Vikings’ sleepy start, red-zone issues sting in loss to Rams

Published 6:42 am Monday, December 27, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Justin Jefferson said he could sense a lack of energy among his Minnesota Vikings teammates the moment he entered the locker room Sunday morning, and the feeling carried over into a lackluster first quarter.

Stalling near the goal line only exacerbated the Vikings’ problem against the Los Angeles Rams.

“I was trying to pick up the guys and everything, but still came out slow, still didn’t come out with that energy that we needed to, especially with this type of team,” Jefferson said.

Kirk Cousins threw his first red-zone interception of the season on Minnesota’s first drive deep into Los Angeles territory, and the Vikings had just two touchdowns on five trips inside the 20-yard line in Sunday’s 30-23 loss.

The defeat knocked Minnesota out of playoff position and further complicated the picture for the Vikings (7-8), who will need help even if they win their final two games. The Rams, on the other hand, are playoff-bound.

Cousins and his offense had a chance to jolt the team out of the doldrums on their second possession. They drove 84 yards to the Rams’ 8. Then Cousins’ pass to K.J. Osborn at the goal line went off the receiver’s hands and was intercepted in the end zone by Travin Howard.

“In this league, it just tends to hurt you when you don’t score touchdowns and you settle for field goals,” Cousins said.

Only one of Minnesota’s first nine possessions went longer than 15 yards.

Minnesota did force three interceptions of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, including two that gave the Vikings the ball within the red zone.

“For sure, we definitely let (the defense) down,” Jefferson said. “I felt like they played a tremendous game, especially with those three turnovers. We’ve got to find a way to get in the end zone, score, put points on the board, and it’ll be a different game if we do that.”

After linebacker Anthony Barr came up with his first interception, Minnesota had the ball at the 11-yard line. Cousins was sacked on the first play and the Vikings settled for a field goal to make it 10-3.

The second interception, by Xavier Woods, was followed by a six-play, 11-yard drive and a punt.

After Barr’s second interception on a tipped pass early in the third quarter, Alexander Mattison punched in a 2-yard touchdown run on the first play following the turnover.

“When you get interceptions and turnovers, you want to score,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t know if that’s complementary football or not, but it wasn’t good enough today.”

Late in the third quarter, Minnesota drove 83 yards and had first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Cousins threw a 5-yard pass to Osborn, Mattison was stopped by Aaron Donald for a 2-yard loss and Cousins’ third-down pass to Mattison was incomplete — and well short of the end zone.

“I think we should be more aggressive when we get down there, as soon as we get down there,” said Jefferson, who broke Odell Beckham Jr.’s record for receiving yards in a player’s first two NFL seasons with 2,851 yards. “But I’m not the one calling the plays. I’m just here to do my job and do what’s told to me. But we can’t get down in the red zone that many times and come out with three points.”