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Short passing game not translating to Vikings victories

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sam Bradford is on pace to set an NFL record for completion percentage, but he's not exactly being touted for the Pro Bowl. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback has completed 71.3 percent of his passes this season, better than the rec...

Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) gets pushed out of bounds by Detroit Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs (hidden) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) gets pushed out of bounds by Detroit Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs (hidden) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Sam Bradford is on pace to set an NFL record for completion percentage, but he's not exactly being touted for the Pro Bowl.

The Minnesota Vikings quarterback has completed 71.3 percent of his passes this season, better than the record of 71.2 set by New Orleans' Drew Brees in 2011. That percentage, though, hasn't been translating into wins.

Minnesota (6-5) has lost five of its past six games. Since Pat Shurmur took over as interim offensive coordinator on Nov. 2 and began to call quicker and shorter passes, Bradford has completed a staggering 77.9 percent in four games. Yet the Vikings lost three of them.

After completing 31 of 37 for just 224 yards in a 16-13 loss at Detroit on Thursday, Bradford said the Vikings must "find a way to create some explosive plays.''

Bradford, who averaged a season-low 7.2 yards per completion in the game, said it's "hard when you're only picking up five, six, seven (yards) at a time.''

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If Vikings coach Mike Zimmer agrees with what Bradford said, it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement he gave Friday.

"I would agree that we need to score more,'' said Zimmer, whose Vikings rank 26th of 32 NFL teams with an average of 19.8 points per game.

An inability to convert on third down played a key role in Minnesota not scoring much Thursday. The Vikings, excluding two first downs they got on penalties, were just 2 of 10.

On those 10 tries, nine times Minnesota sought to get a first down by passing. Seven times Bradford threw short of the sticks and didn't get a first down.

Only once did he throw beyond the sticks, a 10-yard reception by Cordarrelle Patterson on third and 7 in the third quarter. On Bradford's final pass of the day, he threw short of the first-down marker on third and 7 at the Minnesota 28 and the ball was picked off by Lions cornerback Darius Slay at the 33. His 13-yard return led to 40-yard field goal by Matt Prater for the win as time expired.

"A lot of the factors are the first read or second read is covered,'' Zimmer said.

It's been a delicate balance for the Vikings on offense. Shurmur went to the short passing game to help protect Bradford behind an injury-riddled offensive line and to make up for a shaky running game.

"We're trying to get a mixture of runs and throws in there,'' Zimmer said of getting the ball out quickly and trying to get to the first-down marker. "And we've got to do a better job on third down because, obviously, we didn't do a good enough job there (Thursday).''

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Bradford wasn't sacked and Zimmer said he got hit just three times, which was "pretty good.'' But Bradford rarely threw downfield.

He completed just one pass longer than 21 yards, and that was when he threw 1 yard to running back Jerick McKinnon in the third quarter and he took advantage of a Lions breakdown to gain 41 yards.

"I thought we were pretty aggressive the whole day,'' said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. "We were taking what they were giving us.''

Nevertheless, Bradford said the Vikings must be "more explosive.'' So how could that be accomplished?

"There's always a combination of things,'' Zimmer said. "Sometimes it's play selection; sometimes it's trying to just take your shots when they're presented to you.''

Overall, Minnesota had 306 yards total offense, which was more than the 293.3 they had averaged in Shurmur's first three games. That was helped by the Vikings rushing for 82 yards, their best showing under Shurmur.

The loss, though, dropped Minnesota one game behind Detroit (7-4) in the NFC North, and the Lions hold the tiebreaker. The Vikings are just a half-game behind Washington for the second wild-card spot in the NFC, and Zimmer insisted all is far from lost.

"Even when were in the playoff mix, we didn't ever talk about it,'' he said. "We just talked about the next game, and that's all we're going to continue to talk about. ... We'll find out how we want to fight. ... I think (the players still) believe.''

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Next up is a Dallas team with the NFL's best record at 10-1. It might take both explosive plays and scoring more to beat the Cowboys.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGSFOOTBALL
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