The Vikings Get that Pre-Postseason Wake Up Call in Lambeau
The Vikings were “lambasted at Lambeau” on Sunday, and it didn’t look a whole lot better the next day, as the sadness-fueled hangover finally subsided on Monday afternoon. In fact, it looked a little worse.
The Vikings special teams dug a hole for the Purple, and the Packers offense and defense buried them in it. The San Francisco 49ers won an overtime thriller shortly after the Vikings deposited 41-17 into our collective misery memory banks and virtually cemented the third seed in the playoffs for Minnesota. There is not much good to glean from that Green Bay beatdown, and Purple optimism is waning like our New Year’s resolution enthusiasm.
So, today as we pick through the detritus of that debacle, too many negatives stick out. The Vikings have two injuries (joining Garrett Bradbury for three) to the offensive line, so patchwork protection is in the offing come Sunday in Chicago. Placekicker Greg Joseph reacquired the yips with two missed field goals that could have helped steady the ship early and give confidence to the troops. But the misses instead had the opposite effect, and now Joseph has to rally to find his own confidence again going forward.
The defense gave us little to be hopeful about as the first-quarter floodgates opened and there was no QB pressure or run stopping in sight to stem the tide. On offense, the MVP chants for Jefferson turned into a giddy griddy by Jaire Alexander, as he (with the help of bracket coverage and a safety over the top) shut down JJ like few have done this season.
Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins reverted to turnover Kirk with his hand in on four of them (although not all were completely his fault) and he appeared to regress before our eyes by missing open receivers, making the wrong decisions, and holding the ball too long. We’ve seen that movie before and haven’t enjoyed it much.
And head coach Kevin O’Connell finally looked human on the sidelines. His frustration with some of what he saw crept onto his face while some of his playcalling left something to be desired (the creativity that found ways to get Jefferson open all season was woefully absent). The game went so bad so quickly that he lost his mojo and his weekly ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat was left without effect. “The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog” AND a few “Holy Hand Grenades” wouldn’t have helped on this day.
What is left is to listen to the strengthening refrain of “frauds” coming from all corners of the NFL fan-es-sphere. The 12-4 record (with 11 one-score wins and four embarrassing, blow-out losses) that formerly lit like a brilliant holiday tree glistening in the snow is now blinking like a busted neon light in the wrong part of town. If you are what your record says you are, then how you played in the acquisition of that record says something, too.
Does that say the Vikings are frauds? Well, the 12 wins were nice, exciting, dramatic, and demonstrative of a decent team. But those four losses—now reaching a third of those 12 wins—came against two teams at .500 and two with similar records to their own. That doesn’t scream confidence, and it doesn’t trend toward great postseason performance where all the teams they’ll meet will have records similar to their own.
I’d like to say the Vikings respond well after a loss—and the record bears that out: they beat the Lions after the Philly loss, the Patriots four days after the Cowboys browbeating, and the Colts after the Lions (plus the first half against the Colts) loss. So that should bode well for…next Sunday against the three-win Chicago Bears. If they don’t rebound against a team playing for the second overall draft pick, problems are worse than we have imagined.
But Sunday’s game against the Bears will mean little to anyone with Purple blood in their veins—with the possible exception of me, as I will be sitting in the stands of Soldier Field for the first time trying to stay warm and not get a beer thrown on my head by a frustrated Chicago fan. Unfortunately, it is setting up to be the non-game I hoped against, as the Vikings very likely will end up with the third seed, win or lose. The game is expected to be an opportunity to rest players to get ready for the playoffs. (Certainly, the offensive line will be without Austin Schlottmann with a broken fibula and Brian O’Neill, who suffered a significant calf injury).
If Bradbury and O’Neill can’t go in the postseason, the Vikings’ chances for a long run are diminished. But not without hope. Part of the problem with Sunday’s Packers loss had to do with some poor footing on a bad track that certainly slowed the Vikings offense (and great route-running receivers who depend on a fast track). That will be mitigated at U.S. Bank Stadium in two weeks.
Therefore, I like the Vikings against the Giants (their likely opponent) at home, or anyone who might be visiting that first week of the playoffs. The Vikings beat New York on a last-second, 61-yard field goal—as is their fashion this season—so who is to say it won’t happen again? Not us.
This team is primed to run off a few more wins, starting Sunday at Soldier Field. Time to build back the mojo. And the optimism. And the excitement.