If you were to script three weeks that would capture the history of a franchise, the last three weeks in Minnesota may be about as spot on as you could get. The Vikings have never been one of the worst franchises, and they have often been among the best, but their history is littered with coming up just short, often when appearing to be the favorite. They had the big upset loss in Super Bowl IV, three more Super Bowl losses in the 1970’s, and the 1998 championship game loss to the Atlanta Falcons after a 15-1 season.
At least we can say that the fans have been toughened up for the start of the season. The Vikings have now tied a dubious mark. Only 4 teams in NFL history had managed to lose three different games in a season when they were leading by double digits at halftime – the 1999 Cowboys, 1990 Vikings, 1987 Bengals, and 1983 Chiefs. Those teams spread it out over the course of a full season; this year’s Vikings have managed to do it in three games.
The latest may have been the most soul-crushing. Against the division rival Lions, who they had beaten 13 straight times in the Metrodome, they built a surprising 20-0 halftime lead, and could have been right back in division mix after two tough losses, with the Bears and Packers also going head to head.
Not only have the Vikings been blowing leads at the historic leads, but we have also seen the Bills come back against monumental odds. Yesterday’s win over New England was the largest lead that a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team has ever lost. The Bills were down 21-0 yesterday after being down 21-3 at the half against Oakland a week earlier. Altogether, we have already had 3 large comebacks where teams were down by more than 2 touchdowns at the half (Detroit vs. Minnesota, Tampa Bay vs. Minnesota, and Buffalo vs. Oakland).
How crazy is this? Forget about what specific teams have done in the past. There has been only one season in NFL history (1965, if we combine AFL & NFL) where 4 different regular season games had a team come back to win from a 15+ point halftime deficit. From 1970 to 1977, before the passing rules were expanded, there were a total of 2 large halftime comebacks, in 1484 games. We are at 3 through 48 this year.
These are rare events. They likely won’t continue at the same pace. But it’s also no coincidence that a league wide spike in passing numbers is also taking place at the same time these rare events are happening. It’s early and the weather will bring the numbers back a bit, but teams are averaging more passes than ever, throwing fewer interceptions, completing a higher percentage, and at a higher yards per attempt than any year in league history.
We have had 33 games where a quarterback has thrown for 300 or more yards so far this year, by far the highest ever at this point. The most ever was in 2009 (104) and we have more than 80% of the season left to play. I talked about the rise of 300 yard game wins two years ago, and now, it seems that almost everyone is passing and passing more, to come from behind but also to try to extend leads or hold the ball in the second half. If you can’t do that effectively, and your running back can’t run for first downs, that’s the recipe for blown leads.
On Sunday, here were the Vikings’ results in the second half, from the point they were ahead 20-0, to trailing 23-20: 6 runs by the running backs for 5 yards, 1 QB scramble for 3 yards, 10 pass attempts, with 3 completions for 32 yards (1 first down) and 1 sack for -7. In the modern NFL, you need to not only pass it well to get leads, or to come back from deficits, you now need it to hold them as well and prevent comebacks. That has been why Minnesota, with a limited passing offense, and a running game that has been limited in the second half of games when playing with a lead, is now 0-3 despite leading by double digits in each game at half.
[photo via Getty]