BALTIMORE — The 2021 Minnesota Vikings are capable of starting fast enough to build two two-score leads, but they also seem incapable of seizing enough momentum to fully put a team away.
The Vikings have had two thrilling down-to-the wire victories, but they've also suffered three losses that have come down to field goals.
Sunday's 34-31 loss marked the second in which Minnesota has watched an opposing kicker hit a relatively short winner in overtime at an AFC North opponent this season.
A drive that started at the Ravens 16-yard line lost a yard, took 16 seconds of clock late in the first half, ended with a field goal and kept enough time on the clock for Baltimore to find some juice and score its first touchdown of the game to trail 17-10 at halftime.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins lamented that series, which included incompletions on second and third down, allowing Baltimore to keep its timeouts for its offensive possession. Cousins said settling for 3 instead of 7 and creating an opportunity for Baltimore to score 7 equated to an 11-point swing.
"I felt second down, you know, we need to hit Adam [Thielen] on his out route, and I felt third down, on third-and-11, we need to hit Justin [Jefferson] on his out route," Cousins said. "That was a play, or couple plays, where I was very disappointed in myself for not making those plays and staying on the field."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer added: "We had a chance to put the game away after the turnover and didn't do good there, and then we haven't been good in the 2-minute drill on defense."
Rare Fake Punt Wasted
There also was a possession that was initially extended by a successful fake punt. Josh Metellus took the snap and handed off to rookie Kene Nwangwu for a 9-yard gain on fourth-and-2.
The play was Nwangwu's first career carry. It also was the first attempt of a fake punt in more than four years (an unsuccessful Ryan Quigley pass at Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, 2017) and the first successful one since Thielen's 41-yard run at Green Bay on Jan. 3, 2016, when the Vikings clinched the NFC North with a win at Green Bay.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, this one was followed immediately by a false start penalty on first down and a holding penalty on Ezra Cleveland on a subsequent second-and-10. Minnesota punted on fourth-and-11 from its 41 after advancing to the 42 with the fake punt.
"You hope when you do something like that you get some momentum going," Zimmer said. "Typically, you go down and score. We didn't."
The ball went back to the Ravens with 4:36 left in the third quarter. Baltimore kept the ball for the next 10-plus minutes on the way to tying the game with 9:19 left in the fourth quarter.
While still trailing 24-17 with 12 minutes to go, the Ravens faced third-and-15 and gained 18 on a pass to Marquise Brown, going from what likely would have been a long field goal attempt or even a punt to a game-tying touchdown after four more plays.
"We pressured them, they threw a wide receiver screen," Zimmer said. "We had a guy jump inside the block who was in charge of contain and didn't do it."
While it's hard to fault a defense that grinded its way through being on the field for more than 46 minutes, a stop there would have saved nearly three minutes of on-field time.
The situation was compounded when the Vikings had one of six possessions that did not result in a first down. That was more than half of their 11 turns on offense.
The Ravens scored on their next drive, too, the fourth possession in a row that resulted in a trip to the end zone (since the end of the first half). The Ravens converted all three of the fourth downs they tried during that scoring run to build their own momentum.
Baltimore led 31-24 with 3:29 remaining. The Vikings executed a 10-play drive to tie the game with a minute left.
Zimmer said he thought about going for a 2-point conversion but opted against it since Baltimore had 1:03 remaining and the potential for a long game-winning kick by Justin Tucker.
The decision delayed what seemed inevitable from the moment the Ravens won the OT coin toss.
Golden OT opportunity missed
Baltimore advanced to the Minnesota 33 before Anthon Barr picked off Jackson with 6:42 remaining.
Instead of going to win the game, the Vikings suffered another three-and-out.
A short pass to Cook gained 2 but was followed by a loss of 1 on a rush by the running back. A third-and-9 with deep routes was attempted as Baltimore brought a heavy blitz. It fell incomplete, and Minnesota punted.
"It was a tremendous play by Anthony, and to get the ball back in that position was a great opportunity for us," Cousins said. "It was disappointing that we didn't make the plays necessary to go down and score and win the game then."
The Ravens overcame another first-and-20 situation on the way to a 36-yard winner by Tucker.
After rallying from an 0-2 start to get to 3-3 on the season, the Vikings find themselves two games under .500 with nine to play. The Vikings will visit the Chargers (5-3) in Week 10.
"We have to capitalize on turnovers, the opportunities we get," Cousins said. "We have to make plays and score points and distance ourselves. We have not done that enough to this point."