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Vikings have mastered losing big leads

Anyone searching for the secret to success in the NFL can find it simply by recognizing what not to do.

Such as coaching not to lose. Or playing a prevent defense, particularly before the final minutes. Or going ultraconservative on offense when in the lead. Or failing to convert third downs.

All are formulas for failing to protect a lead in the NFL. All were perfected by the Vikings, Texans, Eagles and Patriots this weekend.

The Vikings are the poster children for blowing leads. They have been ahead at the half by 10, 17 and 20 points, outscoring opponents 54-7. Then they go into the locker room and, basically, stay there.

In the second half, Minnesota has been outscored 67-6 and has an 0-3 record to show for it. The Vikings have achieved that without turning over the ball in the second half, and are a plus-1 in turnover margin overall.

They also are 1 for 15 trying to convert third downs in the second half, while their defense has allowed 13 conversions out of 22 chances.

There are two words for such numbers in the NFL. Ugly is one. Winless is the other.

"A lot of teams wouldn't have come out with the energy and effort that our team came out with today," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the Lions erased a 20-point deficit and won 26-23 in overtime. "We battled right until the end."

That is the NFL equivalent of whistling past the graveyard. Less than a month into his first full season as Vikings coach, Frazier has a slew of issues to deal with, from damaging penalties to strange play-calling - Adrian Peterson ran five times after halftime against Detroit - to a sense of the inevitable.

As in the inevitable defeat.

"We are making some similar mistakes when it comes to penalties. Not really the same people making the mistakes, but the penalties have been costly," he said. "The games have come down to the last play sometimes, so they have been a factor, along with our being able to convert third downs, our being able to limit points allowed in the second half. Those have been things that have crept up in the second half of games."

Nobody crept up on the Patriots or Texans in Week 3. Anvils dropped on them in the form of prolific offenses in Buffalo and New Orleans.

That doesn't excuse some of the ailments plaguing each team.

Yes, the Patriots (2-1) can score with anyone and Tom Brady is off to the fastest passing start in NFL history. New England also can't cover anyone, isn't producing much of a pass rush and, shockingly, is making mistakes when it has a lead.

The Pats were beating their patsies, the Bills, 21-0 in the first half Sunday, seemingly on their way to a 16th straight victory against Buffalo. Instead, Brady - whose streak of 358 regular-season passes without a pick ended in Week 1 - started hitting defenders in stride.

Four picks later, the Bills were kicking the winning field goal to take the AFC East lead, and the Patriots were looking perturbed and puzzled.

"There were a lot more (mistakes) than there should have been. We've got to learn from it and get better," safety Josh Barrett said. "We've just got to do more across the board. We've got to lock receivers down. We've got to do a better job on their big-play guys from making plays. It comes down to just getting off the field when we need to."

For years, Houston has been plagued by having porous defenses that kept its potent offense off the field, a major reason it's never made the playoffs since joining the league in 2002. Against New Orleans, in a game with five lead changes, the Texans wasted a 26-17 fourth-quarter edge and fell 40-33.

There is no shame in losing to the Saints. There is much concern when a team stops pressing the issue, especially against a strong opponent. Houston's blown lead and ultimate demise can be pinned on its weakness in the red zone, settling for four field goals.

"We had some great opportunities on the offensive side of the ball with a nine-point lead to make some plays that we didn't make," coach Gary Kubiak said.

"We just did not close the game."

In a game that was a litmus test.

"We came into the game wanting to know where we are as a football team," star receiver Andre Johnson said. "Everyone battled and left it all out there on the field, but we just didn't score seven points when we needed to. ... and playing against an offense like (the Saints'), you have to score seven instead of three."

The Eagles have spent two straight weeks falling behind, surging ahead, then flopping. Against the Giants in a 29-16 defeat, they were frazzled by a hand injury to Michael Vick and by the Giants' ability to get unheralded receivers in favorable positions against their ballyhooed secondary.

For Philadelphia, the 1-2 start and failure to hold onto a pair of leads might have as much to do with cohesiveness as strategy. It's hard to put together a "Dream Team" so quickly.

AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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