For the second straight game the Vikings had a healthy lead at the half…and for the second straight game they choked that lead away. This week’s loss was even more bitter than last week’s. The Vikings were up 17-0 at halftime over the Buccaneers only to watch the Bucs outscore them 24-3 in the final two quarters, sending the Vikings reeling to an 0-2 record.
After the game players and coaches expressed stupefaction at their epic second half meltdown. “It’s tough to swallow,” said coach Leslie Frazier of the team’s second consecutive come-from-ahead loss. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe lamented, “It’s very, very, very frustrating.”
The Vikings’ pants-crapping came after a dominating first half highlighted by Adrian Peterson’s power running and Jared Allen’s pass rush. A week after becoming a league-wide laughing stock for accumulating only 39 yards passing, Donovan McNabb showed a little more of the form the Vikings expected from him, leading the team on a pair of drives capped by Peterson touchdown runs.
But even as the offense excelled, the astute observer could see signs of the problems to come. McNabb, though better than last week against San Diego, was still not consistent in his passes, missing badly on most of his deep attempts and skipping several of his shorter throws. This problem would rise up to bite the Vikings in the second half as the Buccaneers made their defensive adjustments and began slowing down the running game. When the Vikes needed a big play from McNabb in the second half, the quarterback did not deliver, and at times looked washed-up.
But it wasn’t only McNabb who fell on his face in the second half. After tormenting Josh Freeman throughout the first half, the Vikings’ pass rushers totally disappeared, allowing Freeman more than enough time to pick apart an increasingly porous Vikings secondary. The problem was compounded by Fred Pagac’s decision to dial back his aggressiveness and play more zone, a move that allowed Tampa Bay’s receivers to get wide open. For the second straight week, Vikings tacklers were not effective enough in bringing down those open receivers.
Tampa’s second half surge was keyed not only by Josh Freeman but also running back LeGarrette Blount, who after being totally stuffed in the first half began finding open running lanes. The Vikings’ second half failures have to make us wonder not only about Fred Pagac’s game plan but also his players’ resilience. It’s also fair to wonder if the aging Antoine Winfield isn’t finally fading after once again missing a tackle in a key situation.
As always when a team melts down, there were plenty of boneheaded mistakes. Lorenzo Booker made a big one when he elected to run a ball out of the endzone and was tackled at the nine, putting the offense in terrible field position. Brian Robison helped the Bucs extend a drive with a big offsides penalty, and Jared Allen got into the act when he was called for a 15-yard roughing penalty against Freeman. There was also a questionable audible by McNabb when he checked out of a running play to a smoke route only to see his pass get deflected at the line.
Leslie Frazier himself came in for loads of criticism when, with time running down and the Bucs driving for the go-ahead score, he elected not to use his time outs to save some time for his offense to come back. The Vikings ultimately got the ball back deep in their own territory after Percy Harvin bobbled a line-drive kickoff, and came up way short in their attempt at a desperate last-second rally.
The loss left the Vikings with plenty of questions to answer, both about their second half game planning and their players’ effort. Percy Harvin said after the loss, “You can chop it up as whatever you want. We’re just going to say we didn’t play hard all the way to the end of the game.”
The Vikings will next face Detroit who are 2-0 after demolishing the hideous Chiefs.