The Minnesota Vikings nearly pulled out a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, despite trailing by 11 late in the game. The game ostensibly was sealed by a face-masking penalty against Vikings' right tackle Phil Loadholt that pushed the Vikings from the Packers' 15-yard-line back to the 40. Despite quarterback Brett Favre's near Herculean efforts, the Vikings fell just short of victory, however, not because of Loadholt's penalty, but because the offense, once again this year, failed to show for the opening of the game.
There were 13 games played in the NFL on Sunday. Of those, six involved winning teams that scored 30 or more points. Half of these winning teams scored on their first drive of the game.
More telling than first drive statistics was how winning teams performed on their first two drives of the game on Sunday. Of the teams that scored 30 or more points and won on Sunday, only Tennessee, starting a quarterback who had not played in a decade, failed to score on either its first or second drive. Of all winning teams on Sunday, only three failed to score on either the team's first or second drive.
What the numbers suggest is that winning correlates positively with success on the opening two drives of the game, with success measured by scoring drives. Given that the Vikings should have at least known that they would be involved in a relatively high-scoring game, they, thus, should have placed a far higher premium on their first and second drive than they apparently did. That they did not falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaches calling the same plays on opening drives, game after game after game.
On the Vikings' first drive, the team gained four yards on three plays in 1:54. On the second drive, the offense was equally inept, moving the ball five yards on three plays in 48 seconds. That's as abysmal as an offense can get, absent sacks and turnovers.
Most alarming about yesterday's Vikings' performance on the opening two drives was that this has become a trend for Minnesota. Through six games this season, Minnesota has yet to score any points on either its first or second drive of the game. That statistic is magnified by the fact that Minnesota has lost four games this year by an average of just over five points per game. A different outcome in quarter one might have been the difference between a win and a loss.
The four-point loss to Green Bay on Sunday leaves Minnesota standing at 2-4, with no road victories and one home loss on the season. After next week's game at New England, Minnesota should be favored to win at least seven of its final nine games. That means that the Vikings remain in an enviable position, even with a loss at New England. But being favored only means something if it translates into an actual victory. And if the Vikings do not come better prepared offensively for their remaining games than they have for their first six games, being favored will be little consolation to a team looking in on what should be a very beatable NFC field.
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