NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings could be without cornerback Josh Robinson on Sunday, after Robinson injured his ankle during individual drills on Thursday.

Robinson did not practice on Friday, indicating his availability for Sunday is in some doubt. The cornerback said after practice, however, that he's feeling better after rolling his ankle on Thursday, and he sounded optimistic he could still play Sunday.

Robinson
"We were just going through the motions and not really trying to go full speed or anything like that [when the injury occurred]," Robinson said. "That should help as far as recovery time."

Asked about Robinson's availability for Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer said, "I don't know. We'll find out a little bit more tomorrow."

If Robinson were unable to play, rookie Jabari Price would likely be next in line.

With John Sullivan ready to return from a concussion this week, the Vikings won't need Joe Berger to start at center on Sunday, but it seems possible Berger could find his way into the lineup at right guard instead. He saw some first-team snaps at the spot this week, while Vlad Ducasse worked his way back from a knee injury. Berger and Zimmer were coy about the plan for the offensive line, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Berger in the lineup on Sunday.

"I may or may not know that," Berger said when asked whether he has been told if he'll start on Sunday. "If you guys don't know that, I'm going to let the coach tell you."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan has passed the NFL's concussion protocol and is in line to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday.

Sullivan
Sullivan was a limited participant in practice Thursday, but Zimmer said the center "did everything."

Guard Vlad Ducasse also returned to practice in full after injuring his knee last Sunday in Buffalo. Zimmer, however, would not say for certain whether the Vikings would use the same five offensive linemen against the Buccaneers.

"Everything's a little in flux with the injuries, so we'll see," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis, and defensive end Corey Wootton was a full participant after the lower-back injury that kept him out of Sunday's game also limited him Wednesday. Safety Antone Exum missed practice with an ankle injury, however, and cornerback Josh Robinson left practice early after injuring his ankle in individual drills. Zimmer said he wasn't sure how the injury would affect Robinson's status for Sunday.

"He wasn't going very fast when he did it," Zimmer said.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the recent annals of performances by rookie quarterbacks, the number of times Teddy Bridgewater's been taken to the ground has been startling.

The Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback has been sacked 15 times in just four games, or on 11 percent of his dropbacks.

In other words, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater is on pace to be the most frequently-sacked rookie quarterback in the league since the Dallas Cowboys' Chad Hutchinson in 2002. He's been pressured on 27.9 percent of his dropbacks, and he's thrown just one touchdown pass against five interceptions so far.

Bridgewater
 I've heard some talk recently about the idea that the Vikings could be "ruining" Bridgewater by exposing him to so much pressure -- and running the risk of either getting him injured or making him skittish -- as a rookie. The name David Carr usually comes up in these conversations as a cautionary tale, after the former first overall pick was subjected to 76 sacks in the Houston Texans' inaugural season, and then another 173 in the following four seasons, before the Texans let him go.

It's true that the list of the most-sacked rookie quarterbacks in history (usually passers playing for bad teams behind leaky offensive lines) includes a number of busts: Carr tops the list at 76, followed by Tim Couch at 56, Jake Plummer at 52, Dieter Brock at 51, Tony Banks at 48 and Rick Mirer at 47. But then we come to names like Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (albeit after time in the CFL and USFL, respectively), and Andrew Luck, who was taken down 41 times as a rookie and pressured on 28.8 percent of his dropbacks while playing for a team that threw the ball 627 times. Phil Simms took 39 sacks as a rookie. Russell Wilson was sacked 33 times, Joe Flacco 32 and Ben Roethlisberger 30.

It'd be one thing to worry if Bridgewater was showing signs of letting the rush affect him, either by taking off early or hurrying throws to avoid sacks. We've seen him rush throws on a couple occasions, but not to the point where I'd attribute it to something more deep-seeded than a rookie still figuring out his timing in the NFL. He rebounded from two interceptions on Sunday, making some of his best throws when he stood in the pocket and fired decisively to a receiver, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner sounded pleased on Thursday with how composed Bridgewater has remained in the face of all the pressure.

"He's got good sense in the pocket. He's getting better at getting the ball out," Turner said. "He threw the ball away a couple times Sunday when there was nowhere to throw it, where against Detroit [on] those plays he took sacks. We're working on getting him a lot quicker, we're working on design to help get the ball out quick, we're working on protection so we don't have to have the conversation about how he handles it."

