They got a career day from their star running back. The prized rookie receiver provided a breakout performance that conjured comparisons to Randy Moss. And the opponent seemed hellbent on giving the game away.
And the Vikings still lost.
On second thought, maybe they should Tank for Trevor at this point, if this is how it’s going to go.
If they can’t win when Dalvin Cook rushes for 181 yards, the offense scores 30 points, Justin Jefferson plays like a star and they take a 12-point lead in the third quarter at home in a desperation situation …
A slapstick finish with maybe the worst two-minute drill in the history of football kept the Vikings winless in a 31-30 loss to the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings looked overmatched and discombobulated in their first two losses. This one was different. They showed encouraging signs on offense, looked to be the better team for stretches and still managed to gag it away.
No loss counts more than others, but the Titans probably laughed all the way back to Nashville after watching the Vikings implode in crunch time.
“The last possession when you’ve got a chance to go down and win the game with a field goal is a complete disaster,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
He also called his team’s final series “chaos,” a characterization that seemed to catch his quarterback by surprise.
“I’ll have to go back and watch the film,” Kirk Cousins said in what has become his standard answer to every question. “You’d have to ask Coach specifically what he meant.”
Does it really need further explanation? Cousins was there on the field, right?
Trailing by one, the Vikings got the ball at their 25-yard line with 1 minute, 44 seconds left and no timeouts. A roughing-the-passer penalty on an incompletion moved the ball to the 40.
The Vikings only needed a field goal to win. They have a veteran offense, led by a veteran quarterback. Even with no timeouts (which was Zimmer’s fault for using them up), this qualified as favorable circumstances by NFL standards.
First down: Cousins gets pressured and throws incomplete to avoid a sack.
Second down: Cousins wasn’t ready/looking for center Garrett Bradbury’s snap and the ball sails past him for a 14-yard loss.
Third down: Cousins pressured again and his rushed throw hits a Titan and falls incomplete.
Fourth down: Hail Mary pass, interception.
The entire sequence was a textbook definition of chaos. The series lasted 46 dizzying seconds.
“Just wasn’t our best drive,” Cousins said.
“I want our offense — those guys are all veteran guys — I want them to take charge in those moments when they have the opportunity to go down and win the football game,” Zimmer said.
Don’t pin this all on Cousins. He had little chance to succeed in that spot. Know who deserves blame? General Manager Rick Spielman for assembling that offensive line, which has been an area of neglect for years.
The Titans’ pressure overwhelmed the Vikings line with such force that it looked like one team was playing 100 miles per hour and the other was stuck in neutral.
The Vikings defense imploded, too. The Titans scored on five consecutive possessions, and afterward Zimmer offered some rare public criticism of his star safeties, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris.
The worst part is the Titans, a 2019 playoff team, didn’t exactly throw their best punch. They had a pick-six called back on a senseless penalty by Jadeveon Clowney that resulted in zero points. The coaching staff oddly ignored Derrick Henry after the two-minute warning, forcing the Titans to settle for a 55-yard field goal. Ryan Tannehill looked like a younger, lesser version of himself at times. And a roughing penalty gave the Vikings prime field position on the potential winning drive.
No matter. The Vikings refused to accept the gift.
They lost on a day when Cook and Jefferson were brilliant.
Good teams find ways to win. Bad teams invent ways to lose. The Vikings chose chaos at the moment of truth.