The Vikings were unable to prevent one more climb by the Broncos — and then failed to threaten a winning score — Sunday night in Denver.
Minnesota's five-game winning streak was snapped by the 21-20 decision.
Turnovers undermined an otherwise solid performance by the offense. The defense held Denver to field goals on each of its first four trips to the red zone, but allowed the only Broncos touchdown on the fifth trip.
Instead of feasting this Thanksgiving with a six-game heater, the Vikings (6-5) will look to rebound against the Bears (3-8).
Before Minnesota's Week 12 home game against Chicago, here's a deeper look at Week 11.
Next Gen Stats
Win probability leading up to improbable score
According to Next Gen Stats, even with the Broncos driving, the Vikings still had a win probability of 68 percent after an incompletion on second-and-4 from the Minnesota 22 with 1:15 remaining.
Russell Wilson, however, connected with Samaje Perine for a gain of 7 on third-and-4, which dropped Minnesota's win probability to 48 percent.
The touchdown happened on the next play, boosting Denver's win probability to 74.7 percent.
NGS calculated the completion probability of Wilson's wobbler to Courtland Sutton at 26.5 percent, which is low but not by their standards. That is now their fourth touchdown with a sub-50-percent completion probability this season.
Dobbs under pressure
The Broncos successfully applied pressure on Dobbs, who was 7-for-16 with 105 yards, a touchdown and interception on such throws. Denver was credited with causing pressure on 57.9 percent of Dobbs' dropbacks, a season high for the QB.
Since joining the Vikings in Week 9, Dobbs has been pressured on 44.4 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL.
Dobbs shook Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper to escape and throw a touchdown, but Cooper frequently caused pressure throughout the game. He generated a career-high nine pressures (33.3 percent pressure rate) on 27 pass rushes.
The Vikings under Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores have been big blitzers throughout the season, but on Sunday blitzed Wilson just 24.3 percent of the time, Minnesota's second-lowest rate in a game this season.
NGS credited the Vikings with causing pressure on 55.6 percent of their blitzes (second-highest) but only a 33.3 percent success rate when sending five or more rushers (second-lowest rate). Wilson went 7-for-8 with 77 yards and his touchdown when blitzed.
Minnesota's five starting offensive linemen — LT Christian Darrisaw, LG Dalton Risner, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Ed Ingram and RT Brian O'Neill — and Dobbs played all 74 offensive snaps.
Receivers K.J. Osborn (71) and Jordan Addison (70) each played more thank 95 percent of Minnesota's offensive snaps. Branton Powell (44) took the next most at the position.
T.J. Hockenson (52) led Vikings tight ends, followed by Josh Oliver (34) and Johnny Mundt (13) as Minnesota worked in heavier personnel groupings.
Alexander Mattison (48) rotated with Ty Chandler (23) at running back.
Five defensive players — cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr., and safeties Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus — played all 55 defensive snaps. Pace started in place of Jordan Hicks, who landed on Injured Reserve last week.
Rookie Mekhi Blackmon (53) and outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (52) and D.J. Wonnum (51) each played at least 93 percent of Minnesota's defensive snaps.
Harrison Phillips (40) again led Vikings defensive linemen, followed by Jonathan Bullard (31).
Troy Dye (22) participated in an increased role at linebacker.
Cornerback Joejuan Williams (17) and linebacker Anthony Barr (12) contributed in their 2023 Vikings debuts after being elevated from the practice squad. Williams recorded a pass breakup in the end zone, and Barr contributed a stop on third down to force a field goal.
From the Inbox
Does the league require teams leading in the fourth quarter to go to the prevent defense for the losing team's final drive? Once again, the Vikes defensive backs played 10 to 15 yards back in the last three minutes allowing the Broncos to make quick easy throws up the middle for multiple first downs and good field position. How many times does a team need to lose before they learn that the prevent defense is a gift to the opponent? I mean this as a serious question.
— Christopher Gondeck
I went back and rewatched the animations of every play, and the Vikings were mixing up their pass rushes, but Perine did a good job of recognizing when Minnesota was only rushing four players and leaking into vast empty spaces, then running for several yards after catches.
It's rough that essentially four checkdowns positioned Denver for the heave. Minnesota rushed six players on the touchdown, but the protection held just long enough to allow Wilson to throw the ball.
We often see offenses find success in a 2-minute drill after changing their approach that they've used for the rest of the game. It's then on the defense to try to find a real time adjustment.
I want to tell you that I appreciate how well you are able to calm down writers with their frequent overreaction after games. I get frustrated listening to fans who often jump to extremes of loving or hating something (a player, game, play, etc.), without taking time to analyze the complexities. I know we are all emotional about our Vikings, but people are sometimes unfair ([for example] about Mattison). Then you present the facts, and some perspective, and I hope people take a different look at things.
