The Vikings walked into Charlotte injured. They limped out with another offensive line injury, which calls into doubt their ability to sustain themselves the next three weeks.
Left tackle Riley Reiff left in the third quarter with an ankle injury. According to Ben Goessling of the Mineapolis Star Tribune, Reiff was carted to the locker room, and was wearing a walking boot after the game. He didn’t talk to reporters, and coach Mike Zimmer’s reaction to questions about his level of concern was: “I don’t know.”
They were already playing without center Pat Elflein because of a shoulder problem, and right tackle Mike Remmers missed his fifth straight game (two with a back problem after three with a concussion).
That left them scrambling when Reiff went down, with replacement right tackle Rashod Hill flipping to the left, and Jeremiah Sirles came in to play right tackle, amid their other preexisting moves. Nick Easton, who competed for and lost a guard job, was starting at center for Elflein.
As a result, quarterback Case Keenum was sacked six times and hit seven times, well off the normal level of protection he’s enjoyed.
“I think [offensive line coach] Tony Sparano does a great job of shuffling those guys around in practice,” Keenum said. “Heck, I got a lot of snaps with Nick Easton in the preseason, as far as being at center. He has played the position, too, for a long time. You move them around and do lots of different things. It takes some adjustments, but I think communications-wise, they do a great job.”
The Vikings have been here before. They were 5-0 last year when the injuries arrived in bulk, and a 3-8 finish derailed their hopes. They’ve built up a bigger margin this time, but if Reiff’s missing time, it might be hard to avoid a similar fate.