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Updated: November 20th, 2011 9:02pm
Pelissero: Mistakes send Vikings spiraling towards NFL's rock bottom

Pelissero: Mistakes send Vikings spiraling towards NFL's rock bottom

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Indianapolis Colts hadn't folded the moment Peyton Manning's neck short-circuited, the Minnesota Vikings would have a strong claim as the worst team in the NFL.

They're 2-8. They're making damning mistakes week after week. And they may not get a better chance to win another game than they did in Sunday's 27-21 slopfest against the Oakland Raiders, who tried everything to squander a 20-point lead after half the Metrodome's seats had emptied.

"We've battled in a lot of games and been in a lot of games in the fourth quarter," coach Leslie Frazier said. "But we're 2-8. Nobody in that locker room feels good about playing a close game that we thought, playing at home, we'd have a chance to really get a strong win. And we didn't. We're a 2-8 football team."

If the season ended today, that'd merit a top-four pick in April's NFL Draft. Only Indianapolis (0-10), Carolina (2-8) and St. Louis (2-8) have matched the Vikings in the loss column, and at least the Colts have a valid excuse.

No one circumstance can bear the blame for penalties, turnovers and missed opportunities that continue to haunt the Vikings week after week -- save for the reality of a second consecutive lost season that has eviscerated any sense of urgency in the locker room.

"It's a difference from last year, just being in there," receiver Percy Harvin said. "Everybody has a high spirit. We were just talking about it before this game. One of the coaches pulled me to the side and was like, 'This doesn't feel like a losing team.'"

No, but they're playing like one. Not always for 60 minutes, but for stretches long enough to cripple them -- even against a Raiders team that hemorrhaged 117 yards on 12 penalties, had a field goal blocked and fumbled when it was trying to run out the clock.

Christian Ponder's 37-yard strike to Visanthe Shiancoe up the seam set up a 1-yard touchdown throw to Kyle Rudolph on the next play, pulling the Vikings to within six with 5:08 to go. The defense forced a punt but the offense stalled, with Tyvon Branch breaking up Ponder's out-breaking throw for Harvin on fourth-and-8.

"We just kept making mistakes, especially me," said Ponder, who threw three interceptions. "I kept making mistakes, kept turning the ball over. You can't win games that way. I've got a lot of learning to do."

If only the same could be said for the veterans who helped the Vikings keep Oakland (6-4) atop the AFC West Division standings. Take away the comedy of errors in the first half's final 5 minutes alone, and Ponder might have been relishing his second NFL win, rather than a third defeat.

It started with punter Chris Kluwe bobbling the snap on a 49-yard field goal attempt that could have knotted the score at 10. Instead, Branch planted Kluwe for a 12-yard loss, the Raiders drove 57 yards in eight plays and Michael Bush ran over Tyrell Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the half.

"That's very unusual for it to happen with Chris," Frazier said. "He's done this a thousand times."

On the ensuing kickoff, Lorenzo Booker tried to hurdle a defender, only to have Raiders tight end Brandon Meyers poke loose the ball and DeMarcus Van Dyke recover at the Vikings' 16-yard line. Carson Palmer dived in for a 1-yard touchdown on his second try with 8 seconds left and the Raiders went into the locker room with a 24-7 lead.

"It was probably the worst second quarter I have ever been a part of," Vikings end Jared Allen said. "It's on the cusp and we can win games -- we just have to cut it out, and we have to do a better job for 60 minutes. It can't be a part-time deal."

But that's precisely what the Vikings are: a part-time team that has gone from squandering halftime leads to falling apart from the coin toss, then trying with varying degrees of success to play catch-up the rest of the way.

Left tackle Charlie Johnson false started on the first play from scrimmage on a day the Vikings took 12 penalties, nine of them enforced for 50 yards.

Special teams ace Eric Frampton missed a tackle on Denarius Moore's 34-yard punt return on a day the Raiders also took back kickoffs for 36 and 46.

Linebacker Chad Greenway missed a tackle on fullback Marcel Reese's 20-yard rumble on a day the Raiders ran for 162 yards on 41 carries (4.0 average).

Ponder made three awful decisions that turned into turnovers, including two deep in Raiders territory on a day the Vikings' protection crumbled against Oakland's persistent pressure packages and receivers couldn't exploit one-on-one coverage down the field.

"We're not good enough to overcome some of the mistakes that we're doing to ourselves," Frazier said. "Until we figure that out, we'll be doing what we're doing right now -- talking about a loss."

The Vikings started Sunday's game without four starting defenders and finished it without All-Pro halfback Adrian Peterson, who left in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.

They're so depleted in the secondary they continue to run shadows with Asher Allen, who held Moore to one catch for 14 yards but also gave up an 11-yard touchdown to third-stringer Chaz Schilens.

Yet they still had a chance, thanks to a defense that held the Raiders to 115 net yards after halftime, Letroy Guion's block of Sebastian Janikowski's 49-yard field goal attempt and rookie Christian Ballard's strip of Michael Bush with about 6 minutes to go.

"We had it in our hands," Ponder said. "It was up to us to go out and win it."

Instead, the Vikings lost another and now continue this stretch of seven games in eight weeks against playoff hopefuls in Atlanta, at a time their only hope is to avoid finishing at rock bottom.

Not including the team that lost its future Hall of Fame quarterback indefinitely days before the opener.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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