MINNEAPOLIS -- For 57 minutes, the Minnesota Vikings put together what would have stood up as their best defensive performance of the season, if not for what happened in the game's final three minutes. The Vikings had forced four turnovers, sacked Kyle Orton four times and held the Bills to 10 points, in a game that was one defensive stand away from a Vikings victory.

But it's what happened on that final drive that commanded most of the attention after the game, and deservedly so. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink of defeat several times on a 15-play, 80-yard march, only to give Buffalo new life on a series of coverage breakdowns.

Though the result was the same as the four games the Vikings lost on last-minute touchdowns last season, the approach wasn't. Nearly a year after defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams criticized former defensive coordinator Alan Williams for being too timid in a final-drive loss to Dallas, the Vikings blitzed Orton four times on the final drive, sacking him twice on blitzes and using a number of creative fronts that bumped tackles Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson out to wide alignments.

The breakdowns at the end of the game, though, are what will stick out about an otherwise impressive performance.

"This is a 'now' business," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everything is right now; you want to win right now. That's just the world we live in. We have to (develop) as fast as possible."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defensive performance after a film review of the 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer alluded to the Vikings getting burned by their aggressiveness on the final drive, and while his blitzes worked, Josh Robinson's press coverage of Sammy Watkins on a third-and-12 didn't. Watkins, who has two inches and 12 pounds on Robinson, quickly fought off his jam and got inside for a 20-yard gain on a slant. "Poor technique," Zimmer said of the play. Robinson had inside leverage on the play but is still learning to press effectively and needed to throw off Watkins' timing on the route.
  • Floyd had what might have been his best game of the season, thanks to a game plan that moved him around the Vikings' defensive front. Floyd had a sack and two hurries, one of which came after he lined up over the left tackle and chased Orton outside the pocket. Joseph's sack on the final drive also came from a three-technique spot, and Everson Griffen's third sack came when he worked a stunt with Floyd after the Vikings showed a seven-man blitz and rushed four.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr was targeted early and often on shallow crossing routes, but the rookie had a monster day, registering 10 tackles, ranging back to break up a pass, recovering two fumbles and rushing Orton on 11 of Zimmer's 13 blitzes. He missed several tackles and also blew up another screen pass, showing great reaction time to take down fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. It wasn't a complete performance for Barr, but it was an impressive one, which once again hinted at the rookie's potential to be a dominant player once he figures everything out.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers said he has had an open-door policy ever since he became the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator in 2009.

Maybe his players have been walking through that door more often of late.

 Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams attributed the Packers' defensive improvement over the past five weeks, in part, due to improved communication between the players and coaches.

"Whether it's the head coach or it's Dom, at the end of the day we're the ones out there, so we have to be comfortable," Williams said Monday. "I think the communication line has been really [going] well between coaches and players, and the understanding has been really good between us of understanding what we see on the field, trusting what they see on the film and in their game plan and adding that all in together and coming up with a game plan."

The Packers remains near the bottom of the NFL in several key defensive statistical categories, but they did climb out of last place in rushing defense (they're now ahead of only the Cleveland Browns) this week. However, the past five games have seen far better production. Only four teams allowed more points in the first two weeks combined than the 60 that the Packers gave up to the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

In the five games since, they have allowed just 17.4 points per game. That's fifth-best in the league.

Last week in practice, Capers did at least one thing that could be directly attributed to input from his players. He and coach Mike McCarthy devoted an entire period to working on the read-option that they were sure to see plenty of from the Carolina Panthers. And they rendered it ineffective in Sunday's 38-17 rout of the Panthers.

"The more looks you get, the better you play things," Williams said. "I think we've done a good job of that over these past few weeks of doing that and getting better looks. Guys know where they have to be and how it's going to look in the game."

Also in recent weeks, Capers ditched the "quad" package -- essentially a 4-3 alignment that he had never before used in Green Bay until the season opener -- although he said the players had no issues with it and that it remains on his call sheet.

But against the Panthers, Capers unveiled an alignment the Packers call "NASCAR" that features four outside linebackers on the defensive line without any traditional linemen.

