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Vikings’ defense falters in 31-24 playoffs loss to New York Giants

The Vikings went 11-0 during a 13-4 regular season in one-score games. And now their season is over after losing a one-score game in the playoffs.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks in the third quarter of an NFC Wild Card game Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Giants won 31-24. Hodgins had eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell predicted his unit would “shine” in the playoffs. Instead, the defense stumbled once again.

Minnesota could do little to stop the New York Giants in Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium, losing 31-24.

The Vikings finished 11-0 during a 13-4 regular season in one-score games. And now their season is over after losing a one-score game in the playoffs.

“This is probably the toughest loss I’ve had in my career,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, an 11-year veteran. “It hurts. … Thirteen wins, (I) really haven’t sniffed that before.”

Cousins, who completed 31 of 39 passes for 273 passes and two touchdowns on Sunday, did what he could to try to keep the Vikings in the game. But he had little margin of error due to Minnesota’s shaky defense.

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The Vikings, who ranked No. 31 in the NFL during the regular season in total defense, gave up 431 yards, including 266 in the first half when the Giants took a 17-14 lead. They couldn’t slow down Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards, 71 in the first half.

“It’s disappointing,” Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “They were able to get some stuff downfield, which we can’t let happen. Them activating the quarterback run game.”

The Vikings, the No. 3 seed in the NFC, were three-point favorites. But it will be the No. 6 Giants, who went 9-7-1 in the regular season, moving on. They will play at No. 1 Philadelphia next Saturday.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson runs with the ball against New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium. Hockenson had 10 catches for 129 yards in the 31-24 season-ending loss.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports

“These guys, there’s some real tears in (the locker room),” first-year Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. “There’s guys that expected to really have a chance to win a world championship. … It’s going to sting us for a long time.”

Running back Saquon Barkley gave the Giants the lead for good at 31-24 with 2-yard touchdown run with 7:47 left in the game. The Vikings still had two more chances after that to tie the score.

Minnesota went three-and-out on its next series. After the defense came up with a stop, the Vikings got the ball back with 2:56 remaining. But on fourth-and-8 from the Minnesota 48, Cousins threw short of the first-down marker to tight end T.J. Hockenson, and he gained just three yards. The Vikings had no timeouts left, and Jones took three knees to wrap it up.

“I just felt I was about to get sacked and I felt like I got to put the ball in play,” Cousins said. “I can’t go down with a sack. so I just thought I’d kick it out to T.J.”

O’Connell pointed the finger at himself for the play call.

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“The intent was to try to have a chance to win the football game with pushing the ball downfield, and it just didn’t open up for Kirk, and that’s on me,” he said.

The Vikings’ offense was uneven, with Justin Jefferson catching just seven passes for 47 yards, including just one for seven yards in the second half, and Dalvin Cook carrying 10 times for 43 yards. Hockenson did step up with 10 catches for 129 yards.

But the primary issues were on defense against a team that ranked just No. 18 in the NFL during the regular season in total offense. Barkley only carried nine times, but he had 53 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run that tied the score 7-7 in the first quarter.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is swarmed by the New York Giants' defense in the first half Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Vikings could only muster 61 rushing yards in the season-ending loss.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports

“There were some issues with explosive, big plays,’’ O’Connell said. “They schematically did some things to maybe take advantage of some things we were doing. … We’re going to take a look at everything. That’s my job.”

O’Connell declined to speculate on the future of Donatall. But it’s safe to say he might not be back in 2023.

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“It’s playoff football,” Vikings safety Camryn Bynum said of the defense. “They’re going to exploit every weakness. … At the end of day, we weren’t good enough.”

The Vikings were good at the start, taking the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard sneak by Cousins. But then the Giants’ offense took over.

The Giants went up 17-7 on Barkley’s first touchdown, a 1-yard TD pass from Jones to Isaiah Hodgins late in the first quarter and a 25-yard field goal by Graham Gano late in the second quarter. The Vikings were able to close the deficit to 17-14 thanks to a 9-yard touchdown from Cousins to K.J. Osborn with 45 seconds left in the half.

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The Giants extended the lead to 24-14 on a 9-yard TD pass from Jones to Daniel Bellinger early in the third quarter. But the Vikings were able to tie the score on Cousins’ 3-yard TD pass to Irv Smith Jr. late in the third and a 38-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with 12;34 left in the game.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. catches a touchdown against the New York Giants in the third quarter Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

But when it counted, the Vikings couldn’t stop the Giants. They went on a 12-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead for good on Barkley’s second touchdown.

“We did a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t think we were going to do from the start of the season,’’ Jefferson said. “So we’re proud of that. But we’re definitely not proud of losing and not able to go on in the playoffs.”

Jefferson said the Vikings continued to believe until the very end that they would come back to win yet another close game. But their incredible streak of winning so many of them is now over.

“I guess you could say we’re 11-1 (in close games),’’he said. “It’s a good record to have but we lost a close one that we didn’t want to lose.”

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