Despite struggles, Vikings still control their playoff fate


Seahawks, Dolphins, Lions and Bears.

The Vikings (6-5-1), losers in three of their past five games, still need to do just one thing to make the playoffs this season — win the last four games. Another slip-up Monday night in Seattle could lead to dreaded scoreboard-watching around the crowded NFC.

“Yeah, it’s not over,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We can’t look at what other teams are doing. We have to take care of business and do whatever it is that we have to do to win games.”

After Week 13, five NFC wild-card hopefuls — the Seahawks (7-5), Vikings (6-5-1), Panthers (6-6), Eagles (6-6) and Redskins (6-6) — have at least six wins. To maintain control, the Vikings need to do something they haven’t done this season — win four straight games.

Consistency, especially on offense and special teams, remains fleeting.

“That’s the thing that frustrates me the most,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I’m still trying to figure out how we can do that.”

‘Unorthodox’ Patriots

The Vikings offense went just 3-for-12 on third downs in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to New England. Zimmer said the Patriots deployed some “unorthodox” looks on defense, which included what’s referred to as a “psycho” defense.

On many third downs, New England had just one down lineman and six or sometimes seven linebackers and defensive backs roaming around the line of scrimmage seemingly without a fixed assignment. The Patriots blitzed a few times from those looks designed to cause confusion.

“It’s just a matter of, not the blitzes, but the looks they gave you,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “They do a lot of moving around, which is trying to show zero [coverage] and can drop to zone out of it. You can’t really get focused in on what they’re doing in moving guys around.”

Coming up empty

For the second time in the past five games, the Vikings didn’t sack the quarterback. That’s a rarity for defenses under Zimmer, who has seen just eight such games in his five-year tenure in Minnesota. The Vikings hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady just once.

Vikings defenders had an average of just 2.2 seconds to get to Brady on 33 pass attempts. According to Pro Football Focus, only the Chargers’ Philip Rivers got the ball out quicker (2.18) on Sunday.

“Part of their game plan was trying to get the ball out quick,” safety Anthony Harris said. “But as defenders, once we get in the game, we have to get a feel for what they’re trying to do and how they’re countering what we’re trying to do defensively.”

Special teams leaks

Zimmer emerged from Sunday’s loss with an additional concern after special teams coverages allowed a pair of big returns. That included a 23-yard punt return by Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. Brady started the ensuing drive at midfield and ended it by handing off for a 2-yard touchdown run.

Kicker Dan Bailey also missed his third field goal of the past two games, but Zimmer said he’s focused primarily on the kick and punt coverage.

“Mostly the coverage unit,” Zimmer said. “And trying to get the holder out on the field on fourth down.”

Middle-of-road offense

After 12 games, the Vikings offense is ranked in the middle of the pack in nearly every meaningful category. They’re precisely mediocre — 16th — in yards per game, and rank 18th in points, third-down conversion rate and yards per play.

Two steep falls have happened with rushing yards and red-zone efficiency, in which the Vikings ranked seventh and 10th last season. They rank 30th and 25th this season.

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