A one-point loss decided by a touchdown with one second remaining on the clock dealt the Vikings a bitter ending Sunday against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Minnesota had only trailed Buffalo for 3 minutes, 6 seconds earlier (in the second quarter), but lost 17-16 when the Bills made a late charge that ended with Kyle Orton's 2-yard touchdown pass to rookie Sammy Watkins.
Buffalo had taken the ball at its own 20 with 3:07 left in the game and moved into the advantageous position by converting a fourth-and-20, a third-and-12 and a second-and-20 with passes by Orton, whose 112.7 passer rating during the drive was just under the fourth-quarter rating (113.6) he had averaged in his two other games this season.
"I was proud about how the team fought, came back and studied, worked hard this week, put us in position to win, and obviously, we didn't get the job done," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "Credit goes to Buffalo and a couple of plays they made at the end of the game, but for the most part, our guys battled and fought today, and we have to continue to learn when we get in these situations. We'll be back to work next week and get ready to go."
With the 2014 NFL season nearing its midpoint, the Vikings said the game illustrated the importance of finishing opponents off with decisive stops and ending their own possessions with touchdowns instead of field goals.
"You have to finish. Four quarters, sixty minutes," Everson Griffen said. "That's what they preach: 'Do your job, sixty minutes, until the very end.' If you don't do that, then tough games like this, you take an 'L.' We played our tails off, we just have to fight. We have to keep on fighting, keep on scratching, do anything we can to get the victory. It's tough. It hurts a lot."
Griffen tied a career high with three sacks, helping the Vikings (2-5) register a season high of six sacks (one each by Shariff Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson). Brian Robison appeared to notch one on the opening play of the game, but it was nullified because of a helmet-to-helmet hit by Anthony Barr as Orton was going to the ground.
"We worked together," Griffen said. "Secondary, defensive line, linebackers, we're a team so it all works together. If they're holding (coverage) for a second, and we get him back there. If we're getting pressure, they're getting interceptions. So, you know, we had four turnovers today so we have to keep working and keep it going."
Minnesota forced three fumbles and notched one interception but settled for just six points off those takeaways. Buffalo, meanwhile, struck for seven points on a 26-yard TD from Orton to Watkins immediately after Leodis McKelvin picked off Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the second time in as many pass attempts.
Bridgewater and the Vikings quickly answered the 7-3 lead taken by the Bills in the second quarter with a 60-yard touchdown drive that included throws of 38 and 15 yards to Greg Jennings and his first career TD pass, a 4-yarder to Cordarrelle Patterson that gave the Vikings a 10-7 lead with 6:17 left in the first half. Bridgewater said Jennings helped him get beyond the second interception.
"Even though I was pretty settled, Greg Jennings came up to me and said, 'Whatever is going on in that head, that computer of yours, just reboot it.' Hearing that coming from a veteran, just told me to relax and play football," Bridgewater said.
Buffalo (4-3) tied it with a field goal two minutes later, but Minnesota added a 55-yard field goal by Blair Walsh with 15 seconds left in the first half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Minnesota moved the ball to the Buffalo 7-yard line with conversions of a third-and-18 and a third-and-9 with passes to Jarius Wright. The Bills, however, sacked Bridgewater on consecutive plays to create a third-and-goal from the 23 and prompt the Vikings to opt for re-gaining eight yards on a run by rookie Jerick McKinnon to set up Walsh for a 33-yard field goal with 11:45 left in the game.
"You have to convert in that situation," Wright said. "We didn't get the points we needed to help us out in that situation and we'll be better next time."
Bridgewater said he made an error on the first-and-goal play.
"Bad decision by me, that was a play call where there was a run pass option," Bridgewater said. "I should have just left the run on but that's a play (the first sack) where like I said, I was trying to think too much and trying to be perfect. That was the main thing; you don't want to take sacks, losing field position. We had great field position and just letting the ball go. That was just a case where I was overthinking things trying to be too perfect. I need to give my guys a chance."
Zimmer said Bridgewater's was "up and down" in his third career start.
"He made a great throw to Jarius, two of them, I think," Zimmer said. "There's a lot of positives to take from this game, even though it's going to show up as a loss, I do think there's a lot of positives of where we can go from here. You never ever want to lose. I don't either, but I have to keep reminding myself about where we are and where we have to continue to go."
RELIEF EFFORTS: The Vikings lost two offensive linemen on the same play early in the game. John Sullivan (concussion) was replaced by Joe Berger at center, and Vladimir Ducasse (knee) was replaced by tackle Mike Harris at right guard.
"We already lost our starting right guard (Brandon Fusco) for the year and then to have our center and our new right guard go down on the same play," right tackle Phil Loadholt said. "It's tough. But, I think Mike Harris and Joe Berger stepped in today and did a very good job for us and we'll just see what we have to do moving forward, but they did a good job for us today."
The effort by Berger and Ducasse helped the Vikings rush for 158 yards on 29 attempts (5.4 yards per carry) against a Bills defense that entered the game as the league leader in run defense (67.5 yards per game).
Fullback Jerome Felton delivered a 21-yarder, and Jerick McKinnon had a 29-yard run, the longest allowed by the Bills this season, en route to his 103 yards on 19 carries.
"I'm proud of the way the guys continued to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ball game and ran the ball good," Zimmer said. "In the second half, we had some opportunities. We played good enough defensively that we should have won that last drive."
GREEN LIGHT FOR GREENWAY: The Vikings welcomed back veteran linebacker Chad Greenway to the lineup after missing the past three games with an injury to his ribs. Greenway made his presence felt early and often. He forced a fumble that was recovered by Robert Blanton to end Buffalo's first possession and was credited with a game-high 15 tackles (seven solo) by press box tally.
FIRST PICK: After picking up his first career fumble recovery, Blanton also recorded his first NFL interception late in the second quarter to allow the Vikings a shot at the 55-yard field goal by Walsh that tied his season long.
TAKE TWO: Barr recorded the first two fumble recoveries of his young career. He also was credited with 10 tackles (eight solo) and one tackle for loss.