Every week of the NFL season feels like the most important week of the season. This is the truth of being a fan of any NFL team, and especially of a team that is not cruising to an easy division title. This compounds when your team is in the middle of their “window” to win a championship. That is why every game that the Minnesota Vikings lose makes fans and writers go completely cold on the team. I am here to say that it is not time to panic Vikings fans. Well, not yet anyway.
So far this season, the Vikings have lost three very winnable games. Two to backup quarterbacks and one in Green Bay where they outplayed the Packers for most of the game. The one loss that I will chalk up as a true bad loss is the game in Chicago. Despite facing backup Chase Daniel most of the game, even though he’s probably the best quarterback on Chicago’s roster, the Vikings defense let Chicago hold the ball for most of the game and the offense never seemed to flex from their game plan of “run Dalvin Cook straight into the defensive linemen.” Overall, it was a terrible game for the coaching staff and the team as a whole.
The other two losses were heartbreakers where the Vikings really shouldn’t have lost. In Green Bay there was some interesting use of the new pass interference review and some very poorly timed bad decision making by Kirk Cousins to seal the game. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this was a game the Vikings were always going to lose and that they can get the Packers back when they visit Minnesota in December. Remember, the Packers have yet to win at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Last week in Kansas City, the Vikings faced Matt Moore and the Kansas City Chiefs. Another backup and another bad loss. This one stings the most right now because it is the most current loss and also probably the worst on the season so far. The Vikings played pretty decently in the game, but just couldn’t get over the hump and untimely miscues sealed the game.
Dan Bailey, who has looked excellent this season, missed an extra point after his plant leg slipped. Despite throwing for three touchdowns, no interceptions, and over 200 yards, Kirk Cousins shoulders a good chunk of the blame for missing on many throws that could have changed the makeup of the game. The biggest blow of all may have come from punter Britton Colquitt who has been nothing short of perfect for most of the year, but shanked his final punt of the game to set KC up with a short field.
However, these poor performances were nothing to how bad the coaching staff handled the second half and specifically the fourth quarter. A lack of aggressiveness or creativity on offense and an inability to adjust to what was happening on defense made it extremely easy for Kansas City to take advantage. Leaving Mackensie Alexander to cover Travis Kelce on a crucial second down and long wasn’t ideal given Kelce had made easy work of every defensive back on the field. This seemed to be the last fatal mistake that led to a Vikings loss.
All hope is not lost for the Vikings though. Some players had performances that were bad, but uncharacteristic. Trae Waynes was beaten up and down the field by Tyreek Hill, but Hill can break almost any coverage on him. Hill hauled in the top percentage of contested catches of any receiver in 2018 and brought more of that magic on Sunday. Waynes is still a top-flight cornerback and will be fine. Dalvin Cook had only 3.4 yards per carry, but the NFL’s leading rusher will be fine if Kevin Stefanski can figure out how to balance his offense again and use the plays that actually work. Maybe Stefanski can find Alexander Mattison again who hardly saw any action on Sunday, but is a great change of pace back.
The Vikings have a tough road ahead of them, there’s no doubt, but they’ve got a somewhat forgiving schedule ahead of them. They get the Cowboys this week in primetime (insert generic Kirk Cousins is bad in primetime stat) but the Cowboys are not untouchable and certainly benefit from playing in a weak NFC East.
The Vikings then get a bad Denver team at home for a noon game. The Vikings have been nearly unbeatable at home for noon games. After that the team gets a bye week to hopefully heal any nagging injuries. Going into the last five games of the season where they start by going to Seattle for a Monday night game. A tough matchup to be sure, but Seattle has exploitable weaknesses. Detroit travels to Minnesota for a noon game, a time slot where the Vikings are very good. Minnesota then travels to Los Angeles to play an “away” game against the Chargers who are very good, but inconsistent.
Finally Minnesota finishes with two games at home against divisional opponents. First, the Packers, who like I’ve said have yet to win at U.S. Bank Stadium and finally the Bears, who maybe tanking at that point to find their new franchise quarterback. This schedule isn’t easy, but it’s certainly easier than the schedule the Vikings had last year.
The Vikings also are still sitting at 6-3 and holding a wild card spot. The team still controls their own destiny and since every other team in the division lost this last week, they didn’t even lose ground. Sure it’s tough to lose those games, and things change if they drop a second this week, but they still have a good shot in every single game left on their schedule. The bottom could fall out of this team, but it hasn’t happened yet.