If the Vikings keep giving up pressure to the point where Bridgewater's sack totals are pushing into the 50s, then we might have something to worry about long-term. But right now, the issue seems to be affecting the Vikings' ability to win in the present more than it's stunting Bridgewater's growth. The amount of pressure the Vikings have allowed is alarming, especially from an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the team's strengths. But the Vikings were drawn to Bridgewater in part because of how masterfully he handled pressure in college, and any sense of a maladjustment because of what he's faced as a rookie probably is premature.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Shortly after they were allowed to begin contacting free agents last March, the Minnesota Vikings placed a call to the agent for former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, to explore the possibility of reuniting him with coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.

Johnson wound up agreeing to a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers an hour after players were able to sign with new teams; Zimmer said in a radio interview in March that Johnson "wanted to be with me," but ultimately wanted to be closer to his hometown of Selma, Alabama. And in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday, Johnson said he thought about following Zimmer to Minnesota after five years with him in Cincinnati.

"Of course,” Johnson said. “I came into the league under Coach Zimmer. I learned a lot under him. He’s a great coach and a great, great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him."

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis, Everson Griffen
AP Photo/Tom GannamEverson Griffen has been productive in Mike Zimmer's scheme, collecting 7.0 sacks through the first seven games.
The Vikings, meanwhile, had agreed to a new five-year deal with Everson Griffen before the start of free agency, keeping the player that Zimmer said in March was their first choice at defensive end. It seemed difficult to imagine a scenario where the Vikings could have paid both Griffen and Johnson, and it might be a moot point now, but seven months later, the Vikings seem to have no regrets about their decision.

Griffen has seven sacks this season, which has him tied for the second-most in the league, and he matched his career high with three on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Zimmer doesn't place much value on individual sack totals; they're easy to come by, he said on Wednesday, and repeated his mantra about being more concerned with team's overall number of sacks than who gets them. But in the time he's had Griffen, Zimmer said, he's seen a player who was eager to embrace the defensive philosophy the coach brought to Minnesota.

"Since the day we walked in, he's kind of been excited about this regime defensively, how he can go from just being an athlete to being a football player," Zimmer said. "That's how I always got the impression with him. He's been very, very diligent about buying into what we're preaching. It's not just about running up the field and sacking the quarterback. It's about doing your job so other people can have success, too."

That's a philosophy Johnson knew well, and it probably took some projection on the Vikings' part to see that Griffen could work as an every-down right end in the scheme after playing in three different defensive line spots under former head coach Leslie Frazier. Johnson, of course, is playing for Frazier in Tampa, and has two sacks in four games for a 1-5 team. He's looked back on some of the advice he got from Zimmer, whom he called a "father figure," to help get him through the tough start.

"He’d say, 'Tough times don’t last, tough people do,'" Johnson said. "That was his mentality. These first six games here have been tough times down here. So tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve taken that with me from Cincinnati. I try to apply that not only in football but life as well.”

It's clear Zimmer and Johnson still hold each other in high regard, but the Vikings made their investment in Griffen last March. So far, Zimmer seems happy with the choice.

"It's not only the pass-rush things," Zimmer said. "It's buying into playing the run, too. I think that allows him to have success."
Zimmer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- How was your Tuesday? However it went, it was probably more enjoyable than Mike Zimmer's.

While players took their day off on Tuesday, the Minnesota Vikings coach had another procedure to remove the rest of the kidney stones that first sent him to the hospital on Friday and gave him some pain during the Vikings' game with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The operation on Tuesday was "not pleasant at all," Zimmer said on Wednesday, but he said the ordeal should be behind him now, and was in a good enough mood to joke about it on Wednesday.

"(Athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman was talking to the team today, and I told him to get the video of the procedure I had done and show the team," Zimmer said. "I think there would have been some throwing up or something."

When a reporter joked that Zimmer was probable for Sunday's game, the coach responded, "I'm definite."
MINNEAPOLIS -- For 57 minutes, the Minnesota Vikings put together what would have stood up as their best defensive performance of the season, if not for what happened in the game's final three minutes. The Vikings had forced four turnovers, sacked Kyle Orton four times and held the Bills to 10 points, in a game that was one defensive stand away from a Vikings victory.

But it's what happened on that final drive that commanded most of the attention after the game, and deservedly so. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink of defeat several times on a 15-play, 80-yard march, only to give Buffalo new life on a series of coverage breakdowns.

