Failure to capitalize in all three phases keeps Vikings winless
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was given 51 seconds, one timeout and a four-point deficit to try to rectify his team's slow start this season and give his critics something to chew on before calling him out.
Much like the previous drives, Ponder completed four passes under seven yards -- failing to take the necessary shots until single-digit seconds remained despite lofting the ball downfield a few times earlier in the game.
"We had it," Ponder said. "Could've done some more things throughout every quarter, especially the fourth quarter to secure the victory and we didn't do it."
The Vikings offense had two three-and-outs that took up a total of 2:15 off the clock near the end of the fourth quarter as they held a 27-24 lead.
Both drives ended in a matter of inches, the first finished with tight end Kyle Rudolph stretching out after a nine-yard catch and run to fall short of the first down. The second, Ponder misfired to receiver Greg Jennings who was open down the sideline on 3rd-and-4 with 3:32 left in the game.
"I missed him," Ponder said. "It was a bad throw. He was open and did a great job on that route and beat man coverage, beat their best corner but we weren't able to convert."
After a similar, last-minute loss to the Chicago Bears last week, running back Adrian Peterson said he needed to do some 'soul searching' to figure out what was wrong with his play. Ponder had a similar introspective take on why his team remains winless after three games.
"As a group, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and change this around quickly," Ponder said. "We have to fix it, otherwise we're going to be 0-16."
The glaring lack of execution in crunch time has haunted the Vikings for the second straight week -- and it's not just on the offensive side of the ball.
With the game tied at 14, the Browns pulled the gutsy call for a fake punt on 4th-and-1 from their own 38-yard line. A direct snap to safety Josh Aubrey went for 34 yards as Vikings safety Robert Blanton missed the tackle.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Browns lined up to attempt a field goal and left tight end Jordan Cameron split out right. Oblivious, every Vikings' defender stacked the box to block the kick and punter Spencer Lanning had a clear pass to Cameron to take the 24-14 lead.
"We've had some special teams breakdowns the last three ball games," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "We've got some things we've got to fix in order to be a winning football team. We've got to get it fixed in a hurry."
The Vikings defense surrendered more than 350 yards of offense for the third straight week (409, to be exact) and this time it came against a third-string quarterback who had one career start under his belt before Sunday.
Now the Browns' Brian Hoyer has one career win as a starter after throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with 55 seconds left to Cameron over safety Harrison Smith.
"You can pretty much watch the film and figured out what happened," Smith said. "I didn't make a play, they made a play. That happens. Not going to keep my head down, just got to move forward."
In all three phases of the game, the Vikings fell under the weight of a Browns team that had apparently given up on this season after trading star running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday for a 2014 first-round pick.
Now, the Vikings season looks to be slipping away as no team has made the playoffs in the past 14 seasons after opening with three straight losses.
The Vikings leave for London on Monday and must make a quick turnaround against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that features former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as head coach.
"It's just what it is," Frazier said. "We've got to go to London and get ourselves a win. Wherever we play next week, we've got to get a win."