McCarthy has a leadership council made up of several veteran players, and Capers said he welcomes the input.

"To me, it's not what I know or what I think," Capers said. "They have to know and believe in it and go out and execute. That's so important. We've got good guys on this team, and I always tell them, 'Hey, if you've got anything on your mind, you let me know.' Because it doesn't do me any good if I don’t know about it. Yeah, I'm always interested in the way they feel because they’re the guys that have to go do it and do it with confidence."
GUILDFORD, Surrey, England – Calvin Johnson might slowly be making progress toward his return to the field.

While the Detroit Lions wide receiver wouldn’t say he is healthy and wouldn’t say he is going to play when the Lions face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, he did say he has done “just a little bit” of work on the field -- a sign of progress on his injured right ankle.

“I’m still working, working to get on the field each and every week,” Johnson said at a Play60 event soon after the team arrived in Europe. “If I’m good enough to play, I’m going to play. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Johnson has missed the past two games with the injury and has not been fully healthy since Week 3, when he injured the ankle against Green Bay. He practiced just on Fridays but played during Weeks 4 and 5 before aggravating the injury against Buffalo.

He hasn’t practiced or played since.

Johnson said he’s feeling good. As a soccer fan, he also likely would enjoy playing his version of football in Wembley Stadium if he is healthy enough.

“It’d be a great experience,” Johnson said. “Looking forward to it.”

One of the byproducts of Johnson’s injury has been Matthew Stafford gaining trust in other receivers beyond Golden Tate. That includes Corey Fuller, who caught the game-winner Sunday against New Orleans, and Jeremy Ross, who has been part of the passing plan each week.

In Johnson’s absence, Tate has turned into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Tate is third in the NFL in receptions (48), sixth in receiving yards (649) and first in yards after catch (344). He has been a big reason why Stafford has been able to trust receivers and why the Lions are 5-2.

“I think we’ve done that. Each of us has stepped up in our own way and once we get [Johnson] back, the chemistry is just going to grow between all of us, you know,” Tate said. “I think Matt trusts that he doesn’t have to go to 81 all the time and he can rely on those guys to make some plays and help them out and we’re just excited about that.

“He’s no question one of the best players in the league and we’re going to take off and we’re just going to continue to work hard.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's afternoon in Buffalo on Sunday was a menagerie of all the things that make a rookie quarterback's development a messy process: missed targets, hesitation, impressive strikes down the field and important throws at key moments in the game. At the end of the day, the Minnesota Vikings lost 17-16, Bridgewater had an unimpressive box score (15-for-26, 157 yards, his first NFL touchdown pass and two interceptions) and coach Mike Zimmer had reason to hope his rookie quarterback was headed in the right direction.

"That's what we see every day out of him," Zimmer said of the third-down throws Bridgewater made to extend several drives. "He made a great throw to Jarius (Wright); two of them, I think. There are a lot of positives to take from this game. Even though it's going to show up as a loss, I do think there are a lot of positives of where we can go from here."

Here are some observations about Bridgewater's day, and the rest of the offense, after a film review of the Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Bridgewater
    Bridgewater said he was overthinking things in the first half, and that might not have been more evident on any play than the first interception he threw, when he passed up deep throws to Wright and Greg Jennings on third-and-7, escaped the pocket and threw late to Chase Ford on a ball that was intercepted by Leodis McKelvin after it was deflected by Brandon Spikes. Both Wright and Jennings were waving their arms downfield, and Wright appeared to have his man beat at the moment Bridgewater broke the pocket, looking for Ford. If Bridgewater had stayed on Wright a split second longer, he might have had a touchdown. It's a throw that requires some brass, and it's a play we're used to seeing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees make, but Bridgewater's mobility gives him the chance to extend plays the way those quarterbacks do. It'll be an even better weapon for him as he uses it to open things up downfield.
  • Bridgewater blamed himself for holding the ball too long on several sacks, and the Vikings protected him a little more effectively than they did against Detroit the week before, but the line still had trouble handling the Bills' stunts, and breakdowns on the left side of the line were to blame for a couple of the Bills' six sacks. Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson appeared to think the other one was responsible for Marcell Dareus on Buffalo's first sack -- both blocked him initially before turning away to block other players, and Dareus surged through to drop Bridgewater. And in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater said he checked out of a run from the Bills' 14-yard line, adding he shouldn't have planned to throw there. But the Bills had seven men near the line of scrimmage and single coverage on the Vikings' three receivers before Jerry Hughes beat Kalil with an inside move.
  • Running back Jerick McKinnon got his 103 yards the hard way, gaining 57 of them after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but the Vikings found some innovative ways to neutralize the league's top run defense. Fullback Jerome Felton's first carry in a Vikings uniform, which went for 21 yards, came on the backside of an unbalanced line that had two tight ends on the opposite side of the field. The Vikings also ran toss plays away from the Bills' two tackles (Dareus and Kyle Williams), with McKinnon gaining 19 yards on four plays outside the tackles.

