By BRIAN HALL
The Minnesota Vikings were still holding postseason hopes this past week even though they started the season 0-3 and had lost double-digit halftime leads in each game.
Minnesota will have a tough time talking about playoffs -- or anything other than a rebuilding season -- after Sunday's 22-17 loss at previously winless Kansas City. Only one team in NFL history has recovered from a 0-4 deficit to make the playoffs, the 1992 San Diego Chargers.
The Vikings also have the obstacle of playing in perhaps the best division in football. The NFC North features the two teams that played in the conference title game last season as well as up-and-coming Detroit. The Lions went to 4-0 on Sunday. Green Bay was undefeated heading into the week. Chicago is 2-2.
Minnesota, at least, could find something to build on after playing three dominant first halves against potential playoff teams in San Diego, Tampa Bay and Detroit, losing by a combined 14 points. There is little to take from dropping a game to the Chiefs, who were 0-3 and outscored by a combined 82 points. Kansas City had been hurt by as many key injuries as any team in the NFL too, including explosive running back Jamaal Charles and defensive leader, safety Eric Berry.
So, what was learned from Sunday's loss?
1. McNabb's hold on the top spot is sure to be temporary.
After the game, Frazier said a switch isn't in the plans, but if the Vikings are truly out of playoff contention, there aren't many reasons left to continue with McNabb. It could be time to see if rookie first-round draft pick Christian Ponder is ready. There was a talk amongst fans and internet comments to turn to Ponder after last week's loss to Detroit. Expect the movement to take on even more momentum this week. Bringing in McNabb was a logical choice for a team that believed it could make the playoffs. Now, with the playoffs seemingly out of reach, Ponder has had two months to soak in the team's offense and adapt to life as an NFL player. McNabb isn't Minnesota's only problem, but it's obvious he can't bail out the inconsistent Vikings either. McNabb was 18 of 30 passing for 202 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. On the ill-fated, final drive, Minnesota had driven to Kansas City's 36-yard line. McNabb followed with two straight passes being tipped at the line of scrimmage. He then misfired low on third down and overthrew a covered receiver on fourth down.
2. Teams will continue to load up against Adrian Peterson.
Minnesota coaches vowed to keep Peterson involved and they didn't forget about him this time around, but he still found it tough running against a team loaded up to stop the run. The Vikings' passing attack is doing nothing to keep defenses honest and Peterson is seeing eight- and nine-man fronts as a result. Peterson could be trying to do too much, often being indecisive at the line of scrimmage instead of hitting any crease with authority. Peterson can hardly be blamed for trying to make something happen. He's a playmaker and Minnesota is looking for more plays. Peterson finished Sunday with 23 carries for 80 yards. With teams loaded up to stop Peterson, receiver Percy Harvin has actually been a big play threat on reverse plays. Harvin had four carries for 67 yards against the Chiefs.
3. The Vikings aren't good enough to overcome bad penalties.
Minnesota entered the game second in the league in penalties and the infractions have seemed to come at the worst times, nullifying big plays. It continued Sunday. The Vikings had six penalties for 45 yards and the penalties made sustaining drives tough for a struggling offense. This time, a defensive penalty was a big one. Defensive end Everson Griffen was penalized on a missed third down, which gave the Chiefs new life and resulted in their first field goal. Minnesota did manage to overcome two penalties on its first touchdown drive.
4. Third downs continue to be a problem.
Converting third downs has been a season-long issue and the Vikings still haven't been able to figure it out. Between McNabb's inaccuracy, penalties and too many third-and-long situations, Minnesota can't convert third downs consistently. The Vikings were 5 of 14 on third downs against the Chiefs. Three times on Sunday, missed third-down plays led Minnesota to try fourth-down attempts. McNabb converted the first attempt to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. In the fourth quarter, McNabb hit Bernard Berrian -- just his second catch of the season -- on fourth-and-14 to set up a touchdown to Michael Jenkins. Converting the big fourth-down to Berrian seemed to awaken the Vikings. Unfortunately, they ran out of time and downs on Sunday.
5. The tight ends can help whoever is at quarterback.
All preseason, Minnesota coaches said the tight ends would be heavily involved in the offense. They were used very little the first two weeks, but their use has been growing the past two weeks. Shiancoe became a key target for McNabb on Sunday, catching several important passes, especially on third- and fourth-downs. Shiancoe had six catches for 58 yards. Kyle Rudolph added three catches for 44 yards, including a big 41-yard catch down the sideline. Finally becoming consistent targets, tight ends accounted for half of McNabb's completions.