Vikings defense weakens in 31-24 playoff loss to New York Giants – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell predicted his unit would “shine” in the playoffs. Instead, the defense stumbled again.

Minnesota could do little to stop the New York Giants in Sunday’s NFC wildcard playoff game at US Bank Stadium, losing 31-24.

The Vikings finished the regular season 11-0 in one-score games, 13-4. And now their season is over after losing a game by one point in the playoffs.

“This is probably the toughest loss I’ve had in my career,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, an 11-year veteran. “It hurts. … Thirteen wins, (I) really never smelled that.”

Cousins, who completed 31 of 39 passes for 273 passes and two touchdowns on Sunday, did what he could to try to keep the Vikings in the game. But he had few errors due to Minnesota’s shaky defense.

The Vikings, ranked 31st in total defense during the regular season, gave up 431 yards, including 266 in the first half as the Giants took a 17-14 lead. They couldn’t slow down Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 78 yards, 71 in the first half.

“It’s disappointing,” said Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks. “They have been able to bring some things down that we cannot allow. They activate quarterback run play.”

The Vikings, No. 3 in the NFC, were three-point favorites. But it will be the No. 6 Giants who went and are going 9-7-1 in the regular season. They’ll be playing at No. 1 Philadelphia next Saturday.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round - New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings tight end TJ Hockenson runs with the ball against New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at US Bank Stadium. Hockenson had 10 catches for 129 yards in the 31-24 season-ending loss.

Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports

“These guys, there’s some real tears in[the locker room],” said Vikings first-year coach Kevin O’Connell. “There are guys who expected to really have a chance to win a World Cup. … It’s going to haunt us for a long time.”

Running back Saquon Barkley gave the Giants a 31-24 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run, leaving 7:47 in the game. After that, the Vikings had two more chances to equalize.

Minnesota went out in a treble in his next series. After the defense stopped, the Vikings recovered the ball with 2:56 left. But fourth-ranked and eighth-ranked by the Minnesota 48, Cousins ​​threw to tight end TJ Hockenson just before the first-down mark, and he gained just three yards. The Vikings ran out of time outs and Jones took three knees to finish it off.

“I just felt like I was about to be sacked and I felt like I had to put the ball in play,” Cousins ​​said. “I can’t go down with a sack. So I just thought I’d throw it out on TJ.”

O’Connell pointed the finger at himself for the play call.

“The intention was to try to have a chance to win the football game by pushing the ball down and it just didn’t open up for Kirk and that’s on me,” he said.

The Vikings’ offense has been inconsistent, with Justin Jefferson catching just seven passes for 47 yards, including just one for seven yards in the second half, and Dalvin Cook carrying ten times for 43 yards. Hockenson rose with 10 catches for 129 yards.

But the main issues were defending against a team that ranked only 18th on offense in the NFL during the regular season. Barkley carried just nine times, but he had 53 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run that made the score 7-7 in the first quarter.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round - New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook gets swarmed by the New York Giants defense in the first half on Sunday, January 15, 2023. The Vikings had just 61 rushing yards in the season-ending loss.

Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports

“There were some issues with explosive, big plays,” O’Connell said. “They did some things schematically to maybe take advantage of some things we were doing. … We look at everything. That’s my job.”

O’Connell declined to speculate on Donatall’s future. But it’s safe to say he may not be back in 2023.

“This is playoff football,” Viking safety Camryn Bynum said of defense. “They will exploit any weakness. … At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough.”

The Vikings were good at the start, taking the opening push and rushing for 75 yards in 12 games to take a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard sneak by Cousins. But then the Giants took over offense.

The Giants went up 17-7 on Barkley’s first touchdown, a 1-yard TD pass from Jones to Isaiah Hodgins late in the first quarter, and a 25-yard field goal from Graham Gano late in the second quarter. The Vikings closed the gap to 17-14 thanks to a 9-yard touchdown by Cousins ​​on KJ Osborn by 45 seconds.

The Giants extended the lead to 24-14 with a 9-yard TD pass from Jones to Daniel Bellinger early in the third quarter. But the Vikings were able to tie the score on Cousins’ 3-yard TD pass against Irv Smith Jr. late in the third and a 38-yard field goal from Greg Joseph 12-34 in the game.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round - New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. scores for a touchdown against the New York Giants in the third quarter on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at US Bank Stadium.

Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

But when it came down to it, the Vikings couldn’t stop the giants. They made a 12-play, 75-yard drive to finally take the lead on Barkley’s second touchdown.

“We did a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t think we were going to do early in the season,” Jefferson said. “We’re proud of that. But we’re definitely not proud of losing and not progressing in the playoffs.”

Jefferson said the Vikings believed until the very end that they would come back to win another close game. But her incredible streak of winning so many of them is now over.

“I think you could say we’re 11-1 (in close games),” he said. “It’s a good record, but we lost a close one that we didn’t want to lose.”

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