Purgatory is not a place, or a feeling, but a state of being.
Classical Catholicism describes it as temporary punishment after death — a brief damnation before their souls can be allowed into heaven — but I like to think of it in more relatable terms.
Purgatory is when you arrive at the DMV and there are 87 people ahead of you in line.
Purgatory is when your airplane pushes off from the gate and is stuck on the tarmac for two hours before you can take off.
Purgatory is watching your favorite football team dominate for the majority of the game, and then somehow, almost comically, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Sunday evening in Minneapolis, fans were once again treated to the type of performance that has the Vikings sitting at 4-6, instead of 7-3. Beautiful, well-executed drives and defensive stands were contrasted with jaw-dropping turnovers, confusing play-calling, and head-scratching lapses in defensive coverage.
It’s important to realize that growing pains were always to be expected. An influx of youthful, inexperienced starters coupled with an injury bug has put Mike Zimmer and the defensive roster in a disadvantageous position this year.
But execution has been horrendous at many key points during the season — and a common theme has reared its’ ugly head: the Vikings aren’t quite good enough to win important games, but not quite bad enough to be completely devoid of hope.
Amongst the good and the bad, three plays from Sunday’s game really stick out.
The first is the blown tackle — if you can even call it a tackle — on Tony Pollard to lead to a 42-yard touchdown.
What is Chris Jones doing? As Jonathan Vilma said in the clip, “If you don’t want to tackle him, who do you think is going to tackle him?”
Star cornerbacks — most notably Jalen Ramsey — have been hung out to dry in the media for not tackling to avoid injury. Did the third-year pro make an ill-timed “business decision”? Or did he get lost in the moment?
The second play is a dropped pass late in the game by Justin Jefferson.
Second-and-six with just under two minutes remaining — and needing a touchdown to win — Kirk Cousins threw a perfectly placed pass to Jefferson who was wide open across the middle of the field.
Rather than gaining what seemed like 15 or more yards, Jefferson dropped the ball, showing a rare glimpse of rookie error in an otherwise outstanding season.
The third play that sticks out is the game-winning touchdown by the Cowboys.
The Cowboys caught the Vikings in a state of confusion, leading to a wide-open touchdown by Dalton Schultz.
Who missed their assignment, you might ask? Harrison Smith. The usually all-pro quality veteran made a crucial error in a game in which nothing seemed to be going right for the Vikings defense.
Add all three of these plays up for yet another missed opportunity for the Vikings to secure a victory in a one-score game.
And really, what’s new?
Throw them in with the infamous Alexander Mattison failed fourth-down run to seal the game in Seattle.
Or the horrendous two-point conversion attempt from the same game in which Kirk Cousins tried to score on a designed quarterback draw.
All I see here is pain. Horrible execution in eventual one-possession losses, yes — but mostly pain.
It’s not the pain of a losing season, because many calloused, grizzled fans can attest to suffering through that multiple times over. It’s the pain of being 4-6 when everyone from the Vikings locker room to sports analysts knows the team is much more talented than their record attests.
But once again the reigning theme of 2020 rears its’ ugly head: The Vikings are not quite good enough to make the playoffs, yet not quite bad enough to tank.
And fans have now gotten to the point in the season where they can’t take the perpetual emotional trauma, so the old, familiar excuses are conjured up to deflect the pain.
Fans say, “at least the Packers lost”, but trying to dull the pain by basking in the temporary anguish of a 7-3 rival fan base — especially one that has been blessed with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and two Super Bowl victories in the past 25 years — is as effective as a prescription of sugar pills.
Fans say, “there’s always next year”, but deep down everyone knows that just pushes the pain to a further date. Regression is real, and just because the defense may be better next year, that doesn’t guarantee the offense will perform anywhere close to how they are this year.
Sitting mournfully on Thanksgiving week, the Vikings look to be firmly out of the playoff hunt. But there is some, albeit very slim, hope to make the postseason.
As it stands, the Vikings are two games back of a playoff spot. Certainly not insurmountable — especially considering they have an upcoming matchup against Tampa Bay, one of their competitors — but the team needs to wake up to make any meaningful run at the postseason.
Because as of now, they play competitively in most games like a 10-6 team, but may end up 6-10.
They aren’t quite skilled enough to make the playoffs, and not quite inept enough to secure a top draft pick.
Not quite good enough for salvation, not quite bad enough for damnation.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together: Just a franchise and a fan base spinning on a purgatorial hamster wheel, waiting for an end to the perpetual failure and championship droughts.
But that’s football, that’s life, and that’s Minnesota sports.