As the 2016 Vikings season marched toward a feeble and joyless ending with a meaningless game against a similarly disinterested divisional opponent, it seemed fitting that things couldn’t just end without one more big dose of weird. In a year rife with peculiarities and distractions, from the midseason resignation of the offensive coordinator to the emergency eye surgery for the head coach, and of course the borderline comedic avalanche of injuries, the Vikings’ season-ending 38-10 victory over the Bears was overshadowed by a demonstration in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline that included protesters hanging from the rafters of U.S. Bank Stadium while the game went on underneath.
In a normal season, such a protest would be a bizarre outlier. But for fans who have followed the Vikings through what seems like every imaginable oddity in 2016, the display was met with solemn nods and casual acceptance. Of course it would end this way.
It’s been a long year.
The final game was inconsequential from the start, with neither team having anything but pride to play for, so rather than give five thoughts on the win over the Bears, here are five thoughts on the Vikings’ 8-8 season as a whole.
1. Chad Greenway: The greatest Viking of his generation.
Greenway wrapped up his tenth and likely final season with the team Sunday, and it’s my opinion he is the greatest Viking of the post-Moss era, and one of the best of all time.
Greenway is second leading tackler in Vikings history, and beyond that, he’s been a locker room leader and a remarkably consistent presence on the defense (156 games played out of a possible 160, not counting his rookie campaign in which he tore his ACL in the preseason). He has been perhaps a touch under-appreciated due to a playing style that isn’t high on highlight-reel plays, but Greenway has been a classic tackling machine, and a key cog in some of the best defenses in team history.
2. Here is a look at the injuries heading into the Bears game.
This is nothing new, but I found the length of this list half amusing, half impressive, all depressing.
What a year. Injuries weren’t the only problem for the 2016 Vikings, but they were the main one. The saving grace? We’ve seen rock bottom. It’s basically impossible for it to be any worse next year, or any year ever again. Nowhere to go but up.
3. Kyle Rudolph: not too shabby!
— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) January 1, 2017
Rudolph has been good, if inconsistent, for most of his career. This season, he took a step forward and was a factor just about every week. Rudolph developed a nice rapport with Sam Bradford and continued his development as a serious red zone target. With Rudolph signed through 2019, the Vikings are set at starting tight end for the foreseeable future.
(Notice I said “starting.” If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that there needs to be a backup plan. Or two.)
4. The kicking game is good to go.
Kicking and (especially) punting can be easy to overlook unless things are going poorly, but the Vikings kicking game has become one of the bright spots on the team. After enduring rough patches, both the kicking and punting units found their strides in 2016, and are primed to continue their success in 2017.
After finally cutting ties with Blair Walsh, the Vikings signed Kai Forbath, who went 15/15 on field goals and will be back next year. And, despite a few rough games, Jeff Locke had one of the better punting seasons in team history. Locke averaged nearly 43 yards per punt, and pinned 34 punts inside the 20-yard line, which tied a Vikings record.
The kicker and punter rarely make (positive) headlines, but having both positions locked up takes away a few question marks heading into next year. At the beginning of the season, things weren’t so steady, so it’s been a positive progression.
5. Sam Bradford deserves a chance to start going forward.
Let’s start with this: I don’t know if he should start or not. The questions surrounding Teddy Bridgewater’s health may make it a moot point; if Bridgewater isn’t ready to go, Bradford will start next season by default. But if Teddy does come back healthy, things are set up for a legitimate quarterback controversy, and Bradford has played well enough this season to at least earn him a fair chance at the job.
Sam Bradford set the NFL record for completion percentage this year. This is not a trivial stat; it’s a big deal, and I don’t know why more isn’t being made of it within the Vikings community. Bradford came in a week before the season, played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the modern era, and put together a very good statistical season without a single marquee playmaker on offense. Yet somehow, many people still write off his year as “average” or downplay the completion percentage because the offense was predicated on quick, short passes. Personally I don’t care how the offense was run or how long the routes were—to complete a pass, you still need to deliver the ball accurately and on time, and Bradford excelled in those areas in 2016. Call it dinking and dunking, call it whatever you want, but we’ve seen enough quarterbacks in Minnesota who couldn’t even dink and dunk properly not to appreciate Bradford’s season. He executed the game plan he was given, and he should not be penalized for it.
There have been a lot of good quarterbacks in the NFL’s history, and Sam Bradford just completed a higher percentage of his passes over the course of a season than all of them.
71.6% completion rate, 3877 yards, 20 TD/5 INT.
But people are still gonna hate. Because reasons.
— The Daily Norseman, a Minnesota Vikings blog (@DailyNorseman) January 1, 2017
I’m a big Teddy fan, too, and I of course hope he comes back 100% healthy. With Bradford on the roster, the Vikings can afford to give Bridgewater all the time he needs to recover, and make a decision when he’s ready. Perhaps Bridgewater comes back and reclaims the starting job, or perhaps the team decides Bradford should continue as the starter. After his 2016 season, he at least deserves to be in the conversation.
Right now, the team is set up to have two good quarterbacks on the roster in 2017, and if you want to call that a problem, I’d call it a good one.