It seems like a broken record and one that almost could have been predicted – the Vikings have a lead for most of the game only to let the lead slip away in the second half. For the Vikings it was the inability to stop Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos late that made for their frustrating (and all too familiar) turning point of the game.
“This isn’t Minnesota Vikings football,” Jared Allen said. “I can’t apologize enough to our fans.”
With 9:41 to play, it appeared as though the Vikings had the game close to being in the bag when Percy Harvin broke free for a 48-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings a 29-21 lead, but it wouldn’t take long – just 49 seconds for the Broncos to change all that.
Starting from his own 34-yard line, it took Tebow just two plays to get the ball into the end zone. He hit rookie wide receiver Demaryius Thomas wide open down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain and, on the next play, running back Willis McGahee bounced a run outside for a 24-yard touchdown. After Tebow ran in the two-point conversion, the game was tied 29-29 with 8:52 to play – adding to a season’s worth of frustration for the Vikings.
“We can’t keep momentum once we get it,” Kevin Williams said. “We’ve got to play all together as a group, as a team. That’s been the common denominator all season. When the offense has played well, the defense has played bad. When the defense has played well, the offense has played bad. We’ve got to put it together. We can’t keep having these letdowns.”
The Vikings offense did its best to get momentum back, putting together an impressive 13-play drive that ended with a Ryan Longwell field goal that gave the Vikings a 32-29 lead with 3:06 to play, but another bomb to Thomas from Tebow, this time of 40 yards, got the Broncos into scoring position. When Matt Prater hit a 46-yard field goal with 1:33 to play, the game was tied 32-32 and looked as though either the Vikings could win it late or head to overtime.
Instead, on the first offensive play, Ponder threw an interception to Andre Goodman, who undercut Harvin and got in perfect position for the interception – returning the ball to the Vikings 15-yard line. The Broncos methodically milked the remaining time off the clock, setting up Prater for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
After holding the Broncos to just 48 yards in the first half and one first down, Denver exploded for 288 yards in the second half, including 160 in the fourth quarter alone, to come away with the win and adding to the Vikings’ frustration.
“We were not fundamentally sound in the second half whatsoever,” Allen said. “I don’t know where the disconnect is. We’ve got to play better. Obviously, there are issues that have to be corrected. Hopefully, we can get them corrected next week. It comes down to fundamental things – we’ve got to tackle, we can’t turn the ball over and have to create turnovers.”
Asked if he’s ever been on a team that has had more difficulty holding on to leads, Williams said the 2011 Vikings are breaking new ground, which is even more frustrating because they have the talent to win several of the games they have lost.
“This might be the first time,” Williams said. “When I was young, we weren’t very good. Our team is pretty good, but we’ve got to find a way to win some games.”
In the end, the Vikings were left shaking their heads at what could have been after allowing Tebow to post a perfect passer rating in the second half – completing six of nine passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
“I guess we didn’t let him run, so that’s a plus,” Allen said with a shrug and a sarcastic laugh. “I would have bet my paycheck that he would not have beaten us passing the ball. Hat’s off to him.”
Instead, the Vikings saw a game in which they held the ball for almost a two-to-one time disparity and didn’t trail in the second half until the game clock showed three zeroes. But it was the inability to close out Denver that created a familiar turning point.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.