EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Vikings sit at 1-5, going through what amounts to an open audition at the quarterback position and all but out of hope for a second straight playoff berth, it's easy to forget how different things would be if not for a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks in September.
In back-to-back games, the Vikings were on the verge of victory when they allowed a pair of last-minute touchdown passes -- by Jay Cutler on Sept. 15 and Brian Hoyer on Sept. 22 -- that led to the Chicago Bears' and Cleveland Browns' wins over Minnesota. Those losses dropped the Vikings to 0-3, and might have sucked the life out of a season that began with high expectations.
That's apparently been going on throughout the NFL this season. Twenty-nine of the 107 games in the league so far this season have been decided by a fourth-quarter comeback, representing 27.1 percent of the outcomes. That's the second-highest percentage of games decided by a fourth-quarter comeback since the merger in 1970, trailing only the 1989 season, during which 31.3 percent of games changed hands late.
Had the Vikings won those games in Weeks 2 and 3, they'd be sitting at 3-3 right now, trying to send the NFC North into a virtual four-way tie with a win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Instead, they're 1-5, possibly headed toward major organizational changes.
It's a sobering reminder of how thin the difference is between NFL teams -- and thus how small the margin for error is -- in 2013. If the Vikings had won those two games, it's tantalizing to think about what effect it would have had on the direction at quarterback, the future of the coaching staff and the team's morale as a whole. But defensive breakdowns also were to blame in both of those losses, and if there's been an indictment of coach Leslie Frazier this season, it's how discombobulated the Vikings have looked on defense, particularly in the secondary. Frazier was a cornerback for the Bears' Super Bowl team in 1985, and he coached defensive backs with Alan Williams on the Colts' Super Bowl team in 2006 before both joined Minnesota as defensive coordinators.
The Vikings' issues at quarterback are a prominent source of problems, but in a pass-heavy league, so are Minnesota's flaws in the secondary. The coaches didn't put the roster together -- in fact, Frazier led the charge to bring Antoine Winfield back after the Vikings cut him in March -- but communication problems are and should be preventable. And for the Vikings, defensive issues on last-minute drives are a big reason why they're 1-5, not 3-3.