Floyd
Though the result was the same as the four games the Vikings lost on last-minute touchdowns last season, the approach wasn't. Nearly a year after defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams criticized former defensive coordinator Alan Williams for being too timid in a final-drive loss to Dallas, the Vikings blitzed Orton four times on the final drive, sacking him twice on blitzes and using a number of creative fronts that bumped tackles Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson out to wide alignments.

The breakdowns at the end of the game, though, are what will stick out about an otherwise impressive performance.

"This is a 'now' business," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everything is right now; you want to win right now. That's just the world we live in. We have to (develop) as fast as possible."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defensive performance after a film review of the 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer alluded to the Vikings getting burned by their aggressiveness on the final drive, and while his blitzes worked, Josh Robinson's press coverage of Sammy Watkins on a third-and-12 didn't. Watkins, who has two inches and 12 pounds on Robinson, quickly fought off his jam and got inside for a 20-yard gain on a slant. "Poor technique," Zimmer said of the play. Robinson had inside leverage on the play but is still learning to press effectively and needed to throw off Watkins' timing on the route.
  • Floyd had what might have been his best game of the season, thanks to a game plan that moved him around the Vikings' defensive front. Floyd had a sack and two hurries, one of which came after he lined up over the left tackle and chased Orton outside the pocket. Joseph's sack on the final drive also came from a three-technique spot, and Everson Griffen's third sack came when he worked a stunt with Floyd after the Vikings showed a seven-man blitz and rushed four.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr was targeted early and often on shallow crossing routes, but the rookie had a monster day, registering 10 tackles, ranging back to break up a pass, recovering two fumbles and rushing Orton on 11 of Zimmer's 13 blitzes. He missed several tackles and also blew up another screen pass, showing great reaction time to take down fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. It wasn't a complete performance for Barr, but it was an impressive one, which once again hinted at the rookie's potential to be a dominant player once he figures everything out.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's afternoon in Buffalo on Sunday was a menagerie of all the things that make a rookie quarterback's development a messy process: missed targets, hesitation, impressive strikes down the field and important throws at key moments in the game. At the end of the day, the Minnesota Vikings lost 17-16, Bridgewater had an unimpressive box score (15-for-26, 157 yards, his first NFL touchdown pass and two interceptions) and coach Mike Zimmer had reason to hope his rookie quarterback was headed in the right direction.

"That's what we see every day out of him," Zimmer said of the third-down throws Bridgewater made to extend several drives. "He made a great throw to Jarius (Wright); two of them, I think. There are a lot of positives to take from this game. Even though it's going to show up as a loss, I do think there are a lot of positives of where we can go from here."

Here are some observations about Bridgewater's day, and the rest of the offense, after a film review of the Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Bridgewater
    Bridgewater said he was overthinking things in the first half, and that might not have been more evident on any play than the first interception he threw, when he passed up deep throws to Wright and Greg Jennings on third-and-7, escaped the pocket and threw late to Chase Ford on a ball that was intercepted by Leodis McKelvin after it was deflected by Brandon Spikes. Both Wright and Jennings were waving their arms downfield, and Wright appeared to have his man beat at the moment Bridgewater broke the pocket, looking for Ford. If Bridgewater had stayed on Wright a split second longer, he might have had a touchdown. It's a throw that requires some brass, and it's a play we're used to seeing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees make, but Bridgewater's mobility gives him the chance to extend plays the way those quarterbacks do. It'll be an even better weapon for him as he uses it to open things up downfield.
  • Bridgewater blamed himself for holding the ball too long on several sacks, and the Vikings protected him a little more effectively than they did against Detroit the week before, but the line still had trouble handling the Bills' stunts, and breakdowns on the left side of the line were to blame for a couple of the Bills' six sacks. Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson appeared to think the other one was responsible for Marcell Dareus on Buffalo's first sack -- both blocked him initially before turning away to block other players, and Dareus surged through to drop Bridgewater. And in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater said he checked out of a run from the Bills' 14-yard line, adding he shouldn't have planned to throw there. But the Bills had seven men near the line of scrimmage and single coverage on the Vikings' three receivers before Jerry Hughes beat Kalil with an inside move.
  • Running back Jerick McKinnon got his 103 yards the hard way, gaining 57 of them after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but the Vikings found some innovative ways to neutralize the league's top run defense. Fullback Jerome Felton's first carry in a Vikings uniform, which went for 21 yards, came on the backside of an unbalanced line that had two tight ends on the opposite side of the field. The Vikings also ran toss plays away from the Bills' two tackles (Dareus and Kyle Williams), with McKinnon gaining 19 yards on four plays outside the tackles.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

On their final defensive series in their 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings allowed 91 passing yards, including 22 after the catch. They gave up 130 yards after the catch Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and are 20th in the league in limiting gains after the catch this season.