The Film Don't Lie: Bears

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Chicago Bears must fix:

Head coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer -- even the players -- constantly harp on the need for the Chicago Bears to eliminate the turnovers, and if the club doesn't start to take some steps in that direction, it faces a long day at Gillette Stadium on Sunday against the New England Patriots, who come into this contest with 10 days of prep time.

It all starts with quarterback Jay Cutler, who has spotted opponents an average of 9.25 points just off turnovers in each of the team's four losses. In each of the club's defeats, Cutler turned over the ball on multiple occasions. And while Cutler understands turnovers are the root of the problems, he's got to take corrective steps to keep his team out of the binds.

As a playcaller, Trestman can help.

Against the Miami Dolphins in the first half, Trestman -- despite the luxury of having one of the NFL's hottest backs in Matt Forte -- called just two runs, which isn't conducive to keeping opponents off balance to allow Cutler to operate off play-action. But it also places the offense in too many difficult-to-convert, third-and-long situations.

You've got a horse. Ride him, and keep the team's fate out of the hands of Cutler, who completed three of 11 passes for 52 yards and an interception on throws of 15 yards or more downfield against the Dolphins, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears play a West Coast offense, which emphasizes a short, controlled passing attack. Yet Cutler insists on throwing vertical despite teams working feverishly to take that away. That partially explains why he's got the NFL's fourth-worst completion percentage (32.4 percent) on deep balls and has thrown five interceptions on such attempts, which is tied for second most in the NFL.

Trestman needs to emphasize to Cutler the need to simply take what defenses give him. In turn, the quarterback needs to stop giving it away. Ten turnovers in seven games (seven interceptions and three fumbles) is enough.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

On their final defensive series in their 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings allowed 91 passing yards, including 22 after the catch. They gave up 130 yards after the catch Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and are 20th in the league in limiting gains after the catch this season.

Although they'll face the league's worst after-the-catch team this weekend, the Vikings can't afford to let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get their offense going on broken plays.

For all his impressive moments in what's been an outstanding rookie season, linebacker Anthony Barr might be the Vikings' biggest culprit in allowing gains after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, no player has allowed more yards after the catch than the 256 Barr has given up this season. Although he's proven to be a force against screen passes, as he can read and react, he's still learning how to make open-field tackles after dropping back in pass coverage. The Bills ran a number of shallow crossing routes designed to get their receivers matched up against Barr in coverage; they targeted him 13 times on Sunday and completed 11 passes that saw their receivers gain 66 of their 92 yards after the catch. Pass coverage is the only part of the game in which Barr still looks like a rookie, and the Vikings will have to go through the learning process with him, but the sooner he develops, the quicker they'll likely be able to limit gains with the ball in a receiver's hands.

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

It's not that the Packers' punt return game has been ineffective -- actually it's been more than respectable at 10th in the NFL in average yards per return (9.6) -- but as good as their returners have been, they probably should have broken one for a touchdown by now.

They had at least one good chance in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. Randall Cobb matched the team's season best with a 24-yard return in the second quarter, but according to special-teams coach Shawn Slocum, the blocking was not good enough to spring Cobb all the way. It will have to be much better this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints have allowed an average of just 3.6 yards per punt return this season. That's the second-best mark in the league.

