A Kyle Orton-to-Sammy Watkins touchdown with one second to play in the game spoiled what was an otherwise gritty and stingy performance by the Vikings, as the Buffalo Bills snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Vikings offense was unable to score a late touchdown of their own to seal the win and the defense allowed Orton and Co. to drive 80 yards in 15 plays and 3:06 to find the win.
While the Vikings didn't do enough to get the job done, Head Coach Mike Zimmer did say after the game he saw some improvements in his team. Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to Buffalo.
1. Vikings on Wrong Side of Late-Game PlaymakingThe Vikings were outstanding on defense for 58 minutes and more than good enough in the other two phases to earn a tough victory on the road. But the Bills were a little better at the end of the game, when it counted most, and that late-game playmaking was the difference.
--Staked to a lead in the 4th quarter, the Vikings offense had two possessions and could not author a win-securing score. After marching to the Buffalo 7 with a 1st and goal situation, the Vikings offense surrendered sacks on consecutive plays and was eventually forced off the field so Blair Walsh could tack on three more points and give the Vikings a 16-10 lead. Later in the 4th quarter, the offense took the field at the Minnesota 22 but had to punt after driving just 23 yards.
-- The Vikings punt team snapped the ball with around 10 seconds on the play clock and then the punt bounded into the end zone for a touchback. Being unable to capitalize on a chance to waste extra time and pin Buffalo's offense back inside its own 10 came back to cost the Vikings in the final seconds as Buffalo mounted the late comeback.
-- Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph each tallied a sack on Buffalo's last drive, but not even that plus an intentional grounding penalty could prevent the Bills from reaching the end zone. The Bills converted on 4th and 20 from the Buffalo 40, 3rd and 12 from the Minnesota 38, 2nd and 20 from the Minnesota 30 and then 2nd and goal from the Minnesota 2 to earn the game-winning touchdown.
2. Turnovers Didn't Lead to Enough PointsThe Vikings defense has been solid for the vast majority of the 2014 season and last week the group played well for the entire game after allowing an early touchdown. Once again on Sunday, the group was stout. But the Vikings defense also went to the next level, finding ways to force turnovers. The Vikings forced and recovered three fumbles and also intercepted Orton once, but the offense scored just six points off those four turnovers.
3. Vikings Defensive Front Four Playing WellFor those searching for the positives in what was a gut-wrenching loss, begin with the Vikings defensive front four. Over the last two weeks, the group has accounted for nine of the defense's 10 sacks, and if you discount one long run by CJ Spiller on Sunday, they've led a rushing defense that has given up just 165 yards on 46 carries (3.6 yards per carry) over the past two games. Against Buffalo, the front four accounted for all six of the team's sacks, with Everson Griffen tallying 3.0 on his own. Griffen has 9.5 sacks over his past nine games.
4. Passing Game Can Still ImproveIn recent weeks, the offensive line has protected well at times, QB Teddy Bridgewater has thrown accurately and on time frequently, and receivers have been getting open. Unfortunately, an adequate amount of those combinations aren't happening frequently enough for the Vikings air attack to become consistently explosive. Bridgewater has certainly flashed and did so on Sunday, finding Greg Jennings for 38 yards on 3rd and 7 and Jarius Wright for 28 yards on 3rd and 18, but there have also been times where the offense hasn't been able to sustain drives and score enough points. The Vikings also allowed five sacks on Sunday. A one-play illustration of how close the Vikings are to clicking on offense came late in the game when, on 2nd and 14 from the Minnesota 45 with 3:59 to play and a 16-10 lead, Bridgewater spotted Cordarrelle Patterson breaking open down the middle of the field. Bridgewater lofted a pass toward the speedy receiver, but it fell to the ground just ahead of Patterson. It's a play the two make frequently in practice but couldn't make good on in the game, and a completion there would've resulted in a touchdown and a Vikings victory.
View images from the week seven matchup at Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Vikings and Bills.
5. Even With Two Reserve Linemen, Running Game was ProductiveBuffalo came into Week 7 with the No. 1-ranked run defense in yards per carry and yards per game allowed, and they had not allowed a rushing touchdown. The Vikings came into the game without their starting right guard and without Adrian Peterson. On top of that, the Vikings lost starting center John Sullivan and starting right guard Vladimir Ducasse on the same play early in the game. Despite all of that, the Vikings found a way to run the ball. With Joe Berger filling in at center and Mike Harris filling in at right guard, the Vikings ran the ball 29 times for 158 yards, with rookie Jerick McKinnon's 103 yards on 19 carries leading the way. Granted, it came in a loss and the running game was as unable to help seal a win late in the game as other parts of the offense. Even still, there is likely much upon which the offense can build in terms of the running game from their performance against a very stingy Bills defense.