EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Looking for a silver lining following the Vikings’ 38-26 loss at Washington? Allow us to present kicker Blair Walsh, who fought through a weekend bout with food poisoning, then had a perfect Sunday booting four field goals and producing touchbacks on all seven of his kickoffs.
Walsh is now third in the NFL in scoring, on pace to challenge David Akers’ NFL record for field goals in a season (44, set last year).
But upon further review, Walsh’s productivity also highlights the struggle that doomed the Vikings most Sunday: an inability to score touchdowns inside the red zone.
Three times in the first 13 minutes, the Vikings took the ball inside the 20.
All three times, they needed Walsh to secure their points, inching out to a 9-0 lead that could have been much bigger.
“Offensively, we need to turn those three points into sevens. Period,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “It’s not a game if we do that.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Vikings hit an electric fence near the east end zone at FedEx Field.
On three first-quarter possessions, they averaged 10.7 yards per play outside the red zone and only 2.2 yards per play inside the 20.
The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to blame questionable play-calling. That’s a hypothesis at least worth exploring — especially when considering that Percy Harvin, the do-it-all star who is widely being touted as an NFL MVP candidate, didn’t touch the ball on nine red zone plays in the first quarter.
On Monday, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier still was struggling to explain the missed opportunities.
“When that happens, when you get thwarted like we did in the red zone, you look at everything,” he said. “What we’re calling, the plays that we’re running, how we’re running those plays. … We’re going to go through it with a fine-toothed comb on what we could have done better.”
What went wrong?
After six games, the Vikings have made 22 red zone trips with 11 touchdowns, 10 field goals and the interception Christian Ponder threw with 22 seconds left Sunday.
That 50 percent touchdown rate ranks 17th in the NFL. And it’s an area the Vikings are vowing to address this week.
On Sunday’s opening drive, the Vikings needed only six plays to march from their own 20 to the Washington 10. But that’s where things stalled.
Peterson burst for 5 yards on first down. On second-and-goal from the 5, though, the Vikings faked a run to Harvin out of the shotgun and used tight end Kyle Rudolph only as a blocker.
That left just two receivers running routes, and Ponder forced a throw toward Devin Aromashodu, who was double-covered on a slant. Incomplete.
On third down, the offensive line failed to slow a four-man rush and Ponder was forced to retreat 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He scrambled right and eventually hit Toby Gerhart for a 3-yard gain to the 2 with the only throw available, leaving Walsh to kick a 20-yard field goal.
On the next series, the march into the red zone was effortless, the biggest play coming on a 23-yard dart to Harvin over the middle that pushed the Vikings to the Redskins 14.
But then Peterson’s first-down run lost 2 yards.
On second down, the Vikings kept Harvin on the sideline, going with three tight ends and one receiver, and Ponder’s rushed safety valve throw to Rhett Ellison was too high.
And a third-and-12 play resulted in a screen to Peterson that wasn’t well-blocked and netted 7 yards.
Here came Walsh again for a 27-yard field goal.
“Those are key situations,” Gerhart said, “If we score touchdowns there, it’s 21-0 and maybe they shut it down or change their game plan a little bit.”
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
The Vikings’ third possession began at the Washington 35, following an energizing interception by Antoine Winfield.
Ponder’s 19-yard completion to Michael Jenkins produced a third consecutive red zone trip. But again, the momentum quickly ceased.
First-and-10: Peterson found no daylight up the middle, a 1-yard run.
Second-and-11: With Peterson and Harvin on the sidelines, Ponder hit an underneath pass to John Carlson for 7 yards.
Third-and-4: As Peterson remained on the sideline, Gerhart’s draw was stuffed for a 1-yard gain.
Fourth down: Walsh kicked his third field goal, another 27-yarder.
Failing to convert that takeaway into a touchdown, Frazier believes, proved to be the most deflating stall of the game.
“When we got the turnover from Antoine, the emotion on our bench, it was like, ‘OK this is it,’ ” Frazier said. “We were getting ready to really put the pedal to the metal here.”
Instead, with another field goal, Frazier felt the positive energy transfer to the Redskins. Washington outscored the Vikings 24-3 in the second and third quarters and never looked back.