The Vikings hit the road for the penultimate game of the 2014 regular season and lost a heartbreaker, losing a 14-point lead, regaining the lead late in the game and then watching the win slip away on a blocked punt that turned into a safety.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to Miami.
1. Poor Execution in Critical AreasThe Vikings played well enough to jump out to a 14-0 lead and they also played well enough to come back from a 28-20 deficit to take a 35-28 lead. But they didn't execute well enough at key times and in critical areas of the field to come away with a victory. The Dolphins extended drives on 3rd downs and finished drives with touchdowns. Miami was nine of 12 on 3rd downs (75%), excluding a last-play kneel down that ended the game, and they were perfect in both the red zone, where they were five of five, and in goal-to-go situations, where they were three of three. The Vikings offense, meanwhile, turned the ball over once and failed to score touchdowns on two of their five red zone drives and in one of their goal-to-go situations. The missed goal-to-go opportunity was particularly costly. It came as the result of TE Chase Ford's 23-yard touchdown reception being reviewed and overturned to a 22-yard gain down to the Miami 1. The Vikings couldn't punch the ball in and had to settle for three points right in front of halftime. Those missed opportunities for points came back to haunt the Vikings as they watched the Dolphins walk off the field winners by two points.
2. The Vikings have a QuarterbackFor the third time in four games, rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had a passer rating of over 100. And for a while, it looked as if Bridgewater had guided the Vikings to yet another comeback victory – it would've been his fifth of the season. While it came in a heartbreaking loss, Bridgewater's performance on Sunday in his native Miami was yet another big-time building block. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 114.1, a figure that includes an interception that was the product of an unfortunate bounce off RB Matt Asiata. That Bridgewater is putting up these numbers and authoring these performances without the benefit of an explosive running game and despite being sacked four times is a credit to him and an indication that the Vikings do indeed have their quarterback of the future – and of the present.
3. Undisciplined Play Led to Uncharacteristic Mistakes
Broken coverage, missed blocks and tackles, and undisciplined pass rush were mistakes that led to breaks for the Dolphins. But the mistakes that stand out most may be penalties. The Vikings were penalized eight times (for 74 yards) and called for several other infractions that weren't enforced, including personal fouls against both DT Sharrif Floyd and Gerald Hodges after plays were over. That type of undisciplined play is uncharacteristic of Mike Zimmer's team, but it was also costly for Zimmer's team on Sunday.
4. Harrison Smith Should Make the Pro Bowl
There aren't many defensive players in the NFL who play with as much swagger, have as much versatility and produce as much as S Harrison Smith. He was up to his old tricks again in Miami, registering another highlight-caliber play when he blitzed Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, jumped to knock down the pass and then came down with the ball. It was Smith's fifth interception of the season, second among NFC safeties. More importantly, it's yet another illustration of the type of player Smith is for the Vikings defense. He can level devastating hits, he can ball hawk, he can chase and tackle and he can blitz. Plays such as the interception against Miami are examples of why he should be a Pro Bowler this year and he will be a cornerstone of the Vikings defense for many years to come.
5. The Vikings Allowed a Non-explosive Team to ExplodeThe Vikings entered Sunday's game against the Dolphins ranked No. 3 in the NFL in allowing plays of 20+ yards, behind only New England and Buffalo. Furthermore, the Dolphins entered the game as one of the NFL's least explosive teams. But Miami was able reverse those trends. Tannehill connected with TE Charles Clay for gains of 41, 33, and 22 yards, with WR Brandon Gibson for 40 yards, and with RB Damien Williams for 20 yards. Those explosive plays are momentum-changers and they allowed the Dolphins to get back into the game after trailing 14-0 at one point.