Trying to get Minnesota's secondary aligned right, Chad Greenway had his head turned as Buffalo quickly snapped the ball on a last-chance fourth-and-20.
The ninth-year veteran linebacker recovered enough from the split-second delay to match strides with tight end Scott Chandler, his former college teammate, on a route up the seam. But the ball thrown by Kyle Orton eluded Greenway's outstretched right arm and landed softly in Chandler's hands, giving the Bills a first down.
Seven plays and 36 yards later, the Vikings were beaten again.
"We got into those situations last year where losing those ball games is on the defense, and this just feels too weirdly similar to that," Greenway said after the 17-16 loss that came on a touchdown pass from Orton to Sammy Watkins with 1 second left and dropped the Vikings to 2-5.
Last season, the Vikings lost four times and tied once after leading in the final minute of the fourth quarter in all five of those games. The 15-play, 80-yard drive the Bills used to score Sunday had a familiar result for a team that gave up more points last year than any other team in the NFL.
Except this edition of the Vikings has been vastly improved on defense. They had six sacks and forced four turnovers against the Bills, allowing only 293 yards over the first 56-plus minutes.
That's what made the late lapse all the more frustrating.
"Got to get off the field," said safety Harrison Smith, who came up to tackle Chandler on the crucial completion. "We had them in positions where we could've, and those are what the good teams do. The good teams win the game right there."
At three times in his Monday news conference, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he should have called timeout before the fourth-and-20 play to give his players a chance to get settled. Sure, that would've stopped the clock for the Bills, but if Greenway wasn't looking the wrong way when the ball was snapped he would've had Chandler better covered.
Greenway was turned around motioning to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who was returning to position from the previous play and too deep at the time.
"I got to a good spot, but you've got to make the play in that situation," Greenway said. "Hand was right in the pocket, but the ball just didn't come out."
The Bills converted a third-and-12 on that drive, too, when Watkins beat cornerback Josh Robinson on a slant pattern.
"It was poor technique," Zimmer said.
Zimmer's agitation was palpable after the last two losses, to Green Bay and Detroit, but despite the frustration of the last-second defeat in Buffalo he struck a more optimistic tone regarding the performance and direction of his team.
"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."
The Vikings play at Tampa Bay (1-5) this week and host Washington (2-5) the game after that before their bye, so there is space for them to get in a groove and at least make themselves relevant down the stretch even if catching the Packers (5-2) and Lions (5-2) will be a long shot.
They have to start by winning a game or two. The amount of promising young players on the roster doesn't really serve as consolation.
"This is a now business. Everything is right now," Smith said. "You want to win right now. That's just the world that we live in. That's what we've got to do. We have to do it as fast as possible."
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