COMMENTARY | This was a game that the Minnesota Vikings were supposed to win--their home opener against a team playing its third-string quarterback and having just traded its best player a few days earlier. Instead, the Vikings made the Cleveland Browns look like an offensive juggernaut and Minnesota managed to lose a second straight game in the final minute.
Only three teams have made the playoffs since 1990 after beginning the season 0-3 and the last team to do so was the 1998 Buffalo Bills. The Vikings have far too many issues to be the team that ends that 15-year drought.
The Vikings' problems begin at the top, where Leslie Frazier and his staff were out-coached once again, bringing back memories of the Les Steckel debacle. The Vikings were out-coached in all aspects of Sunday's game, most noticeably special teams, as the Vikings allowed the Browns to convert two fake kicks, but the offensive and defense coordinators didn't do their job either.
Quarterback Christian Ponder didn't help himself much, but he wasn't the sole reason the Vikings lost to Cleveland. He wasn't even one of the main reasons, as the offensive line did a terrible job blocking and Ponder couldn't complete a key pass when he did have time to throw. Ponder actually played his best game of the season, which isn't saying much, accounting for three touchdowns with two turnovers.
Phil Loadholt was horrible on the day and while you have to commend the guy for playing when he is obviously injured, there comes a time when a player needs to realize that he's hurting the team by trying to play when not 100 percent. If Loadholt is trying to live up to that fat contract he signed in the offseason, he has three more years after this one to do so, but it doesn't help playing when you're a detriment to the team.
Ponder's poor play overshadowed disappointing defensive efforts the first two weeks, but surrendering 31 points and 435 yards to the Cleveland Browns has taken care of that. This was a Cleveland team that had scored 16 points in its first two games, but the Vikings' habit of making quarterbacks look much better than they actually are was alive and well at Mall of America Field.
Losing cornerback Chris Cook in the first quarter didn't help, although it's not as though he is a top-notch shutdown player to begin with. The loss of Antoine Winfield has been glaring every week and the team's secondary is in disarray, despite getting solid play from Harrison Smith. Marcus Sherels had a strong game against the Browns, as did linebacker Chad Greenway, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Fortunately the Vikings travel to London next week to play the Steelers, where the local media will likely treat Ponder as a competent NFL quarterback and act as though the Vikings have a legitimate defense. It's a far cry from the Boo-Birds who were out in force against Cleveland and deservedly so.
Allen Moody is an author and sports bettor living in Nevada. A newspaper sports reporter for 12 years, he has been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings since the 1970s.
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