Sacks doom Vikings in loss to Broncos
DENVER -- The leaves fall in October and so does Teddy Bridgewater.
Last year as a rookie, the Vikings quarterback hit the ground 14 times in three games during the month, including an eight-sack game against Detroit. On Sunday at Sports Authority Field, there was more October misery for Bridgewater, who was sacked seven times in a 23-20 loss to Denver.
Denver's final takedown doomed Minnesota. With 35 seconds left and the Vikings facing second-and-10 from their own 47-yard line, Broncos safety T.J. Ward ran untouched from the left side into the Vikings' backfield and stripped the ball from Bridgewater, with linebacker Von Miller recovering the fumble to secure the win.
"I put that on me," said Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who missed the block on Ward. "I've got to come through and make that block for Teddy."
Bridgewater did not want to point any fingers for the sacks, which totaled losses of 57 yards. Some offensive linemen, though, were willing to accept at least some of the blame.
"We'll put it on our shoulders," said guard Brandon Fusco. "We've just got to go in and watch the film and just learn from this. They had some great rushers across the board."
The Broncos have ferocious pass rushers, especially edge guys Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who each had a sack while making their presence known throughout the afternoon. Ward had two sacks.
"They have some great rushers and we didn't block them good enough," said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who admitted the speed of Denver's defense initially caught his team by surprise.
The Broncos went ahead for good on a 39-yard field goal by Brandon McManus for a 23-20 lead with 1:51 left in the game. That followed a 55-yard drive that included Denver quarterback Peyton Manning shaking off some erratic play.
Manning completed 17 of 27 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was intercepted by linebacker Anthony Barr in the second quarter and safety Harrison Smith in the fourth, allowing the Vikings (2-2) to stay in the game.
The Broncos jumped to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. The key play was a 72-yard touchdown run by Ronnie Hillman early in the quarter for a 10-0 lead.
"The long run was a bad call on my part," Zimmer said.
In their previous two games, the Vikings' defense allowed just 128 yards rushing on 44 carries. The Broncos (4-0), who entered the game next to last in the NFL in rushing with an average of just 57.0 yards, finished with 144 yards on 24 carries.
The Vikings cut the deficit to 13-3 with 1:39 left in the half on a 38-yard field-goal by Blair Walsh. But Walsh, who has been erratic since the start of the preseason, also missed a 38-yarder in the second quarter.
With 32 seconds left in the half, Manning gave the Vikings some much-needed life when he threw an interception that Barr caught at the Minnesota 41 and returned 32 yards to the Broncos 27.
"He just threw it right to me," Barr said. "I don't think you expect that from any quarterback, but you take what you can get."
That led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Mike Wallace with 12 seconds left in the half, cutting the deficit to 13-10.
Despite the constant heavy pressure, Bridgewater completed 27 of 41 passes for 269 yards.
The Vikings fell behind 20-10 early in the fourth quarter and looked doomed. But with 10:01 remaining, Peterson broke through Denver's line on fourth-and-1 and scored on a 48-yard run to trim the margin to 20-17.
"(The line of scrimmage) seemed like the Red Sea," said Peterson, who carried 16 times for 81 yards after having two straight 100-yard games. "It just opened up."
Manning then threw his second interception, a ball Smith picked off at the Minnesota 47. That led to a 33-yard field goal by Walsh, tying the score 20-20 with 5:11 remaining,
"You have to have a short-term memory in this league as a quarterback," Manning said. "We had two disappointing turnovers."
Manning made up for it by leading the Broncos to the winning field goal. The Broncos have been living on the edge much of the season, but late-game heroics by Manning are a key reason they remain undefeated.
For the Vikings, it was yet another road loss. Since the start of the 2013 season, they are 2-15-1 away from home.
Minnesota is 0-2 on the road this season. Still, Zimmer was encouraged by how his players never gave up.
"We got a lot of fighters on this football team, and there's a lot of football left," Zimmer said.
For now, there will be a lot of time for the Vikings to stew over Sunday's loss. They have a bye in Week 5 and don't play again until Oct. 18 against Kansas City at TCF Bank Stadium.