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Vikings spoil prime opportunity to gain ground in NFC playoff picture

New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) reacts after an interception during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 2.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With three quarters of the NFL season in the books, the Vikings still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.

That trend continued with a 24-10 loss to the New England Patriots (9-4) on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 2, at Gillette Stadium.

“We know what was at stake,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “We know losing this game lowers our playoff chances. We have four more games. We still have hope. We need to go in and go on a four-game winning streak and hopefully we get in the playoffs.”

While the loss itself was a gut punch to the Vikings’ playoff chances, it stings even more considering what happened in the hours leading up to the game. Before the Vikings even trotted on the field, they were winners from the standpoint that the Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, and Green Bay Packers all lost in noon starts.

It was a prime opportunity for the Vikings to gain ground. A win would have pulled the Vikings within a half game of the Bears in the battle for first place in the NFC North, and would have created a full game of separation over the Panthers in the wild card race.

Instead, the Vikings (6-5-1) fell to seventh place in the NFC playoff picture, on the outside looking in heading into next week’s pivotal Monday night game at Seattle. If the Washington Redskins lose to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, the Vikings could move back into sixth place.

Is that frustrating?

“I don’t think I’ve ever not been frustrated with a loss at any sport in my life,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It’s always frustrating. You’ve got to learn from it and move on to the next week. That’s how this league is.”

Still, most Vikings players claimed they aren’t looking at what goes on elsewhere in the NFL.

“To be honest, what happens to other teams and different scenarios like that doesn’t matter if we don’t win,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We didn’t get the job done tonight.”

While he acknowledged that “it’s hard not to pay attention” to the standings at times, Murray noted that it gets dangerous if a team becomes more concerned with what other teams than their own.

“You know, it’s like OK, the Bears lost and the Panthers lost,” Murray said. “Well, we lost, too. You know what I mean? It doesn’t matter if we’re not winning. It’s on to the next.

“We have to prepare and study and do all the things we need to do and figure out a way to win. We can’t make excuses. We can’t dwell on this game.”

A win over the Seahawks would help immensely. Until then, chalk this up as a missed opportunity.

“If we win games, we’re going to put ourselves in a position,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “It’s just important that we get it. If we can get in, anything can happen. That’s really where my focus is.

“(We) just want to put ourselves in position at the end of the 16 games to be in and then it’s a fresh start. You hit the reset button and go from there.”