It’s been four days since Norv Turner resigned as the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator. His departure was not the panacea Minnesota needed to turn a stagnant attack around.
New OC Pat Shurmur introduced several new elements to the Minnesota playbook, including an uptempo offense and a new emphasis on diversifying the team’s receiving targets, but it didn’t improve the final outcome on the scoreboard. After averaging 19.9 points per game in their first seven contests, the Vikings were limited to just 16 in a 22-16 home loss against NFC North rival Detroit.
Sam Bradford was accurate, but the Vikings failed to create the big plays to put the Lions’ secondary on its toes until late in the fourth quarter. The veteran passer completed 31 of his 40 passes, but had averaged only 6.1 yards per attempt before Detroit backed into a prevent-style defense and left big patches of empty space in the middle of the field for Minnesota’s two-minute drill.
Shurmur’s goal was to spread the field and keep the Lions on their toes. He emphasized oft-overlooked targets like Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson and changed up his offensive sets, at one point inserting tailback Matt Asiata behind center for a 12-yard pitch to Stefon Diggs. Ten different Vikings earned receptions — the most diverse selection of receivers Minnesota’s employed all season.
While this confusion helped Minnesota move the ball down the field, it was ineffective in the red zone. The Vikings scored only 17 points in six trips inside the Detroit 30-yard line in regulation.
Minnesota’s running game continued to struggle without 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson. Excepting the 12-yard gain from Diggs, the Vikings backs ran for only 2.8 yards per carry. They finished with 78 rushing yards — better than the 71.9 yards per game that ranked them second-to-last in the league this fall, but not enough to make much of a difference against a mediocre Detroit defense.
Not all the blame for the team’s scoring problems can be laid at the offense’s feet. Blair Walsh left four points on the field by missing an extra point and having a 46-yard, go-ahead field goal blocked in the fourth quarter.
Walsh’s shakiness came back into play later in the game. With the Vikings facing fourth-and-inches at the Detroit five-yard line in a 13-9 game, Minnesota left its kicker on the bench and instead handed the ball to Asiata. Asiata was stood up at the line of scrimmage, and the Lions survived a trip deep into their own red zone.
The Vikings did their best to ensure Walsh’s mistakes wouldn’t define them. Bradford picked apart Minnesota’s soft zone to drive his team 79 yards in 3:51 before handing off to Rhett Ellison for a 1-yard touchdown with just 23 seconds remaining. That gave the Vikings a 16-13 lead with precious little time left on the clock, but erstwhile MVP candidate Matthew Stafford moved the Lions down the field before Matt Prater split the uprights with a game-tying 58-yard field goal as time expired.
Stafford then led the Lions 75 yards in overtime’s first drive to seal a huge divisional win for the Lions. Golden Tate made a clutch reception on third-and-8, then tiptoed and flipped his way into the end zone to score the game’s deciding points.
After a 5-0 start, Minnesota has now lost three straight games. The NFC North, with three teams currently playing better than .500 football, is suddenly wide open again. While the Vikings still man the throne in the NFC North, they’ll have to step up their offensive game to defend it. The Viking defense is strong enough to carry the team to a divisional crown and a second-straight playoff berth. Shurmur will have to work some magic to prevent Minnesota’s offense from being the fatal flaw that slays it.