DENVER — It felt clunky from the jump for the Vikings. They had quarterback Josh Dobbs take a quick toss on their first possession. He fumbled and absorbed a big hit in the process.
That might as well have been a microcosm of the game, as the offense struggled to get into a rhythm, with the defense having to bail them out time and time again.
That ended up being too much to ask as the Vikings suffered a frustrating 21-20 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night at Empower Field.
Never mind that defensive coordinator Brian Flores provided a masterclass all night long as his group continuously rose to the occasion. That couldn’t make up for the fact that the Vikings fumbled twice, threw an interception, and turned the ball over on downs in the waning seconds.
Though it looked like Dobbs might be superhuman based on his performance over the past couple of weeks, he looked human on this particular night, unable to produce the same magic.
It was a rough start for the Vikings with a questionable play call at the forefront. It featured head coach Kevin O’Connell deciding to have tight end T.J. Hockenson take a snap under center on third and shirt, then pitch the ball to Dobbs in the backfield. It went about as poorly as expected with Dobbs taking a big hit and fumbling the ball.
Luckily for the Vikings, they managed to get a stop on defense, and the Broncos settled for a short field goal from kicker Will Lutz to make to make it 3-0.
The next time the Vikings got the ball, they relied heavily on the run, almost like they were daring the Broncos to stop them. It featured a healthy dose of running back Alexander Mattison and running back Ty Chandler, with both players slicing and dicing their way through the trenches.
The drive culminated with Dobbs doing his best impression of star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. On a designed rollout, Dobbs shook off a tackle with, set his feet near the sideline, then calmly delivered a strike to tight end Josh Oliver for a touchdown pass to put the Vikings in front 7-3.
After both teams traded field goals to make it 10-6, the Vikings got the ball back with an opportunity to take control. Instead, they failed to convert on third and short, then opted to trot out punter Ryan Wright rather than risk going for it.
That gave the Broncos a chance to score some points, and while quarterback Russell Wilson had the offense on the move, they ran out of time and Lutz converted on a long field goal to bring the score to 10-9 at halftime.
The tide slowly started to turn as the Vikings came out of the locker room and immediately forced a punt. On the ensuing possession, the Vikings methodically marched down the field, aided by a pass interference call that pushed them into the red zone.
That’s where Dobbs put the team on his back once again, recognizing man coverage on third down, then taking off and plowing his way into the end zone for a touchdown run to make it 17-9.
In position to potentially put the game out of reach, the Vikings were moving the ball with ease, only to have Mattison coughed the ball up near the line of scrimmage.
Though that put a stop to any thoughts of running away with a win, defensive coordinator Brian Flores made sure his group continued to rise to the occasion. That resulted in the Broncos having to settle for yet another short field goal to cut the deficit to 17-12.
The turnovers for the Vikings continued on the next possession, as Dobbs got hit while he threw, and cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian tracked the ball for an easy interception. It looked like the Broncos might take advantage, until receiver Jerry Jeudy dropped a ball in the end zone, and Lutz continued his career day to make it 17-15.
Perhaps realizing his team was in need of a spark, O’Connell dialed up a fake punt deep in his own territory. It worked like a charm with Chandler taking a direct snap and racing to the outside for a gain of 31 yards. A few plays later, Chandler added a huge reception on third down, then Dobbs converted on fourth down with a run up the middle. That set up a field goal from kicker Greg Joseph as the Vikings pushed their lead to 20-15.
After being allergic to the end zone for most of the night, Wilson got the ball back, and put the Broncos in position to take the lead. He finally broke the seal by floating a pass into the end zone where receiver Courtland Sutton made a spectacular grab to put the Broncos in front 21-20.
With a chance to win the game, Dobbs couldn’t get anything going, with his heave down field falling harmlessly to the turf to seal the loss.
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