For once in 2020, the Minnesota Vikings (0-3) were in the game in the fourth quarter. But for the third time in three weeks, the Vikings defense fell apart when they were needed most. On Sunday, the Vikings fell to the Tennessee Titans (3-0) by a score of 31-30 when Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted a 55-yard field goal with 1:48 remaining in the final stanza.
The loss drops the Vikings to 0-3 for the first time since 2013, the final season under the Leslie Frazier regime. Hired as a defensive mastermind, Mike Zimmer and his defense have consistently been among the league’s best since 2014. But with a 30-28 lead as the Titans took possession at their own 19-yard line with 3:42 left in the game, the defense shrunk when they needed to stand up more than any other time in 2020. Even though this was the first game-losing drive from the defense, it wasn’t the first time this season the defense gave up valuable points in valuable times.
Once Again, The 2020 Minnesota Vikings Defense Falls Apart When They Are Needed Most
The First Half
The Vikings played a solid first half. Despite not having starting strong-side linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler, the defense bent a few times but did not break, holding the Titans offense to three field goals as they held a 17-9 lead at halftime. Outside of a 44-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kalif Raymond on the opening drive, the Vikings limited the big plays in the first half. In fact, only three of the Titans’ seven first-half possessions ended in points. Minnesota limited star running back Derrick Henry to 55 yards in the half, which wasn’t fantastic but also not the sort of back-breaking running that had killed the Vikings in previous weeks.
The Titans Start Moving In The Second Half
For the first time through three weeks in 2020, the Vikings had a pulse going into the second half. And after a poor Kirk Cousins interception gave the Titans the ball at the Vikings 41-yard line, the defense held up and ended up forcing a punt after defensive end Yannick Ngakoue got a strip-sack for the second time in as many weeks.
After that, the Vikings couldn’t slow down the Titans offense. A five-play, 38-yard drive ended in a field goal to cut the lead to 17-12. Then, the Titans answered a Vikings touchdown drive with their own, taking the ball 75 yards in eight plays to cut the score to 24-19. After a three-and-out, Minnesota allowed a quick three-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Rookie first-round pick Jeff Gladney got turned around on a post route that ended in Raymond taking a reception 61 yards to the Vikings one-yard line. Derrick Henry launched over the line two play later to give the Titans a 25-24 lead.
An Ugly Ending
The Vikings gave up 16 points in the third quarter, which has become a theme this season in the middle two quarters. But their fourth-quarter performance on defense is what did them in. For years the identity of the team, the defense had chances to win the game Sunday. Unfortunately, a 10-play, 39-yard drive took four minutes off the clock and when the Vikings couldn’t answer on the ensuing drive, the Titans ran up a nine-play, 44-yard drive with under four minutes left to take the lead. 11 and 14-yard gains to tight end Jonnu Smith were enough to spearhead the final drive. After that, the Titans got an eight-yard gain on a pass to Corey Davis and then another five-yard gain by Derrick Henry set Gostkowski up for his third game-winning field goal in as many weeks. Minnesota responded with a heartless effort on their final offensive drive, and an encouraging afternoon ended in heartbreak once again.
The Last Word
Minnesota has lost its identity, and despite flashes to the first six seasons of the Zimmer regime, the defense let them down when it was needed most. Defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter led to an 0-3 season in 2013 and, for the first time since that season, has led to that start again, even if the offense hasn’t played at its best.