Although they'll face the league's worst after-the-catch team this weekend, the Vikings can't afford to let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get their offense going on broken plays.

For all his impressive moments in what's been an outstanding rookie season, linebacker Anthony Barr might be the Vikings' biggest culprit in allowing gains after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, no player has allowed more yards after the catch than the 256 Barr has given up this season. Although he's proven to be a force against screen passes, as he can read and react, he's still learning how to make open-field tackles after dropping back in pass coverage. The Bills ran a number of shallow crossing routes designed to get their receivers matched up against Barr in coverage; they targeted him 13 times on Sunday and completed 11 passes that saw their receivers gain 66 of their 92 yards after the catch. Pass coverage is the only part of the game in which Barr still looks like a rookie, and the Vikings will have to go through the learning process with him, but the sooner he develops, the quicker they'll likely be able to limit gains with the ball in a receiver's hands.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he stepped to the podium for his postgame news conference in Buffalo on Sunday, following a 17-16 last-minute loss in a game he coached while fighting off pain from kidney stones, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer looked as drained as he had all season. Zimmer talked about the progress he'd seen with the Vikings despite the loss, and it wasn't hard to sense he had realized turning the team around was going to be a longer project than just one season.

One of the enjoyable things about covering Zimmer is his Monday news conference, when he's taken some additional time to reflect on the game after watching film and generally has some insightful thoughts about the direction his team is going. On this particular Monday, Zimmer was keenly aware of the balance between coaching one of the league's youngest teams -- which has lost several veterans to injuries already this season -- and working in a business as fixated on current results as the NFL.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesMike Zimmer called the Vikings' coverage on one particular Sammy Watkins play, "poor technique."
"I don't want to ever give the indication that we're thinking about the future or anything like that," Zimmer said. "I understand that we're a young football team, I guess is what I'm saying. And that we're going to have some learning experiences with some of these situations. We've got a young quarterback, we've got some young guys in the back end. And these things are all learning experiences for them."

The Vikings' inexperience showed up in several situations at the end of the game on Sunday, particularly on a couple plays with cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson, who failed to reroute Sammy Watkins and gave up an 18-yard completion on a slant on third-and-12. "It was poor technique. Poor technique," Zimmer said. Two plays later, Rhodes got beat on a jump ball at the 2-yard line by Chris Hogan.

"It was a double move, and when Xavier made the first move, he transferred his eyes back to the quarterback and he kind of got out of position -- just a little bit, not bad," Zimmer said. "But he recovered, because he does have outstanding recovery speed, he recovered, had the guy on the sideline, had him on his back, and the guy went up and made the catch. Other than, when you get in that position, make the play -- that's the thing I talk to the players about. Part of my job is to get them in the right position to be able to make the play. When they get in position, their job is to make the play. He's been in those positions a lot, and made an awful lot of plays. I think receivers in the NFL, and the quarterbacks, they're going to make some plays, too."

Then, Rhodes played too far inside on Watkins' game-winning touchdown, giving up the sideline instead of forcing Watkins toward the Vikings' inside safety help. "It's getting to understand splits, getting to understand help, getting to understand formations and where you're supposed to be. I anticipate he will never make that mistake again."

Zimmer seems to genuinely enjoy the process of helping players develop, and he's been through enough projects with young defenses to know things won't get fixed overnight. That doesn't make the developmental stage any easier, particularly when wins and losses will dictate his fate in his current job more than any he's ever held. On Monday, though, Zimmer ultimately sounded hopeful.

"My expectations weren't going into the year, 'We're going to be this record or that record,"' he said. "It was about how we perform each and every ballgame and then kind of add them up at the end. I still feel that exact same way. I don't know that you can say after seven games, 'we are what we are,' only because of the fact that there's been so much change of what's going on. I think the quarterback will continue to get better, I think the young secondary will continue to get better, I think when guys realize -- I think that the emphasis that we've placed on certain things we've continued to get better. And I think if they'll realize the importance of all these little things we're talking about, we'll continue to get better. My expectations really have not changed whatsoever."
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It appeared Sunday would be another rough day for Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had hit just three of his first 11 passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. But the progress Bridgewater made later in Sunday's game, including his first NFL touchdown pass, came after what could be an important realization in the quarterback's development.