"[We're] not close enough [to breaking a long return]," Slocum said. "We need to get that done. I look at those plays, they're good plays, but we could have gotten a lot more."


"Just finishing blocks a little better," Slocum said.

The Packers have returned one punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons. Cobb had one in each of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, while safety Micah Hyde pulled one off last season.

The Packers remain committed to splitting the return duties between Cobb and Hyde. Each has a long punt return of 24 yards this season. Cobb's average (10.75 yards per return) is slightly better than Hyde's mark of 9.8.

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

The Detroit Lions shored up some of their pass-blocking woes the past two weeks, but in order for them to beat the Atlanta Falcons and go on a run to the playoffs, the Lions have to find a way to restore their running game to a semblance of what they had last season.

Coach Jim Caldwell has a stated goal of having his team run for 4 yards per carry as a metric of success. Neither of his main backs, Reggie Bush or Joique Bell, has come close to that mark. Bush is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, Bell 3.3 yards per carry.

So the suggestion on how to fix this might be a little bizarre, but the Lions should move away from a split-carry approach and give more of the touches to Bell, who has 84 carries to Bush’s 49. That number is skewed, though, because Bush has been dealing with an ankle injury. But Bell has looked like the more explosive and decisive runner this season.

Bush still has the chance to be special, but the Lions should be using him in select spots where he can be a game-breaker and let Bell handle the brunt of the load. It’ll give Bell more of a chance to get to understand a defensive scheme and hunt for holes throughout the game.

“It gives me a lot better rhythm, but they kind of planned [a more run-heavy approach] from the beginning,” Bell said. “We knew we were going to be a little more run-heavy. As a running back, you kind of like that, being able to go out there and kind of put the team on your back.”

None of the Lions’ running backs has been able to do that consistently this season, so picking the younger player with fewer yards on his legs to handle the most carries could be the smarter option. Last season was Bell’s first with more than 200 touches. Bush has had more than 200 carries -- not counting receptions -- the past three seasons.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are supposed to be landing in England right about now, making the choice to head over the Atlantic Ocean early -- similar to their opponent this Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons -- instead of waiting until later in the week to do so.

The reason was not one out of nowhere. It was, as almost everything else in the NFL is, meticulously studied and strategized for.

“We looked at the teams that had gone over late, weighed that out with teams that got over early and got acclimated,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We looked at all the parameters.”

That came from first-hand experience from trips offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and secondary coach Alan Williams had taken to Europe along with the research of every team that had played a game there in the past.

The verdict -- go over, get settled and make it as much like a normal week of work as possible. So while trips to Big Ben and Parliament would be nice -- the team is staying on the outskirts of city the majority of the week before a weekend in Inner London -- they are trying to make this as businesslike as possible.

That includes not disrupting their typical work week with a mid-week jaunt across the ocean.

And when they looked at things, they looked at every possible metric.

“Every single thing,” Caldwell said. “Every place we’re going to stay, the hotels, you know how this league is, very rarely do you leave anything to chance. We know what the practice facility looks like. Our trainers have been over there already, not recently, but in the spring.

“…There are not too many things that happen in this league that all of a sudden you say, ‘Hey, guess what, we’re going to London.’"

No, everything about this trip has been meticulously planned from the outset and that is part of the plan as the league also takes a look at whether or not they’ll eventually try to place a team overseas.

Caldwell believes all of these games -- including playing an afternoon game in London this Sunday equating to a 9:30 a.m. game in the United States -- are test runs for that potential future.

“I’m sure that will be something that will certainly be entertained at some point in time with the popularity of our sport. The difficulties that you have to deal with, I think some of these games are a test run for that,” Caldwell said. “Give you a sense of what it would take and some of the issues that pop up. All the teams that been there before and all of us that are going, these kinds of things have to be dealt with and worked out and do I think it’s possible? Absolutely, I think it’s possible.

“But nevertheless, it takes a little bit of a reconnaissance mission and I think that we’re going to win a game but I think there’s things from an educational standpoint in terms of being able to function over there on a daily basis that we’ll certainly get a good idea.”

