EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are better than their 1-3 record, Head Coach Mike Zimmer believes.
And in many ways, Minnesota has backed that up. The offense has started fast and shown stretches of clicking on all cylinders, the defense is holding opponents to fewer points, and special teams is doing its job.
But wins and losses are all that matter in the NFL, and the Vikings are missing opportunities to execute.
Right tackle Brian O'Neill emphasized just that in speaking to media members Monday afternoon.
"We expect to put a better product out there," O'Neill said following film review of Minnesota's home loss to Cleveland. "We're going to make some corrections and move on and be better from it.
"Just not enough execution across the board. We've just got to execute better and play better," he added.
After scoring on their first drive, the Vikings offense sputtered and misfired over the next three quarters, thanks in large part to the Browns shutting down Minnesota's run game.
One of those miscues was regarding time management inside the final two minutes of the first half.
With 1:12 left on the clock, Kirk Cousins had an incomplete pass, setting up second-and-10 with just over a minute to go. Cousins connected with Ameer Abdullah, who gained 2 yards before trotting out of bounds. The running back's decision not only seemed to leave at least a few yards on the table but also stopped the clock ahead of a third-and-8 situation. Actually, make that third-and-13 after a false start penalty on Ezra Cleveland.
The Vikings opted for a conservative play from their own 22 and completed a 3-yard pass before Jordan Berry punted back to the Browns. Cleveland then had 45 seconds, which it used to drive down and kick a field goal.
Minnesota has now allowed teams to total 35 points in the final two minutes of first halves.
"We can't run out of bounds at the end of the first half, 2-minute drill on second-and-10. We've done that twice now in two ball games," Zimmer said. "We can't do that, so that will be a big point of emphasis going forward. We don't want to give the ball back to the other team when there's really no chance of advancing the football."
Specific to his position group, O'Neill pointed to finishing blocks, creating better holes for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, and better-protecting Cousins – "all the responsibilities of being an offensive lineman in this offense" – as areas he and his teammates can improve upon.
And yes, Cleveland's defense is a stout one – but O'Neill knows that isn't an excuse.
"I have a lot of respect for the opposing team we played and the guys that were there. But certainly it was not my expectation [of performance]," O'Neill said. "We certainly have higher standards for ourselves as an offense and as a team.
"We need to do better; that's obvious," he added.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Patrick Peterson also stressed the importance of execution and playing complementary football.
Peterson echoed Zimmer's sentiments about Minnesota being a good team that isn't getting over the hump.
"We played good enough to win the game, but obviously we didn't win because of those areas that we didn't fully execute," Peterson said.
He referenced a different 2-minute situation, this one while Cleveland was on offense after Abdullah ran out of bounds.
It looked like the Vikings had the Browns stopped, facing a third-and-30 from their own 26. And then they gave up a 33-yard run to Kareem Hunt for the first down.
"When a team does that (calls a run on third-and-20), they're pretty much just surrendering. A draw to Kareem Hunt," Peterson said. "We just didn't have enough guys to rally to make that tackle before the first down marker. Obviously he gets the first down, [we] still played a little stout.
"[We] didn't give up a touchdown, but obviously wish we weren't even in that predicament to give up 3," Peterson continued. "That's just one of those plays I was talking about that happened in the game to where we played well enough, but it's just that one play that made a difference in the game."
There's no sugarcoating it: Four games into the 17-game season, the Vikings need to stack some wins.
The question isn't whether or not Minnesota has the talent but whether or not the team will put it all together.
"I agree with Coach fully. I really do think we have a really, really good team. [But] as a team we have to find a way to be clicking on all cylinders at the same time," Peterson said. "You know, when the offense gets it going, the defense has to get it going, as well. It can't be the offense is going and now we're in a shootout. We have to be able to complement one another.
"I think that's going to be the main focus moving forward because obviously we know what our offense can do as far as putting up 23-plus points. And we know what the defense can do, like I said, in the last six quarters allowing only 14 points to some very explosive offenses that thrive on the big play," Peterson added. "Moving forward over these next 13 games, we have to find ways to play a better, complementary team football."