Bridgewater
Bridgewater threw the first of his two interceptions to Leodis McKelvin after he appeared to pass up a deep shot to Jarius Wright down the middle, firing late to Chase Ford on a ball that was tipped and intercepted. McKelvin also undercut an out route to Adam Thielen that Bridgewater appeared to throw late after hitching twice. The problems led the rookie to think back to what he was doing in training camp during a stretch of interceptions in early August, and what he experienced at that point ultimately helped him turn things around on Sunday.

"That was just me trying to be perfect," Bridgewater said. "I think I went back to old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area, instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting the offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better; just get a rhythm."

After the two interceptions, Bridgewater found one. He hit 12 of his final 15 throws for 136 yards and a touchdown, making arguably his best throws of the day to extend drives on third downs. He hit Greg Jennings up the seam for 38 yards on third-and-7, found Wright on a gorgeous 28-yard back-shoulder throw on third-and-18, and hit Wright on the same drive for 14 yards on third-and-10. After a loss to the Detroit Lions in which he went just 2-for-8 on throws longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater hit several throws downfield on Sunday, connecting with Jennings, Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on 12 of his 15 completions.

"After the second interception, Greg came up to me and told me, 'Hey, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that coming from a veteran, that was just telling me to relax and just play football."

Bridgewater overshot a deep ball to Patterson that might have sealed the game on the Vikings' final drive, and he was sacked five times on a day where he said he still held the ball too long on several occasions. He also blamed himself for a red zone sack in the fourth quarter where he had a run-pass option and kept the ball instead of handing off to Jerick McKinnon. "I should have left the run on, but that's a play where I was trying to think too much," Bridgewater said. "I need to give my guys a chance [to make a play]."

If the game baked some progress into Bridgewater's game, in a season that increasingly looks like it will be about developing young players for the future, the Vikings will be better for it. On Sunday, there was reason to think Bridgewater made some progress after an ugly start to his day.

"I thought he settled down better in the third quarter and end of the second quarter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We continue to have high expectations of him, and he needs to keep being put in these situations, as well."
videoORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mike Zimmer became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in no small part because of games like these. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, presided over a team that blew five last-minute leads in 2013, effectively handing over their chance to win a mediocre division in a series of miscommunications, coverage breakdowns and missed chances to salt away games. Zimmer and Frazier will share a field next Sunday in Tampa, and the closing touchdown drive the Vikings allowed in a 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday shares some DNA with the ones that helped send Frazier back to being a defensive coordinator.

But the Vikings' problems were spliced in between a set of commanding plays from an aggressive defense, and they put a sour finish on a performance that looked nothing like the tepid defensive efforts the Vikings had last season. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink several times on Sunday, and came tantalizingly close to taking the game for themselves.

That they didn't ultimately shows how much of a work in progress they remain.

"You check off every thing you wanted to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run as well as we would like," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But the game wasn't over. There was time on the clock, and they were able to make some key throws there at the end."

The Vikings' performance, which featured six sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, will ultimately be remembered for the throws Bills quarterback Kyle Orton made, especially in situations where the Vikings had the Bills dead to rights. Greenway was targeted on one of those throws -- a fourth-and-20 strike to tight end Scott Chandler, who got just behind the linebacker after it appeared Greenway was still communicating defensive adjustments to teammates when the ball was snapped.

"You can't have it," Greenway said. "It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw-and-catch. That's what sucks about this game; you play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Three plays later, cornerback Josh Robinson was matched against wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third-and-12; Robinson had inside leverage on Watkins in man coverage, but Watkins beat a quick jam from Robinson and got inside on a slant route for 18 yards. Then, on second-and-20 after an intentional grounding penalty that forced 10 seconds off the clock, Orton hit Chris Hogan on a jump ball over Xavier Rhodes. Two plays later, the Bills were in the end zone, on a touchdown pass to Watkins that Orton squeezed past Rhodes with one second left.

"I've just got to make the play on the ball," Rhodes said. "No matter if it was good coverage, I've got to make the play."

Coming into Sunday's game, the Vikings were tied for the second-worst conversion rate in the league on third downs of 10 yards or longer, giving up first downs on nine of their 27 attempts. They'd forced a fumble on a third-and-10 in the first quarter, and sacked Orton on a third-and-10 and third-and-17 in the fourth quarter. But then came the fourth-down completion to Chandler, the third-down slant to Watkins and the second down jump ball to Hogan, and the Vikings' progress was tough to remember.

