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Monday Morning Mailbag: Breaking Down Sunday's Loss and Vikings' Playoff Hopes With Four Games Left

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The Vikings protected the ball, they just didn't score points. We couldn't make Tom Brady uncomfortable. I was very surprised the Patriots ran on the Vikings defense as easily as they did. What do you think the Vikings could have done differently to get the win?
-- Jeff Kilty
Sacramento, CA

All three phases will be able to look at their performance and acknowledge areas that could've been better. Defensively, the Vikings allowed New England to convert 50% of its 3rd downs, but the problem may have been on 1st and 2nd down because the Patriots average to-go distance on the money down was a very manageable 4.5 yards. Offensively, the Vikings were unable to generate explosive plays, tallying only four gains of 20+ yards. The Vikings left points on the table on special teams with a missed field goal. So while all three phases did some positive things and can build upon those during this week's preparation for Seattle, it's also true that no phase played a perfect game.

Is there any way the offense can start a game with some fire like they show in the middle of the 3rd quarter?
-- Bruce Taylor

The Vikings have had trouble with slow starts lately, and that includes Sunday's game in New England where the Vikings punted three times in the first four possessions and saw another possession end with a missed field goal. It is true that some of the offense's best moments in New England – and also throughout the entire season – have come in hurry-up situations or in situations in which tempo was used. It's not a bad idea whatsoever to consider Bruce's suggestion of using more tempo early in the game to jump start the offense.

The Vikings were having success running the ball. Why do they not stick with it? We had 13 carries for 95 yards against the Patriots. I really question our play calling in this game.
-- Corey Stanley
Sioux Falls, SD

In hindsight, it's likely the Vikings wish they had stuck with the running game a little more than they did. Dalvin Cook looked to give the Patriots defense a hard time on some of his runs. Part of the issue may be a lack of confidence in the consistency of the run blocking. Also, there were costly holding penalties that negated some significant runs. These two issues may be dissuading offensive coordinator John DeFilippo from using the running game more than he has. I expect coach DeFilippo to continue leaning on the strength of this offense, which is the passing game, but I'm also sensing there will be an emphasis on establishing a more consistent effort in the running game going forward.

We saw last week against Green Bay how much better Kirk Cousins plays when he moves out of the pocket and extends plays with his legs. On Sunday against the Patriots, he seemed to be spending a lot of time in the pocket again. Is play calling to blame or is it something else?
-- Brie Schroeder
Coon Rapids, MN

It's a near certainty that Bill Belichick and the Patriots noticed how well Cousins used his mobility to extend plays and stress Green Bay's defense last week, and so I'm sure the Patriots made a concerted effort on Sunday to keep Cousins in the pocket. Sometimes you have to give the other team credit for a good plan and/or better execution. Often times the Vikings defense has gone up against a mobile quarterback and has made it a goal to keep that quarterback contained in the pocket. I would imagine this was the Patriots goal on many of the snaps on Sunday. Now the trick for the Vikings will be to keep finding ways to use Cousins' mobility even when the opposing defense is scheming against it. Coach DeFilippo is creative enough that this shouldn't be an issue going forward.

With all the injuries on defense, do you think the Vikings have much of a chance against the Seahawks?
-- Curtis Fahsholz
Valdosta, GA

We'll have to wait and see what head coach Mike Zimmer says about the injuries to Vikings defensive players later this week. We know that cornerback Trae Waynes left Sunday's game with a concussion and that fellow cornerback Xavier Rhodes is dealing with a hamstring injury, so there's a good chance the injury report will bear monitoring this week as the Vikings get ready for a Seattle offense that has caught fire recently. Regardless of the availability of Rhodes and Waynes, the Vikings defense will have to face that Seahawks offense and Zimmer and his staff will have high expectations for whoever is in the game. Yes, the Vikings have a chance to win the game and there's a good chance backups are going to contribute in a significant way if the Vikings are to come out on top.

Tough loss. Disappointed but still hopeful. Can you please give me three reasons why we can be hopeful our beloved Vikings will make the playoffs?
-- Raj

No problem! First, the tie on the Vikings record means the Vikings don't have to surpass a team to qualify in front of that team; they only have to equal that team's win total to get the nod. As an example, if both the Vikings and Bears finish with nine wins, the Vikings would finish ahead of the Bears because the Bears would have seven losses (they'd be 9-7) while the Vikings would have only six losses (9-6-1). Second, the Vikings defense has steadily improved over the season and can be a significant factor in the final month of the season. Thirdly, Weeks 15-17 provide the Vikings with a favorable setups because the Week 15 and Week 16 opponents are a combined 10-14 through 12 weeks and the Week 17 matchup is against a team the Vikings are chasing (Chicago) and it's at home.