The 2023 Vikings Are Not Good, and That’s Okay
The mojo that the Minnesota Vikings had in 2022 is nothing more than a distant memory now.
After going 11-0 in one-score games in 2022, the 2023 Vikings have dropped three such games to begin the 2023 season. The Los Angeles Chargers, who are as chaotic in both good and bad ways as the Vikings, scored their go-ahead touchdown when Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans dropped an interception that went through his hands, bounced off of his facemask, and fell into the waiting hands of wide receiver Joshua Palmer.
It appeared that the Vikings were on the verge of scoring their own go-ahead touchdown on the following drive. After 11 plays and 75 yards, they found themselves at the Chargers’ 1-yard line. They then lost two yards on a second-down rush. Kirk Cousins threw two incompletions on the next two plays, turning the ball over on downs with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter.
They did force the Chargers to turn the ball over on downs on the following drive, setting the offense up to win with 1:41 left and trailing 28-24. Once again, they couldn’t capitalize. Cousins missed K.J. Osborn on what would have been a touchdown. After that, Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson gave fans a scare as they left the game briefly. Fortunately, both returned and Cousins found Hockenson for a nine-yard gain on 4th-and-5. Then, all hell broke loose.
The 4th down play took place with 41 seconds to go in the game. But with no timeouts, the Vikings inexplicably allowed the clock to run instead of spiking the ball. Instead of giving themselves three or four shots at the endzone, the Vikings chaotically lined up and snapped the ball with 11 seconds on the clock. Cousins tried fitting a pass to Hockenson at the goal line, but the ball got deflected into the air and was ultimately intercepted. The game, and, almost certainly, the season was sealed.
Many called the 2022 Vikings frauds for not putting teams away earlier and counting on late-game heroics to win. Fans would have gladly taken that to begin the 2023 season. But with the odds stacked against teams that begin seasons 0-3, it may be time to face reality. The 2023 season was always going to be about cleaning up the books and getting ready for 2024 and beyond.
Minnesota parted ways with the likes of Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, and Dalvin Cook in the off-season. They brought back older vets like linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Harrison Smith, but at reduced salaries. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell probably weren’t expecting to begin 0-3, but a trip to the Super Bowl would have been a tall task with nearly 18 percent of the dead cap being allocated to players not on the current roster.
The team will still sell hope as they travel to Carolina to face the Panthers, but regardless of the outcome, the Kansas City Chiefs loom a week later and could deal an unofficially-official death blow to the Vikings. But Sunday’s loss was more of the same. Despite the offense moving up and down the field most of the game, they struggled to hold onto the ball. After six fumbles over the first two weeks of the season and an emphasis on ball security all week, Hockenson fumbled on the Vikings’ first drive of the game. Running back Alexander Mattison let the ball pop out right after being declared down, giving fans heart attacks.
Some fans were nervous that defensive coordinator may only last one season in Minnesota, assuming that he would find a head coaching job following the season. But the Vikings have given up 905 yards over the past two weeks and have struggled to consistently pressure the quarterback despite sending constant blitzes.
Many analysts are hyping the 2024 NFL Draft as having one of the deeper quarterback classes in recent memory. Although it’s hard to put Sunday’s loss squarely on Cousins, the reality is that the Vikings have won one playoff game in his six-year tenure as the Vikings’ quarterback. It may not have solely been his fault for not spiking the ball before his game-sealing interception, but at some point a veteran quarterback needs to take control and know the situation.
To move forward in 2024 and beyond, the Vikings need to not grasp onto what has been comfortable but ultimately underwhelming. Perhaps 2023 is the first time that they find themselves with a top-five draft pick since the 2012 draft. From there, they could find their next quarterback, perhaps one that is cool, calm, and collected when a late-game situation goes haywire. It isn’t Cousins’ fault for the loss, but he’s getting older and hasn’t erased enough problems this year.
This may not be the beginning that fans had hoped for, but there is no more glossing over mistakes. The Vikings have a strong, young core and will have ample opportunity to supplement it once the off-season rolls around. Sure, there is the possibility that the Vikings will fool us with a four-game winning streak in November and we’ll be trying to convince our family members during Thanksgiving that the they can make a playoff run. But make no mistake, the attention should turn to 2024.
Fortunately, this should make Sundays less stressful moving forward. We can root against the Packers and Bears. But the heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat finishes from 2022 are no more in 2023. As Vikings legend Jared Allen said back in 2013, “embrace the suck”.