Moral victories are a fool’s errand in the NFL, the high stakes of a 16-game season at the mercy of fate’s cold hand.
You are what your record says and the 2-2 Vikings have revealed plenty about themselves entering the bye.
Dysfunctional at times in all three phases but resilient throughout when slammed against a wall, irritated by squandered chances but optimistic about opportunities created.
Losing 23-20 Sunday to a superior Broncos team leaves the Vikings where they should be after the first quarter of the season. There is plenty to like, much to criticize and ample room to grow.
“We’re angry but we’re going to walk out of here with our heads high,” said defensive end Everson Griffen.
This was the same guy who spit invective from a nail gun after the Vikings’ inexcusable no-show in a 20-3 Week 1 loss at San Francisco, a nationally televised embarrassment that prompted deep soul searching.
“We’ve got 12 games left so we can’t let this be the definition of us going on the down slope,” said Griffen. “We’ve got to keep our heads up and keep fighting.”
The first rule in this fight club was to talk, talk, talk about fighting back.
The Vikings battled back from a 10-point deficit to tie the game 20-20 late in the fourth quarter.
Adrian Peterson clawed out of the first-half quicksand to finish with 81 yards on 16 carries, gashing Denver for a 48-yard score that swung momentum.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was stalked by a ferocious Broncos pass rush that sacked him seven times but integrated eight receivers on 27 of 41 passing for 269 yards and a touchdown.
The defense responded to Ronnie Hillman’s 72-yard rushing touchdown by leveraging a pair of Peyton Manning interceptions into 10 points.
“Man up!” coach Mike Zimmer barked at halftime to his overwhelmed offensive line, according to left guard Brandon Fusco. The unit paved a thoroughfare to the end zone for Peterson to cruise untouched on fourth and inches from midfield.
“I love the way the guys fought,” said Peterson. “We’re going to continue to grow. We’ve got to make sure we start faster and adjust faster to what’s presented. There were some missed opportunities you can’t get back.
“There’s lot to look back on. I feel like we’re OK. We’ll be good.”
Physical, double-digit home victories over Detroit and San Diego betrayed how good the Vikings can be when they physically dominate the line of scrimmage, battering opposing quarterbacks and tenderizing defenses with Peterson’s power running.
They were never good enough to beat the undefeated Broncos either way in one of the league’s most hostile environments.
Face the fact that Blair Walsh no longer is a money kicker but a high-wire act destined to rob Minnesota in the win column. Perhaps he did Sunday.
He butchered three easy points in the second quarter when he yanked a 38-yard field-goal attempt. Hillman promptly scored on Denver’s next drive, punctuating a 10-point swing. Walsh made field goals of 38 and 33 yards but there is no redemption in simply performing one’s job.
The Vikings had the ball with 1:51 remaining. Bridgewater was sacked, forcing another third and long. He scrambled to convert Minnesota’s sixth third down of the game, getting down at midfield with less than a minute to play.
But the pocket quickly collapsed again. T.J. Ward strip-sacked Bridgewater, Von Miller recovered and Manning’s victory formation was at hand.
“This was one of those games that you had to be perfect,” Bridgewater said.
Parity rules in the NFL, assuring the Vikings will find themselves in another tie game in the fourth quarter, fate in their hands again, perhaps on the road, perhaps during another imperfect performance in which they “man up” late.
The moral high ground is proving they are man enough to take it.