Playing one of the best teams with one of the best QBs of all-time in one of the hardest places to play in the NFL, the Vikings on Sunday battled valiantly in Denver but lost a heartbreaker to the Broncos by a score of 23-20. After trailing by scores of 13-0 and 20-10 during the game, the Vikings knotted it up at 20 and then had the ball in the late stages of the game before a turnover ended the comeback attempt sealed Denver's win.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to Denver…
1. Teddy Bridgewater went toe-to-toe with Peyton ManningTeddy Bridgewater went up against one of the best QBs to ever play the position, and he looked every bit as good if not even more impressive than Peyton Manning. In the end, Manning put his team in a position to win and Bridgewater lost a fumble to end the game, but it was an impressive outing for the second-year QB. It was no secret the pressure would be on Bridgewater to step up and make plays for his team. Adrian Peterson was coming off consecutive 100-yard games and Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips surely made containing No. 28 a top priority. That meant Bridgewater would have the ball put in his hands while playing on the road against a relentless pass rush that had produced 11 sacks in the first three games. The pass rush was no joke, as Denver sacked Bridgewater seven times during the game. But Bridgewater had his moments, too, completing 27 passes for 269 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. The 27 completions are the second-most he's had in a game in his career, and 21 of the 27 completions were to WRs. The Vikings were 6 of 16 (38%) on 3rd downs, an impressive conversion rate considering Denver entered the game allowing just 18.8% conversions on 3rd down. Whether it was with darts to WRs down the field or with his legs, Bridgewater made several plays to extend drives and his overall performance was one that will leave many within the Vikings organization and fan base feeling optimistic about the QB's future.
2. Vikings showed fight, poise in hostile environmentThe Vikings trailed 13-0 and 20-10 on Sunday, but they never let the game get away from them and they constantly battled back. After a Blair Walsh FG with just 1:39 to play in the half finally put points on the board for the Vikings, LB Anthony Barr stepped in front of a Manning pass and picked it off. Barr returned it 32 yards to the Denver 27, and two plays later Bridgewater found WR Mike Wallace in the end zone for a TD that made the score 13-10 in favor of Denver. The Broncos responded immediately to open the second half, driving for a TD on their first possession to push the lead back to 10. The Vikings fought back again, though, scoring the next 10 points thanks to a 48-yard Peterson scoring dash, a Harrison Smith INT and then another Walsh FG to tie the game at 20 in the late stages of the 4th quarter. That the Vikings were able to remain in the game despite not being able to run the ball consistently and not being able to contain the Broncos pass rush is a testament to their resiliency and competitiveness, traits that head coach Mike Zimmer has tried to instill in his bunch from Day 1.
3. Stefon Diggs emerged, Adam Thielen stepped upWith Charles Johnson inactive and Jarius Wright not at 100%, the Vikings needed someone to step up in the WR group to help Bridgewater get the passing game off the ground. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen answered the bell. In his NFL debut, Diggs hauled in 6 receptions for 87 yards, including two completions of 25 yards and another of 21 yards. Thielen tallied 6 receptions for 70 yards, with four of the receptions coming on 3rd down. It will be interesting to see offensive coordinator Norv Turner and his staff divvy up the reps once the WR corps is fully healthy again. Diggs followed up his impressive training camp and preseason with a fantastic regular season debut and Thielen continues to find more ways to be productive for the Vikings.
4. Bye week gives offensive staff time to evaluate pass protectionIn two home games this season, the Vikings have allowed 1 sack. In two road games this season, the Vikings have allowed 12 sacks. With as good as Bridgewater looked on Sunday in Denver, one can only imagine how much better it would look if Bridgewater wasn't dodging pass rushers before he was throwing darts down the field. The good news is the Vikings coaching staff will have some extra time this week to figure out how to patch up the protection. A Week 5 bye is too early for some, but it may be well-timed for a Vikings team that has played in nine games already this season (five preseason, four regular season).
5. Missed field goal into long TD run allowed was critical swingFair or not, many will point to Walsh's missed 38-yard FG attempt early in the 2nd quarter as the reason the Vikings lost, particularly because the game was decided by three points and because the Broncos scored a TD on the first offensive play following the miss. But a lot of other miscues occurred between the Walsh missed FG and Bridgewater's lost fumble in the final minutes that contributed to the loss. Any way you slice it, the defense will watch the tape to see what happened on the long run so they can rectify it before going up against Jamaal Charles in Week 6 and Walsh will work on sharpening up his performance over the bye week.