When the Minnesota Vikings escaped Week 12 with a victory over the Carolina Panthers, the emotional toll reverberated through the team and fanbase. Truth be told, the Vikings probably should have fell at the feet of the black cats. Instead, they were triumphant by a single point, 28-27. Minnesota handed the Panthers 14 points to rookie safety Jeremy Chinn in a 10-second span. Then, Chad Beebe coughed up a punt return catch that would ordinarily be the undoing of a football team that late in a contest.
Very similar vibes rippled within the Vikings-Jaguars matchup during Week 13. Entering this weekend, Jacksonville was the NFL’s second-worst team – next to the laughable New York Jets. In the end, the Jaguars exited the game against the Vikings with the league’s second-worst record. But they didn’t play like it.
Minnesota has won five of its last six games. They departed their Week 7 bye with a 1-5 record and temptations aplenty to “mail it in.” This enticement was exalted by folks that wanted better draft picks, Mike Zimmer canned, or the quarterback with the sixth-best passer rating of all time jettisoned. As inconceivable as those sentiments may be, the “tank the season” ambiance was evident.
The players, coaching staff, management, and ownership dissented from sabotaging their season. Imagine that.
Sloppy Win vs. Jacksonville
Out of the gate, the Vikings trailed 9-0 mainly because a tipped touchdown pass discovered the hands of rookie wideout, Laviska Shenault Jr. Cornerback Kris Boyd had three curious plays early in the game. The dropped interception that resulted in the Shenault score was one of them. It was going to be “one of those games.”
The Vikings offense hit the snooze button, too. The first few drives were anemic while the flow of the game descended to hell. In the Vikings two unforgivable losses this season – at Indianapolis and versus Atlanta – the team was ravaged by a time-of-possession deficit. Week 13 against the Jaguars was following suit.
But Minnesota avoided the knockout blow because Jacksonville was in the house, not the Kansas City Chiefs. Kirk Cousins and Co. found coherence late in the first half dragging the score to 9-6 at halftime in favor of the 1-10 Jaguars. Then, the start to the second half was a teleportation to the first quarter. Cousins delivered a pick-six to linebacker Joe Schobert when Dalvin Cook failed to see a pass whizzing in his direction. It would be the last deadly miscue to beset the Vikings (although Cook did later fumble in the redzone).
The purple and gold found their footing and sprinkled in events that emulated a thriller film. Failure to score a victory-securing touchdown, avoiding a game-winning field goal from former Vikings kick Chase McLaughlin, and bungling overtime’s first offensive possession all contributed to the drama.
In the end, Dan Bailey hit a chip-shot walkoff field goal for the win – his first walkoff kick as a member of the Vikings.
Cardinals Help Vikings Out
Before last week’s game started, the Vikings needed the Cardinals to finish the season with a 3-3 record, and the Vikings were seemingly required to go 5-1 in the season’s final stretch.
So far, so good.
The Vikings downed the Panthers and Jaguars by the skin of their teeth. And, the Cardinals lost in consecutive weeks to the upstart New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray attained MVP consideration after he delivered an ultra-memorable bomb to DeAndre Hopkins weeks ago to stun the Buffalo Bills. However, Murray is not an MVP candidate yet. Use the last two weeks as proof.
Just as the Vikings needed to be close to perfect the rest of the way in 2020, the Cardinals required mediocrity. However, Arizona has been impotent since the playoff stakes were reestablished (from a Vikings perspective).
How to Stay in the Field of Seven?
The table is set. The Vikings effectively control their destiny. Should they win their final four games this season, they are nearly a mathematical lock to reach the postseason. If they lose one game (likely to Tampa Bay or New Orleans), the playoff aspirations stay alive. But losing more than one game is when imperilment enters the chat. A loss to the Buccaneers and Saints would necessitate faceplants by both the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
If the Vikings do take care of business and steal the NFC’s sixth or seventh seed, a date in Green Bay, Seattle, or New Orleans is likely unavoidable. The Packers and Saints will be motivated by unadulterated vengeance based on their recent tangos with the Vikings. A trip to Seattle would send eyeballs to the back of all Vikings fans’ heads as the team always find a way to play – and lose — in Emerald City.
But just remember – the odds were stacked against the Vikings heading into wildcard weekend last January, too.