"We probably need to be better in some of those long-yardage situations than we have been," Zimmer said. "That's kind of been the Achilles heel. But, if you go back and look at the things we're working on: playing the run. Other than the one long run [by C.J. Spiller], I thought we played the run well. The third-down conversions have been better. Defensively, I think we continue to work towards where we have to get to. Our guys have to continue to have confidence in themselves that they can make these plays at the end of the ball game."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday:

Zimmer: Not coaching was never a thought: Coach Mike Zimmer had a "minor procedure" to deal with kidney stones on Friday but told Fox's broadcast crew in a production meeting that he'll need more work done to remove them on Tuesday. He coached in some pain on Sunday, but Zimmer said there was never any doubt he'd be able to coach on Sunday. "I'll be all right," Zimmer said.

Greenway
Greenway on fourth down: "You can't have it" -- The mood was somber in the Vikings' locker room after a loss in which the team gave up a game-winning touchdown with one second left. It was a defeat eerily similar to the five games where the Vikings blew last-minute leads last season, and the Bills extended this drive on a couple of key plays: a fourth-and-20 where Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler just behind Chad Greenway, and a third-and-12 that got the Bills to the Vikings' 20. "You check off every thing you want to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run," Greenway said. "The game wasn't over, and they were able to make some big throws at the end. The [fourth-and-20], you can't have it. It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw and catch. That's what sucks about this game: You play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Ducasse felt "sharp pain" in knee: Guard Vlad Ducasse, who was already filling in for injured starter Brandon Fusco, left the game with a knee injury late in the first quarter, on the same play that also saw center John Sullivan leave with a concussion. Ducasse wasn't sure how he hurt his knee; "I just went to get up off the ground, and there was a sharp pain in my knee." Ducasse did not return, and Mike Harris played the rest of the game at right guard.

Vikings-Bills halftime thoughts

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:55
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's been an eventful first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills are tied at 10. The Vikings lost center John Sullivan to a concussion and guard Vlad Ducasse to a knee injury, while the Bills' top two running backs -- Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- were carted off the field with injuries. We've had two interceptions from Teddy Bridgewater, two forced fumbles and an interception from the Vikings' defense and a combined nine penalties from the two teams. If it's been full of activity, it hasn't exactly been aesthetically pleasing.

Here are a few observations from the first half:
  • Bridgewater's first interception came on a tipped pass, on a play where he threw late to Chase Ford after looking at Jarius Wright down the seam. Wright was open on the play, but Bridgewater hitched and threw late to Ford. He also had Cordarrelle Patterson open on a sack late in the second quarter, when Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket instead of throwing downfield, but when Bridgewater has trusted himself to throw, he's had opportunities. His first career TD pass was set up by a 38-yard strike to Greg Jennings down the middle of the field, and Bridgewater hit a nice comeback route to Wright on a field goal drive just before halftime. If Bridgewater is assertive, he's got room to work.
  • The Vikings have stayed committed to the run against the league's best rushing defense, and it's paid off so far. Jerick McKinnon has 42 yards on nine carries, as the Vikings have had some success running outside and staying away from the Bills' solid tackle tandem of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
  • Chad Greenway is back on the field, but he hasn't completely returned to his normal role; he's splitting snaps in the nickel defense with Jasper Brinkley.
  • Fox sideline reporter Peter Schrager said early in the broadcast that Mike Zimmer is still coaching with kidney stones on Sunday, and will have them removed on Tuesday. The Vikings said on Friday that Zimmer had a "minor procedure," and the coach returned to work on Saturday, but he's still evidently toughing it out today.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Hello from Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will try to improve to 3-4 this afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings will have linebacker Chad Greenway back on the field for the first time since Sept. 21, as he returns from three broken ribs. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was questionable to play with elbow and ankle injuries, will also be in the starting lineup for the Vikings.

Defensive end Scott Crichton will be active for just the second time this season, as the main backup for both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison now that Corey Wootton is out with a lower back injury. Crichton said the Vikings worked him at both left and right end this week, and put him on the top field goal unit. Wootton got only 10 snaps last week in relief of Griffen and Robison, but Crichton will likely see some playing time today.

The Vikings could be limited once again in how much they can move Anthony Barr to defensive end on third downs; they'd been doing that when both Hodges and Greenway were healthy, but had to curb it back once Greenway got hurt and Hodges had to play full time, instead of moving to Barr's linebacker spot in the nickel package. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings try to use Audie Cole or Michael Mauti in that kind of a role today, to free up Barr as a pass-rusher.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

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