— Becky from Wisconsin
While I appreciate you passing along your observation, I'll fully disclose that I need more than a few deep breaths after almost every Vikings game. I also understand and appreciate the immense passion that inspires fans to follow their teams and send in their thoughts.
I think you make a great point about the benefit of remembering football is played by humans, and humans make mistakes of different types daily (I'm a pretty good expert at that). I think it's OK to be disappointed when the team or any player makes a costly mistake, but there's so much nuance within almost every football play.
It would be one thing if players weren't trying their absolute best during games and in the weeks of work between the contests, but I just don't think that's the case with this team.
An analysis that if the Vikings just had half the turnovers this year, they have 20, they could have a 9-2 record and lead the NFC.
The Cowboys have 10 [turnovers], Eagles have 9 (entering Monday night).
Can anyone explain how to stop the fumbling?
How do some teams protect the ball better than others? It can't be bad luck, or can it, remembering Vikings past.
— Gill Sorg in New Mexico
The giveaways have been way too generous this season. The 14 fumbles lost by Minnesota are the most by any team in the league — by three. Also, eight teams have combined for just 17 total fumbles lost this season.
Half the league — 16 teams! — have 13 or fewer total giveaways (interceptions and fumbles lost) this season.
The frequency of putting the ball on the ground is something the Vikings must fix. It seemed like things were beginning to improve on that front, but Sunday was another instance. Not every fumble winds up in the hands of defenders, but the ones lost by Minnesota seemed to have a magnetic attraction to Denver's players. Conversely, if the ball doesn't roll just out of bounds before Ivan Pace, Jr., can secure it on the Broncos final possession, the game is likely over.
Since no one can control the way a football bounces, it is advised to not let go.
Our offensive line has been playing for the last four games. When Dobbs was pressured last night, it was either from a blitz or great defensive coverage. The concern that I have is that our wide receivers aren't cutting their routes off short when they see a blitz coming or they aren't trying to get open when they see Dobbs scrambling. In the first part of our season, Jordan Addison was getting great separation — not so much as of late. Also our wide receivers are not aggressively catching the ball and putting it away so that it can't be ripped away. Lastly there are just too many dropped balls. If it hits the hands, it should be card. It blows my mind that football players on this level just become lackadaisical.
— David Erlandson
There's probably a few plays the offensive line wants back — like every position group after every loss, but yes, the trajectory of that group is really encouraging as we enter the final third or so of the season.
With the pressure rate Dobbs has experienced since joining Minnesota (see the NGS section above), it would be good to have some readily available blitz beaters on hand. Once Minnesota gets Justin Jefferson back, there should be a waterfall effect on the entire offense. He'll draw more attention, which should free some opportunities for Addison.
Look at all the bad things that happen when they run the ball: 1 or 2-yard gains, loss of yards and fumbles.
They have no business running the ball inside the 20-yard line. All that ever does is take away a chance of scoring a TD.
My group's standard joke when they are first-and-goal is "Now they are in FG range."
Now that they have a mobile QB, let him do the running.
The Denver loss is on O'Connell for running the ball. Even Cris Collinsworth said it just before the last FG.
Great teams pile on; mediocre teams hang on and play not to lose.
Wake up O'Connell and start calling the game like a great team. The players and fans deserve better.
— Joel in Apple Valley
No coach ever calls a run expecting a fumble, and I don't think it was ill-advised to try some runs in the red zone, given how Minnesota was consistently stacking gains of 7 or so yards. The execution at the most critical part of the field was lacking on those plays.
The sneakiest big play of the night for Denver (excluding the TD, obviously) was the decision to run the ball on third-and-10 from the 25-yard line with 3:07 remaining. The gain of 7 enabled the Broncos to go for it and convert on fourth-and-3 instead of grappling with whether to punt and play defense with three timeouts.
The carry by Mattison on first-and-10 from the 12 gained 0 after Denver reestablished the line of scrimmage.
The next carry by Chandler, which also gained 0, appeared to be on an option play where Dobbs could have kept the football but handed it off after seeing Baron Browning stay on the edge. Could Dobbs have won a foot race with Browning? In hindsight, I would have liked to see that a lot more than Chandler getting bottlenecked in traffic.
I also still contend that it was a solid game by the coaching staff for the most part to offset three turnovers and have a road game within reach.
If you continue to turn the ball over, and then when you get in the red zone and only come away with FGs, especially when a TD puts game away, you will NEVER be anything other than a good FB team. That was evident from last night's game.
— John Heil
I don't really have anything to add. We've discussed turnovers ad nauseum. Earlier in the season, we said, "if they stop turning the ball over," and the team did reduce turnovers during its five-game win streak before the horror movie monster came back to life in Denver. Now, the "if" is again larger.
