For most Vikings fans, looking back at the last two weeks will probably leave you wanting more from your favorite football team. Coming through what I affectionately called the “Madden 95 Cheat Code stretch” (both the Jags and the Panthers were available as super teams in Madden 95 one year before they actually existed in the league), Minnesota was a significant favorite over both opponents, but they failed to cover the spread in both games beating the Panthers by 1-point and the Jags by 3-points in overtime. On the surface it left quite a bit to be desired for fans of the team.
Today, we’ll break down some of the nuance that could, if you look close enough, make us all feel a little bit better about this team, their potential prospects for the playoffs and for sure the potential for this team to succeed in the future.
As stated above, the Vikings were favored to win both of these games by a touchdown or more in both games, but they failed to hit those marks letting bad teams stay in the game and push towards the end. There were errors up and down the field for the Minnesota Vikings. Special teams remained a hot mess, the defense was lapsing and the offense was failing to put the proverbial boot on the throat of the opponent when they had the chance. So what was so encouraging to me about those games?
For the ten games prior to this last stretch of two, we’ve seen the Vikings work through a handful of phases. The first six games made up the “Dark Days” era of the 2020 season, we don’t talk about them anymore, only in the context of “they were once 1-5 and now they’re back to .500”, an impressive feat in and of itself.
That was immediately followed by two games that we’ll call “The Enlightenment”. This era of 2020 Vikings football was made up of getting back to basics. Mike Zimmer was patchworking defenses together to thwart dangerous opponents and on offense it was all Dalvin, all the time. Cook saw 56 touches over these two games and turned them into nearly 500 all purpose yards and SIX touchdowns. The Vikings went 2-0 during this period of play.
Next up, two games that made up “The Awakening”. Realizing that the opposition can key in on Dalvin, the offense had to become more dynamic and Kirk woke up grasping the reins and taking control once again of the Vikings offense. Allowing Dalvin to still be impactful but taking some of the weight off of him, Kirk threw for more than 600 yards and 5 TDs in these two weeks, coupled with a passer rating of 118.6. Dalvin and Kirk would go #1 & #2 in NFC Offensive player of the month voting this month.
Then the last two weeks happened. We’ll affectionately call these two weeks “The Reformation” of Vikings football. While not exactly pretty, there were a few things that occurred during this era of the season that could shape this team for pretty substantial success down the road.
Let me explain…
First off, don’t get me wrong, this is still a VERY flawed team. That’s precisely why even if they sneak into the playoffs this season, they won’t last long. There are too many mistakes, there are too many holes, they’re still too green and there’s too little depth. These are all things that will impact you negatively when the competition ticks up a notch in the NFL playoffs.
What I did see though, was this team becoming more balanced on offense. Sure, it may have been out of necessity with Dalvin Cook injuring an ankle along the way, but presently this offense is as balanced as they have been this season. Dalvin still has the big strike ability, he’s still gaining chunk yardage to move the offense down the field, but he’s clearly been hampered by the injury and in doing so has lost a little of that edge that pushed the Vikings to hand him the ball more often than not. Simultaneously, Kirk has become reliable once again. It’s been one of the main things that has plagued him throughout his career, consistency. Well, if only for now, it’s back and Kirk is taking care of the football and coming up with clutch throws along the way. The emergence of Justin Jefferson this season, the continued amazing play of Adam Thielen, both have helped in this quest, but at its core it’s Kirk Cousins delivering the ball where it needs to go and keeping the defense on it’s heels.
The other thing that stood out to me was not only one, but two game winning drives for Captain Kirk along the way. The final Vikings drive against the Panthers was more impressive as Kirk sliced and diced his way up the field with two minutes to play setting up a Dan Bailey game-winning field goal, but then in lesser fashion he did it again the next week against Jacksonville in overtime to get Bailey in range for another game-winner, this one a walk-off shot.
This edge was something that has been missing from Kirk’s play for much of his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings. It was that something that you couldn’t necessarily pinpoint, but you could tell when it was missing. It’s the thing that many of the greats have, an attitude that no matter the score or situation, you’re not out of the game until the final whistle blows. We’ve seen that from Kirk the past few games, the old hop on my shoulders, I’ll carry us the rest of the way mentality and it’s led the team to two otherwise undeserved wins and back to a 6-6, .500 record on the season.
Again, neither of these characteristics are likely going to lead the Vikings to postseason success in 2020, but it does allow this team to show some promise in the near future. It was just six games ago that all of us, yes ALL of us, were talking about this situation being closer to a full rebuild than a retool. With the developments of our “Reformation” period, there’s a new hope (obligatory Star Wars reference) that Kirk is still the guy under center, Zim is still the captain of the ship and when Barr, Kendricks and Pierce come back healthy for the 2021 you’ll be able to pair them up with another year of experience for the young guys, a new class of free agents and rookies and be in a good spot to compete for the division and more when things are more back to normal a year from now and (fingers crossed) we’re allowed to be sitting in the stands taking it in firsthand again.
This ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve been encouraged the past few weeks while the Vikings have been tripping over themselves a little bit on the field.