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Vikings Corner: Inability to close out games is sign of trouble

Eight weeks into the NFL season and the Minnesota Vikings are 7-1, but only two of those games have come against play-off caliber teams, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The others have been against the league patsies or otherwise inferior .500 ball clubs.

Minnesota's loss at Heinz Field two-weeks ago came against one of the best teams in the AFC. In that game the Steelers literally escaped with a victory, coming largely from two long defensive touchdowns in the game's final seven minutes, but it was a lackluster start that handcuffed the team, not allowing any room for error.

Minnesota again got a strong effort out of their defense, but could not take advantage. They punted five times, including three-and-outs on their first two possessions, and by halftime had amassed only 122 yards.

Although it's the only loss for the Vikings this year, it highlights a major problem with the team. The inability to execute one of the most basic of coaching mantras, play four quarters of football and close out the win. Of course it's easier said than done, but if you're to be a Super Bowl caliber football team you have to be more consistent.

In Green Bay on Sunday the game finished much closer than it should have. After a completely dominating first half, the Vikings scored quickly to start the 3rd quarter, but fell apart after that.

The offense couldn't move ball the rest of the quarter, they had three possessions and failed to get a first down. Worse was a Brian Robison fumble on a kick return.

Green Bay took full advantage, adjusting their offense to get rid of the ball quicker; they scored on four-straight possessions and pulled within four points. It wasn't until Green Bay missed a field goal did Minnesota regain control.

That disastrous quarter is a part of the grim pattern played out this year.

In the season opener in Cleveland, the Vikings were down three at halftime, same with Detroit in week two. The following week it took a miraculous last-second 32-yard touchdown catch by Greg Lewis, his only catch of the year prior to the Pittsburgh game, to beat San Francisco. It wasn't until their fourth game, the Monday night circus against Green bay, was Minnesota able to play an all-around solid game.

The Vikings did beat an inferior St. Louis team by 28 points, but the Rams really beat themselves. They threw an interception in the end zone and fumbled three times. First on the one-yard line then the three, the other one was returned for a touchdown. That's a 28 point swing.

Finally, against Baltimore, the Vikings jumped out to a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter. The Ravens made a furious come-back with three late touchdowns, the final two in a span of four plays, but missed a 44-yard field goal with no time remaining to lose.

With only one loss, the Vikings record looks impressive, until you notice the teams they've beaten are a combined 11-26. There's no debating that the Vikings are a talented team, capable of playing lights-out football, but unless they play more consistent they won't be making a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl.

"We're more focused on us this week than anything," said coach Brad Childress referring to the bye week. "So we do a lot of self scouting things where things kind of jump at you and you go, 'Jeez you realize we do that?'"

The bye week allows the coaching staff to focus on the team without the players. As they do Chilly needs to look back and focus on those breakdowns, realize that the team may win, but they don't close.