Opinion

We Weren’t Supposed to Feel this Way

Who else is having the Christmas Blues? You know, that feeling the day after December 25th, after we’ve unwrapped the presents, bid adieu to our families, and finished off the last of the homemade cookies — we’ve all experienced it throughout the years.

Even at 24, the end of the holiday season makes me a little sentimental. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we’re confronted with the Christmas rush. You spend an entire month planning, buying, cooking, and baking, all for the climax that is Christmas Day. And once it’s over, it’s simply…over. You’re left with the clean up, the transition back into the office, the harsh reality that is the return to the everyday routine.

In some ways, the Minnesota Vikings prepared us for this very feeling through the 2016 season. For me, at least, there are too many parallels to ignore: the exciting 5-0 start, the sudden crash to third in the NFC North, and the ultimate crescendo — elimination from the playoffs at the hand of the Green Bay Packers.

Though the season isn’t technically finished, we’re at the point where Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears feels inconsequential. The joy of another year of Vikings football has come and gone, the anticipation of another playoff run slammed down by Aaron Rodgers and Co. Every year, it’s the same result, yet every year, we get our hopes up that “this team is going to be different.”

A lot like Christmas, right? We stress, we celebrate, and reflect on another holiday passed. With the Vikings, we stress over every close game, celebrate each victory, then ask ourselves after another failure: “What could have been?” It’s as if we know the outcome, but fail to face reality; like Christmas, we enjoy the temporary reprieve, only to have it thrown in our faces.

I’ve come to terms with the conclusion of the holidays — a week off of work will help that — but I still can’t put my finger on what exactly went wrong for the Vikings this season. I can’t know what happens within the walls of Winter Park, but as an outsider with vested interest in the franchise, I do my best to follow every move and piece of breaking news that escapes the team’s bubble.

That’s what makes Minnesota’s slide such an unfortunate turn of events. Like so many of our readers and fellow fans on Twitter, I’m shocked by the collapse of Mike Zimmer’s promising 2016 team. Maybe a few intuitive fans predicted this would happen, but to fall from 5-0 to 7-8 so quickly and in such disappointing fashion has been a complete punch to the gut.

After far too much food and an extra few hours of sleep, I think I’m ready to share my thoughts on this team’s fall from grace. Thanks to my friend “reality,” the warning signs I didn’t recognize earlier in the year are clear as day, and like so many, I should’ve seen this collapse coming.

Teddy.

Sam Bradford’s been fine filling in for Teddy, but he lacks much of what made Bridgewater a perfect quarterback for the Vikings. Just look at what Stefon Diggs had to say about his fallen quarterback, who was lost before this tumultuous season even began:

More than losing Bridgewater’s mobility and decision-making, the Vikings lost the offense’s leader. Take a look at the unit now and tell me who’s stepped up in Teddy’s absence to lead the huddle. Chances are, you’ll flip-flop between a few players without agreeing on a single name. Bradford’s arguably been a better quarterback, but he’s not better for this team.

Teddy had the uncanny ability to rally his teammates without saying a word, to make the 10 other Vikings on the field better with his own play. From the moment he arrived in Minnesota, Bridgewater’s been the face of the franchise. Some will contest he’s underperformed as the Vikings’ signal-caller, but there’s no denying this is Teddy’s team and has been for three years.

Quantifying the loss of Bridgewater is almost impossible. You can look at the stat sheet and say Minnesota’s offense is better with Bradford under center, but the emotion of Teddy’s non-contact injury can’t be denied. Freak injuries happen, but this one felt different. Not because it was, in fact different, but because it altered the course of what we all expected to be an ultimately successful season.

5-0.

An undefeated start brings the media attention, the praise, the talks of another NFC North title and Super Bowl run. It also creates expectations, many of which just aren’t realistic.

The Vikings have one of the NFL’s best defenses, but they aren’t the 1985 Bears (yet). Bradford, for all of his early success, was never going to elevate the Vikings as Brady or Wilson do for their respective Patriots and Seahawks. Zimmer, long considered a defensive mastermind, isn’t immune to mental mistakes or coaching errors.