This week, the Lions are part of that recon mission themselves.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he stepped to the podium for his postgame news conference in Buffalo on Sunday, following a 17-16 last-minute loss in a game he coached while fighting off pain from kidney stones, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer looked as drained as he had all season. Zimmer talked about the progress he'd seen with the Vikings despite the loss, and it wasn't hard to sense he had realized turning the team around was going to be a longer project than just one season.

One of the enjoyable things about covering Zimmer is his Monday news conference, when he's taken some additional time to reflect on the game after watching film and generally has some insightful thoughts about the direction his team is going. On this particular Monday, Zimmer was keenly aware of the balance between coaching one of the league's youngest teams -- which has lost several veterans to injuries already this season -- and working in a business as fixated on current results as the NFL.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesMike Zimmer called the Vikings' coverage on one particular Sammy Watkins play, "poor technique."
"I don't want to ever give the indication that we're thinking about the future or anything like that," Zimmer said. "I understand that we're a young football team, I guess is what I'm saying. And that we're going to have some learning experiences with some of these situations. We've got a young quarterback, we've got some young guys in the back end. And these things are all learning experiences for them."

The Vikings' inexperience showed up in several situations at the end of the game on Sunday, particularly on a couple plays with cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson, who failed to reroute Sammy Watkins and gave up an 18-yard completion on a slant on third-and-12. "It was poor technique. Poor technique," Zimmer said. Two plays later, Rhodes got beat on a jump ball at the 2-yard line by Chris Hogan.

"It was a double move, and when Xavier made the first move, he transferred his eyes back to the quarterback and he kind of got out of position -- just a little bit, not bad," Zimmer said. "But he recovered, because he does have outstanding recovery speed, he recovered, had the guy on the sideline, had him on his back, and the guy went up and made the catch. Other than, when you get in that position, make the play -- that's the thing I talk to the players about. Part of my job is to get them in the right position to be able to make the play. When they get in position, their job is to make the play. He's been in those positions a lot, and made an awful lot of plays. I think receivers in the NFL, and the quarterbacks, they're going to make some plays, too."

Then, Rhodes played too far inside on Watkins' game-winning touchdown, giving up the sideline instead of forcing Watkins toward the Vikings' inside safety help. "It's getting to understand splits, getting to understand help, getting to understand formations and where you're supposed to be. I anticipate he will never make that mistake again."

Zimmer seems to genuinely enjoy the process of helping players develop, and he's been through enough projects with young defenses to know things won't get fixed overnight. That doesn't make the developmental stage any easier, particularly when wins and losses will dictate his fate in his current job more than any he's ever held. On Monday, though, Zimmer ultimately sounded hopeful.

"My expectations weren't going into the year, 'We're going to be this record or that record,"' he said. "It was about how we perform each and every ballgame and then kind of add them up at the end. I still feel that exact same way. I don't know that you can say after seven games, 'we are what we are,' only because of the fact that there's been so much change of what's going on. I think the quarterback will continue to get better, I think the young secondary will continue to get better, I think when guys realize -- I think that the emphasis that we've placed on certain things we've continued to get better. And I think if they'll realize the importance of all these little things we're talking about, we'll continue to get better. My expectations really have not changed whatsoever."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Running backs coach Sam Gash had the official count, but Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements did not need an exact number to know running back Eddie Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers.

"I think Sam has the number, but I think it was in the teens," Clements said Monday. "So that's quite a few."

It was perhaps Lacy's most efficient performance of the season. Without the benefit of a big run (he had a long of 29 in his 105-yard game against Minnesota in Week 5), Lacy rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries with a long gain of 11. His 5.3-yard average was his best other than the Vikings game (8.1-yard average).

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with more than half of his yardage (34) after contact.

"We actually talked about that, T.J. [Lang] and I," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said Monday. "We were kind of standing around a couple plays, looking like [expletives], you know, not blocking and Eddie's just squirting out of there. He probably did it four or five times. It was impressive."

It wasn't just Lacy who was breaking free from Panthers' defenders. Receiver Randall Cobb worked the short and intermediate routes and turned them into big plays. He caught six passes for 121 yards, 89 of which came after contact according to PFF.

