NFL: Botched punt play sinks Vikings

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Mike Zimmer is a big fan of signs with sayings. So much so that he covered the walls of the Winter Park Fieldhouse with a bunch of them after being hired last January as Vikings coach.

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Mike Zimmer is a big fan of signs with sayings. So much so that he covered the walls of the Winter Park Fieldhouse with a bunch of them after being hired last January as Vikings coach.
Last week, Zimmer pointed to a sign that read, “Tough teams win in the 4th quarter.’’ He said his team needed to have that philosophy Sunday against Miami at Sun Life Stadium, and he continued to preach the message throughout the week.
So what happened against the Dolphins? The Vikings wilted in the fourth quarter.
Following a bounced snap from Cullen Loeffler to Jeff Locke, Miami defensive end Terrence Fede blocked a Locke punt out of the end zone for a safety with 41 seconds left to give the Dolphins a 37-35 win.
“It’s not a good day for us,’’ Zimmer said. “It was a poor performance by us.’’
The Vikings were outscored 23-18 in the fourth quarter. After Miami had taken a 28-20 lead, Minnesota did come back for a 35-28 advantage. But the Dolphins weren’t done.
Ryan Tannehill, who completed 35 of 47 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns, led Miami on an 80-yard drive that culminated with a 3-yard TD pass to Damien Williams with 1:11 remaining. Then came a disastrous Minnesota drive.
Starting at their 13, the Vikings lost two yards in three plays. That set the stage for the blocked punt.
“I saw the ball on the ground, so I was like, ‘Forget the hold-up, I’m going to go try and block the kick,’’’ Fede said. “It felt amazing.’’
Feeling the same way was Miami coach Joe Philbin. After there being plenty of rumors he would be fired, Philbin was told by owner Stephen Ross after the game he would be back next year.
There were no feelings of ecstasy after the game on the Minnesota side. Zimmer was terse while addressing the media. He said he was a “little stronger’’ in how he spoke to his players.
“He was very ticked off that we let another one slip away that we should have won,’’ said Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
The inability to finish wasn’t just a fourth-quarter problem. For the second straight week, the Vikings couldn’t win after taking a 14-0 second-quarter lead. On Dec. 14, they lost 16-14 at Detroit.
The Vikings got off to their hot start thanks to strong play by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, returning to play in his native Miami for the first time since he was a senior in 2010 at Northwestern High School. Bridgewater completed 19 of 26 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, including a 21-yarder to Greg Jennings in the second quarter for the 14-0 lead set up by a Harrison Smith interception.
After that, though, the Vikings had a stretch in which they were outscored 28-6.
Minnesota did get an 8-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Jarius Wright and a Matt Asiata two-point conversion with 4:46 left in the game to tie the score 28-28. And they got an Asiata 5-yard TD run for a 35-28 lead with 4:35 left after Miami’s Marcus Landry fumbled a kickoff. But it didn’t hold up.
“That pretty much sums up the season right there,’’ Smith said. “We had opportunities to close and we haven’t closed enough times.’’
The defeat assures the Vikings (6-9) will have a losing season for the fourth time in five years. It also made Zimmer wonder why his players didn’t heed so much of what he’s been telling them.
“We made way too many mistakes,’’ Zimmer said. “We had penalties in crucial situations of the game. All the things I’ve been trying to preach for 11 months we didn’t do. Critical errors in the field, red zone. … We couldn’t cover anybody. We didn’t rush and we didn’t cover. … We did things I haven’t seen in a long time.’’
The Vikings had eight penalties for 74 yards, including three that Zimmer called “ridiculous” and “undisciplined.’’ Those were two personal fouls by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd on the same play in the first half for roughing the passer and slapping a Miami player in the helmet and a personal foul by linebacker Gerald Hodges in the second half.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had the key penalty of the game. On third and 14 at the Minnesota 18 with 1:16 left, he was called for interference on Mike Wallace. That moved to the ball to the 3, and the Dolphins (8-7) tied the score 35-35 on the next play.
The Vikings also had a Bridgewater interception in the third quarter that led to a Miami touchdown. But that really wasn’t the rookie’s fault since the ball bounced off the hands of Asiata before being snared by Miami defensive end Derrick Shelby.
“We just made too many mistakes to win this game,’’ Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater did have a shot to pull the game out late. Starting at his 13 following Williams’ score, Zimmer said the Vikings wanted to “be aggressive because we had been moving the ball real well.’’
Bridgewater had a two-yard run followed by a Minnesota timeout. He then threw an incompletion and was sacked for the fourth time, leading the Dolphins to call timeout with 45 seconds left.
Then it was Miami’s turn to get aggressive by blocking Locke’s punt. Minnesota’s meltdown was complete.

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