5-0 felt good; it ignited a fanbase in need of a spark after losing Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. It gave hope that hey, maybe the Vikings could prove us wrong and bring home the Lombardi trophy. But the injuries kept coming, other teams improved — here’s looking at you, Detroit  — and the Vikings came crashing back to Earth.

Like the loss of Teddy, winning so many games in a row and defying so many odds comes with an emotional price. There’s a mental weight created by the early success, one the Vikings appeared to crumble under with every game. Maybe, just maybe during the winning streak, we should’ve seen the failure coming.

Offensive line.

This requires little explanation. What started as a weak spot heading into 2016 almost singlehandedly ruined Minnesota’s regular season. Heck, it could be the most obvious contributing factor, but I can’t look at the offensive line and blame a single unit for ravaging the Vikings’ season.

When a team loses four offensive tackles — Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, Jake Long, Mike Harris — midway through the season, things can get ugly. That manifested itself in the form of T.J. Clemmings becoming “the answer” at left tackle, and everyone knows how that’s turned out.

Sam touched on Rick Spielman’s failures as a drafter of offensive linemen earlier this year, all of which has become painfully obvious this season. No general manager can account for so many season-ending injuries, but it’s difficult to look at teams like the Cowboys, Raiders, and Packers without feeling pangs of envy. Those franchises invested heavily in linemen — both through the draft and free agency — and look where it’s led them: the playoffs.

Freak show.

Norv Turner’s resignation, Zimmer’s eye, Peterson’s unceremonious return to the field, a skidding plane in Wisconsin. Every team faces adversity, but no team appears as snakebitten as the Minnesota Vikings.

I can’t remember a season so odd since 2010, which Adam W. is happy to bring up whenever we speculate this year’s zaniness. But look past the injuries and the team’s on-field failures, and you’ll find the Vikings can’t seem to get out of their own way.

So many distractions, in addition to the failures every Sunday, add to the weight a team must carry over the course of a 16-game season. That weight brought the Vikings to their knees.


Much more went in Minnesota’s demise, which I could cover in 2,000 words or so. But as I sit here and write, these are the factors that come directly to mind. For every on-field obstacle — injuries, defensive blunders, a conservative offensive approach — the Vikings faced just as many distractions and mistakes off of it.

The fix won’t come in the form of a highly-touted draft pick or another offseason under Zimmer. The problems, as hard as they are to identify, feel as though they run deeper than our eyes can see. I wouldn’t say the Vikings are in for a major shakeup this offseason, but I’d expect major changes between January and August.

Hopefully, next year, I’m not writing about the sour feeling that comes with another lost season. That’s the optimism talking through the reality that the Vikings feel further than any of us could’ve imagined.

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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9 Comments

  1. Austin, You said what we have all been thinking. Though I have to believe we aren’t that far away from the team we were in 2015. Its a matter of getting some guys back healthy, namely Teddy, and revamping our O-line. And I refuse to believe we will lose so many close games next year, or have so many injuries. We need to hit in the draft and free agency, and be more tough minded in tight contests. I’m probably alone on this thought, but I have already started preaching that we should trade Sam Bradford, (if possible) and get whatever we can back before he is worthless. Here’s to hoping we hit on a running back and a couple O-linemen in the draft and free agency!!!! SKOL!!!!

    1. I’ve also thought about whether or not the Vikings should go ahead and try and unload Bradford to a needy team. I think it all comes down to what the outlook for Teddy is. The team will know better than anyone if he’s going to play next year (or play at all to his previous level). If they are certain he’ll be fine, I don’t mind trading Bradford as much. However, if there is any doubt, I think you hold on to both guys and see how it plays out next year.

      The Vikings could also trade Bradford during the season is Teddy is back and performing well. There’s always a few teams that get QB desperate due to an injury early in the season.

