Win overshadows another strange second half for Vikings
By BRIAN HALL
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) After Greg Joseph's game-winning field goal went through the uprights on Sunday, euphoria overcame the Minnesota Vikings.
Teammates lifted Joseph on their shoulders as they celebrated the 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions.
An hour or so earlier, no one would have expected Minnesota to need a last-second field goal to win. The Vikings knew they avoided a potentially devastating loss.
"It's better than a loss, that's for sure," coach Mike Zimmer admitted after the game. "But yeah, it probably feels different, yeah."
Minnesota scored on its first three possessions and held a 13-3 lead at home against the winless Lions. Against a Detroit defense that was 31st in the NFL entering the game in allowing 6.63 yards per play, the Vikings offense then went stagnant.
After Alexander Mattison's late fumble, the Lions took their first lead of the game with 37 seconds left. Forced to open up the offense again, Minnesota went 46 yards in five plays to set up Joseph's game-winning kick.
"We scored on our first three possessions this game and that's offense," center Garrett Bradbury said Monday. "You'd like them to be touchdowns instead of two field goals but, nonetheless, it's a great start in the first half. We got to find a way to make plays third quarter, fourth quarter and get points. Defense did an unbelievable job and we can help them out a lot more by putting points on the board."
Sunday continued a trend for the Vikings' offense and defense. The offense has gone missing in the second half of games, while the defense finds its footing in the second half.
The offense hasn't scored a second-half touchdown since Week 1. In the past three games, all at home, the Vikings have scored 15 points in the second half.
"No matter how the game looks in the second half, we understand that we have the guys to go out there and make plays," Mattison said. "We just have to clean it up."
Conversely, the team's defense has maintained games while the offense has struggled. In those past three home games, the Vikings have only allowed 14 points in the second half of games. Eight of the points came Sunday after Mattison's fumble, which gave Detroit the ball at the 20-yard line, its deepest field position of the game.
Minnesota's defense is the league leader on third downs in the second half of games, allowing conversions on two of 26 opportunities (7.7%), according to Sportradar. The 34 points allowed in the second half is the second-fewest allowed behind only Denver (28), according to Sportradar.
When Minnesota is pushing the offense down the field, quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson have been in sync. Jefferson is building on his Pro Bowl rookie season with 33 catches for 462 yards through five games. He's sixth in the league in catches and receiving yards.
Jefferson had five catches for 104 yards in the first half against Detroit, but only two for 20 in the second half as he was only targeted two more times.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Vikings have been looking for reliable returners ever since moving away from Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels. The search continues.
Kickoff returner Ameer Abdullah had four returns on Sunday for an average of 17.0 yards. He's 42nd in the NFL with an 18.8-yard average return this season. Punt returner Dede Westbrook had one return for 2 yards on Sunday and is 35th in the league with a 5.0-yard average this season.
Joseph came up short on a 49-yard field-goal attempt, but he was clutch from 54 yards when the Vikings most needed him. Since a shaky Week 2 loss at Arizona where Joseph missed an extra-point attempt and a last-second, field-goal attempt, he is 7 of 8 on field goals, including a career-long 55 yards on Sunday, and 5 of 5 on extra-point attempts.
When tight end Irv Smith Jr. was lost for the season with a knee injury before the season, Minnesota traded for Chris Herndon from the New York Jets. The Vikings sent a fourth-round draft pick in 2022 for Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick.
Herndon doesn't have a catch this season and had two costly penalties on Sunday that negated first downs. He was called for an illegal crack-back block on Mattison's 9-yard run on third-and-1 in the third quarter and Minnesota had to punt.
Linebacker Anthony Barr returned Sunday for his first game since Week 2 of last season. He recovered from a knee injury in training camp after having last season cut short because of a torn pectoral muscle. He ended up playing 100% of the defensive snaps.
"There were multiple plays when I felt like I was never going to be able to walk again," Barr said. "Your body feels like it explodes and then you get up like, `OK, I'm good.'"
Dalvin Cook missed his second game this season with a lingering ankle injury.
21.8: Minnesota's defense is now ranked ninth in the NFL in fewest points allowed, with opponents averaging 21.8 points per game.
After everything that's happened this season, the Vikings could get back to .500 before their Week 7 bye. They travel to face Carolina on Sunday. The Panthers have lost two in a row, but might get back offensive star Christian McCaffrey for Sunday's game.
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Updated October 11, 2021