I've seen a lot of comments this morning based off last night's game from people who were just not looking at the entire picture. [Dobbs] still has some work to do. He's missing open receivers like Addison in the second quarter, I believe, on a touchdown they should've gotten when Denver blitzed and instead he takes a sack and they take three points to go up 10 to 3. Since Dobbs has taken over for quarterback, Addison has zero touchdowns in those three games. I do think in most cases he is spreading the ball around and he's making good decisions.
Play calling in this game was really well done, except for the designed quarterback run. Didn't like that at all. Even if it would've worked, there's no reason to put our quarterback at risk when we've already lost a lot of quarterbacks this season.
Defense continues to impress and was doing a great job holding Denver to field goals throughout the game, even with three turnovers.
Denver always has a really good defense. Their offense not so much, so for the turnovers you gotta applaud Denver for that.
I don't think there's any reason that Vikings fans should get worried. This is just a good game versus a very good Denver defense.
— Michael Brandon in Moreno Valley, California
The play that Michael references involved lining up Addison in the backfield and having him run a route to the right flat. He appeared to have some space and would have had an opportunity to make one man (cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian) miss, but the ball didn't come out before the Broncos sacked him.
It's a good reminder that any one play can make such a big difference in the overall outcome of a game.
We focus a lot on the final plays, but there are always snaps before those that are worth noting.
Why doesn't Minnesota give former Gopher QB Tanner Morgan a chance and a contract? He did well as a Gopher. He could do the same for the Vikings. They could sure use him.
— Jim Hamberg
Morgan has spent a couple of weeks on the Vikings practice squad this season, helping the team prepare for upcoming opponents and lending a hand at a position that's had more depth tested than in normal years.
Nick Mullens returned and was activated to the 53-man roster on Saturday. He is in his second year in the system, so that experience will be helpful if called upon. Jaren Hall remains in concussion protocol, so the Vikings will be cautious with him. Once he returns, the Vikings will be back up to having three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, which is helpful because one can then be declared an emergency QB if needed.
Just a few observations: O'Connell — great fake punt call but too conservative at times, end of game time management and red zone scoring all need work. Too conservative play calling when we are ahead, and we need much less of Mattison. He is not the runner we need now or in the future. Chandler more, and next man up. This game was winnable. Remember we are playing Sean Payton, remember 2009, and his players are him (check ref calls last night).
— Devi in Santa Fe, New Mexico (A long-time fan from 1961)
The timing was just right on the fake punt and the execution was superb. It provided some stabilization at a time when things were getting dicey.
But — and this is a big one — a 31-yard gain on a fake punt needs to be followed by the offense finishing that drive with a touchdown.
O'Connell spoke about the hit by Kareem Jackson after the game and was asked Monday if he had heard any more.
"Nothing yet. Whether we do or not, it's totally the league's process on that. It really doesn't matter what my opinion or, really, anyone else's opinion is, for that matter. I know they'll take a look at it," O'Connell said. "They've got a great process that they go through postgame, on every game, and I'm sure they'll handle that. But as far as I'm concerned, our responsibility is coaching our football team and making sure they understand how to play. How to play aggressively, how to play with speed and finish, but all within the letter of the law and how we're trying to play football nowadays in 2023. So we're just concerned about the Minnesota Vikings, and we'll allow the league to handle that through the process they have."
After O'Connell's session with the media, the NFL announced a four-game suspension for Jackson, who had just returned from a two-game suspension for violating the same rule that makes it illegal to lower the helmet and initiate contact. Jackson had initially been suspended four games, but it was reduced on appeal. It took just three snaps for him to deliver a hit that resulted in another four-game suspension.
(If called a penalty on the field, it would have wiped away Minnesota's first fumble and resulted in 15 yards, moving the ball to midfield. Another 15 or 20 yards, and Minnesota has a shot at the very least of kicking a field goal.)
Instead, the retroactive punishment won't help Minnesota.
I am going to start watching college football or maybe hockey.
After watching the Vikings since 1969, I am done.
— Judy Nation in Colorado Springs, Colorado
I definitely get the disappointment from the outcome, but I'm not exactly sure why losing to the Broncos on the road, given all of Minnesota's injuries, would be the dealbreaker after staying with the Vikings for so long.
The team is 6-5 after opening 0-3. They're going to keep chasing more wins.
Do you think that if J.J. would have played, the outcome would've been different??
— Greg Olimb
I do know that Jefferson is a difference maker, but it's hard to know for sure. Giving the ball away three times (or more) didn't work out in Weeks 1 or 2 when he was running circles around people. He also was demanding substantial attention from defenses in the red zone, opening opportunities for teammates.
I think O'Connell has exercised patience and strategy with managing Jefferson's return from a hamstring injury. Often, those can be quite pesky. Instead, Minnesota is somewhat able to play the longer haul with four division games remaining, including a pair with division-leading Detroit.
The Lions coming back against the Bears, combined with Minnesota's late loss, will make it tough for the Vikings to jump ahead and win the division title, but the Vikings would hold the No. 7 seed in the playoffs as of now.