      1. Unloading Bradford absent a miraculous recovery by Bridgewater AND a gigantic step forward by Heinicke would be a very foolish move. Besides, Spielman has other, more pressing needs to deal with on the offense:

        1. The OL. First, left tackle must be addressed. I’d cut ties with Kalil, sign Andrew Wentworth for maybe two years and pick one in the first (Trader Rick, Baby!) or second round of the draft. If Mike Harris and Brandon Fusco are questionable to return, we’ll need to draft a guard to develop behind Boone and Berger, and drafting or signing a RT so we have some option other than Sirles, Clemmings and Beavers wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

        2. Offensive Coordinator and Running Back. What system are we going to run, and do we move on from Peterson or try to squeeze another year or two out of him? Depending on the system, can McKinnon be a featured back if the OL is fixed? And do we bring back Asiata? The only answer I’m pretty sure of is that we should re-sign Asiata

        3. Wide Receiver. While it seems that Patterson can in fact be a decent #3 or 4 wideout, I still question whether he’ll ever be another Percy Harvin even in the right system, so I’d wave goodbye to him, Wright and/or Johnson but bring in a big, tough, veteran wide receiver. If I had my druthers, Brandon Marshall would be my target. He may be a cap casualty come June, or maybe we could get him for Wright and a mid-round draft pick sooner and re-work and extend his contract. We need a big wide receiver who can consistently score touchdowns and I think Marshall is still a better bet than Thielen, Treadwell, Patterson or Johnson for the next two seasons, at least.

        QB, aside from praying for Bridgewater’s return, should be among the least of Spielman’s worries this off-season.

  2. As much of a fan of the Vikings and Teddy I just don’t see them moving back to Teddy. Sam has and is playing better than Teddy has. Teddy did move around in the pocket better but is that really what we want to have to happen? We need to cut AP and spend the money on oline help and spend at least 3 picks on the oline. Slick Rick made a mistake in not drafting more oline help and trusting in a few cheap retreads off other teams. I am getting tired of being let down every year for the past 45 years!

    1. I think Bradford certainly has a better arm but I’m not sure I can say, overall, Sam has played better than Teddy.

      Behind this OL, it can’t be understated how important it is to be able to move around and escape pressure.

    2. Teddy is a better QB. He’s a winner. We’d have at least 9 wins right now with him.

  3. Something not yet mentioned that it is probably too early to mention. As it stands right now, this may be one of the worst draft classes in team history. Nobody has made a significant contribution yet. Of course it’s really early, but throw in the #1 pick lost next year in the Bradford trade (now there’s 2000 words) and the pressure is really on slick Rick this offseason.

    1. I’m trying to hold out hope and remain optimistic about this draft class, Karl… But, yeah… I agree with you. Hard not to. I think Alexander with another year under Zim could still pan out. However, at this point, I think we have to consider this draft class a miss and any contributions down the road just a bonus.

      Really hoping Treadwell can come into his own next year!

      1. Way, WAY too soon to declare this draft class a bust or miss. Aside from Treadwell, who among the eight picks could anyone have expected to make a significant contribution this year? Alexander behind Munnerlyn, Rhodes, Newman and Waynes? Brothers behind Kendricks and Cole? Morgan behind Rudolph and Ellison, even after pushing Pruitt onto the practice squad? Weatherly behind Griffen, Robison and Hunter or Greenway and Lamur? Kearse behind a Sendejo who actually looks like a starting strong safety this year and a more experienced Anthony Harris, although he did make a 10-year veteran and free agent signee, Michael Griffin, superfluous enough to be waived? And how many fourth round offensive tackles like Beavers would you expect to step in and make a significant contribution as a rookie? Hell, with Böhringer on the practice squad, all eight picks are still with the team, which is itself pretty unusual.

        Face it, defensive draft picks, short of a highly drafted linebacker, maybe, were not going to get much playing time this year absent some major disasters, nor were a couple of low-round picks at TE and WR, and it would have been exceptional for a fourth-round rookie OT to step in big time (yet another reason to give some credit to Clemmings for his 2015 season). As for Treadwell, with Diggs set at one spot, Thielen’s emergence as a legitimate starter and Patterson’s re-emergence as a factor at WR, the only head-scratcher is that Treadwell couldn’t beat out Johnson as the fourth WR. Neither Patterson nor Johnson are locks to be here next season, and who knows if Wright will ever emerge from Zimmer’s dog house, so Treadwell should have a real chance at playing time next year, and even that will probably be too soon to judge this draft class as a whole.

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