In its initial film review, PFF charged the Panthers with 11 missed tackles, but that could change by Wednesday, when it posts its revised numbers.

"I think we had 16 broken tackles at halftime," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's unbelievable. That's off the charts."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman called cornerback Kyle Fuller day-to-day after the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Month suffered a fractured right hand, and right hip pointer injury in Sunday's 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Fuller is not expected to need surgery on his broken hand, but he failed to finish the Dolphins' game because of the injured hip.

Fuller's status is unknown for the Week 8 trip to New England to face the 5-2 Patriots.

"Up to this point today, I've heard it [the broken hand] as being a non-surgical issue," Trestman said.

"He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand, so we'll just see. He said he felt good today, but it'll be day to day. I don't know that the hand will deter him. I don't know that, I haven't talked to [the training staff] about it. But that's what I understand at this time."

The No. 14 overall selection of the 2014 NFL draft, Fuller replaced Charles Tillman (injured reserve) on the first team in Week 2, recording three interceptions and three forced fumbles in five starts.

Fuller's third-quarter exit on Sunday forced the Bears to play Sherrick McManis at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings, with Demontre Hurst lining up at nickelback.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Of the 15 plays the Buffalo Bills used to cover 80 yards and score their final touchdown in a 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, there's unequivocally one the Vikings wish they could have back.

"Fourth-and-20," safety Harrison Smith said. "Game over."

The play, in which Bills quarterback Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler on a 24-yard strike just behind linebacker Chad Greenway, was still on players' minds in the postmortem analysis of the game. The Bills stressed the Vikings' defense with quick snaps a few times on Sunday, and while the Bills went into a no-huddle offense for the play, which came after Tom Johnson's third-down sack, Greenway was communicating a coverage adjustment to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn when the ball was snapped, putting the linebacker a half-step behind in his coverage drop.

"You look back -- I've watched the tape a couple times now -- and you wish you could change something, but it's hard to stop the clock when a team's driving on you in (a) two-minute (drill)," Greenway said. "A timeout, that's not my decision. All I remember is looking back and seeing that Captain was real deep, from trying to get back from the last snap, and we weren't lined up. I was trying to give him the call, and the ball was on top of us. I got to a good spot, but you've got to make the play in that situation. My hand was right in the pocket. The ball just didn't come out.

Asked if he would have had a better chance to knock the ball down if he hadn't been working on coverage adjustments with his head turned when the ball was snapped, Greenway said, "I wouldn't have been in that position, but that's on me. I can't blame anybody else for that."

The Bills have the fourth-fastest rate of play of any team so far this week, according to ESPN Stats & Information, averaging a snap once every 35.5 seconds of real time on Sunday. The Bills sped up their offense at a few different points, but a two-minute drill will obviously increase their pace, and it was in that situation where things got hectic for the Vikings.

"When you go fast, and it's one of those situations, (you're thinking), 'What's the down and distance? How many timeouts are left?'" Smith said. "When it's a two-minute, you're thinking, 'Keep them in bounds, clock running.' But when it's fourth down, it doesn't matter what the clock's doing. If you stop them, the game's over. There's a lot to process there, when they go no-huddle, kind of quick. I think that's why they do that."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson hasn't played in two weeks and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell won't tip off whether that streak is going to extend to three.

Johnson continues to recover from a high ankle sprain in his right ankle, suffered in Week 3 against Green Bay and then aggravated again in Week 5 against the Bills. Johnson hasn't played since and while he'll travel to England with the Lions this week to face the Atlanta Falcons, whether he plays will be up in the air.

Johnson told ESPN "maybe" following the Lions' win against New Orleans when asked if he would be playing Sunday against the Falcons.

Caldwell, though, said it'll either be a full Calvin Johnson or no Calvin Johnson when he makes his return. The Lions have an off week following the London trip before the second half of the season begins.

"It's not going to be a thing of degrees," Caldwell said. "When they say he's cleared, he's ready to go and he’s feeling great, when they doctors say, OK, that's when it's going to happen. It's not going to be a whole lot of in between."

Johnson has missed six straight practices, was doubtful in Week 6, questionable in Week 7 and did not play in either game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.