, has become a bigger problem. He has a thumb injury that’s not supposed to be long term.
9 — Turnovers by the Vikings, tied for the third most in the NFL. Their only giveaway-free game was the win at Houston. Cousins has eight turnovers after only 11 in 15 contests last season.
Getting Cook’s groin back to full strength will be the top priority to help keep an offense that has averaged 441 yards and 29 points over the last three games in rhythm. With the bye conveniently waiting after the visit by winless Atlanta, the Vikings could give Cook three weeks to rest before the game at Green Bay on Nov. 1.
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