The Vikings' turnover woes from earlier this season came back in full force on Sunday night. On just the third play from scrimmage, Josh Dobbs took a pitch from T.J. Hockenson and got lit up, losing a fumble in the process. The officials probably should've penalized Broncos safety Kareem Jackson for the hit, but there was no call. A few minutes later, the Broncos capitalized with a field goal to get on the board first.
That was a bad omen — and quite reminiscent of all of Minnesota's opening-drive turnovers in September and October.
Two more turnovers in the second half — an Alexander Mattison fumble and a Dobbs interception caused in part by Ty Chandler failing to pick up a blitz — doomed the Vikings. They lost the turnover battle 3-0 and dropped a very winnable game that they seemed to control for the vast majority of the night.
With just over a minute left, Courtland Sutton out-jumped Mekhi Blackmon to catch a go-ahead touchdown pass from Russell Wilson. It was the Broncos' first TD of the night, after they had previously settled for five field goals. It was also their first lead since it was 3-0. The Vikings had a chance after that, but Dobbs was under heavy pressure and couldn't pull off a comeback.
The end result was the Broncos kneeling out a 21-20 victory that extended their winning streak to four games and snapped the Vikings' streak at five. Kevin O'Connell's team falls to 6-5 and is now 2.5 games back in the NFC North (but still in a good position to get a wild card spot).
Seven seconds into the second quarter, Dobbs shrugged off a pass rusher and found Josh Oliver for a touchdown. From that point until the Sutton score, the Vikings held the lead for nearly three full quarters. However, they were never able to pull away and increase their lead to more than eight points. That allowed the Broncos to hang around by kicking field goal after field goal before they finally got in the end zone when it mattered most.
Mattison's fumble late in the third quarter was one of the biggest plays of the game. The Vikings had taken a 17-9 lead on Dobbs' third rushing touchdown in as many games since arriving in Minnesota. They had followed that up by forcing a three-and-out. And the offense was driving again. That's when Mattison took a first down handoff from the Broncos' 34 and coughed up his second fumble of the season on a fairly innocuous-looking tackle attempt.
Brutal time for Mattison's second fumble of the season. Vikings were in field goal range and looking to make it a two-score game. pic.twitter.com/1VJPZXKaEU— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) November 20, 2023
Instead of the Vikings going up by two scores, the Broncos drove down and made it a 17-12 game. Then Minnesota turned it over again, this time when Josey Jewell got past Chandler and hit Dobbs while he threw, resulting in a ball that floated right to Ja'Quan McMillian. That set the Broncos up to make it 17-15.
The Vikings had one more chance to pull away. They converted two fourth downs on the ensuing offensive possession — a huge gain from Chandler on a gutsy fake punt and then a Dobbs tush push on fourth and inches. But with a fresh set of downs at the Denver 12, the Vikings ran twice for no gain and then couldn't convert on third and long. They wound up settling for a field goal that kept the Broncos in striking distance.
That's when Denver's offense finally came alive. Wilson hit Samaje Perine for a handful of chain-moving checkdowns, then delivered the game-winner to Sutton. It was a tough night for Blackmon, who was playing in place of the injured Akayleb Evans.
The Vikings out-gained the Broncos 385 to 295. They ran for a season-high 175 yards, with both Mattison and Chandler getting at least 70 on the ground. Dobbs had two more touchdowns. Defensively, they held the Broncos to a 2-for-12 mark on third downs, sacked Wilson twice, and stiffened numerous times in the red zone. And all of that was undone by one key stat: The 3-0 turnover margin.
The Vikings are 3-0 when they win the turnover battle. They're 2-0 when it's tied. And they're now 1-5 when they lose it. Sometimes, it's as simple as that.
This was a tough loss for the Vikings because the game was right there for the taking. It deals a significant blow to their chances of catching the Lions in the NFC North, considering Detroit rallied to survive a scare from the Bears earlier on Sunday.
But it's also just one game, and the Vikings still have a clear path to the playoffs. They're 1.5 games up on four teams in the race for the seventh seed and have a fairly easy remaining schedule. They'll move on from this one, learn from it, and look to bounce back in another primetime opportunity when they host the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium next Monday night.
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