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Sunday, November 24, 2013
Tie leaves Vikings chewing on late mistakes

By Ben Goessling

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Vikings left Lambeau Field on Sunday evening with something other than a loss. But to get from where they were early in the fourth quarter -- sitting with a 23-7 lead, a running game that was battering the Green Bay Packers' defense and an opponent who gained just 40 yards in the third period -- to a 26-26 tie, the Vikings had to face many of the same defensive issues they've had all season.

They let Matt Flynn throw for 119 yards in the fourth quarter after he replaced Scott Tolzien on Sunday, and gave up another 53 rushing yards as the Packers stormed back to score 16 points and force overtime. The Vikings allowed 13 first downs in the quarter -- even though the Packers went 1-of-5 on third downs -- and handed Green Bay another 43 yards in penalties. And on offense, the Vikings could manage just two first downs, once again failing to run the clock out on a trailing opponent

That meltdown didn't lead to the Vikings fourth come-from-ahead loss of the year, thanks to the Packers' failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter and their inability to punch the ball in from the Vikings' 2 in overtime. But even if the final result wasn't the same as many of the Vikings' defeats, some of the symptoms were.

"It's a weird outcome," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "It feels more like a loss in this locker room. I feel like the way things went in that fourth quarter -- opportunity to get off the field, and we get a penalty -- it's kind of the same, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot things we've done all year."

Of chief concern was probably the 35-yard pass interference penalty Marcus Sherels committed on James Jones to set up the Packers' first touchdown, followed by defensive end Jared Allen's illegal-use-of-hands infraction on third-and-10 from the Vikings' 15. The Packers were a yard short of a first down before Allen's penalty, which gave Green Bay a new set of downs at Minnesota's three, and Eddie Lacy scored on the next play.

And then, on the Packers' final drive, defensive end Everson Griffen jumped offside, giving Flynn a free play and setting up the jump ball he threw to Jones, who beat Sherels for 28 yards. The issues continued in overtime, when Robert Blanton's holding penalty nullified Greenway's sack and extended a Packers drive that ended in Mason Crosby's field goal.

"It ends up obviously being a big play in the game," Greenway said. "You want to sit here and point blame at Blanton, it's just a tough situation. Those situations we were putting our DBs in today, it was a lot of man coverage, and challenging those guys. You're going to have some of that when you're doing that."

The offense wasn't without blame, either.

When the Vikings got the ball back after the Packers' second touchdown with 3:30 left, they had their fourth chance of the year to run the clock out and seal a victory. For the fourth time, they couldn't do it.

Ponder said a fumbled snap on 2nd-and-8 was due to a miscommunication in the exchange between him and center John Sullivan, adding, "It seems like late in games, we have these mess-ups that cost us games." Ponder lost three yards after recovering the ball, and was sacked on third-and-11 before the Vikings punted.

And with a chance to win the game in overtime, Cordarrelle Patterson couldn't corral Ponder's throw to the back of the end zone after Davon House tipped it slightly. Patterson said he lost focus on the ball for a second, and Ponder said, "That's something we've got to convert on to win a game."

If any one of several plays had gone differently, the Vikings might have put their division rivals' playoff chances to bed. As it was, they headed for home trying to process a strange result.

"At the end of the day, they made a few more plays than we did to get back in the game," defensive back Chris Cook said. "That's the way football goes sometimes."