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2020 Vikings Season Was Not a Waste

The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions tussled in a quasi-meaningless affair to close out a rumbustious 2020 season. In a 37-35 shootout, quarterback Kirk Cousins presided over one of the best games of his career, passing for 405 yards and tabulating four touchdowns against the NFL’s worst defense.

As events evolved later in the afternoon, the Chicago Bears secured a playoff berth. This is worthy of resentment for the Vikings as a standalone outcome, but it is particularly maddening for a specific reason. Because the Arizona Cardinals coughed away their postseason hopes, the Vikings [as it turned out] only needed to win one more game to snare the NFC’s seventh seed. So, one can point to any Vikings loss from the docket, flip it to a win, and the purple and gold would probably be traveling to New Orleans – again – for a wildcard playoff game. But no such luck. Losses to the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and aforementioned Bears loomed too brutal.

Injuries spread like a novel coronavirus for the Vikings in 2020. Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Michael Pierce, and Mike Hughes missed 58 games in totality. Eric Kendricks – the cardiovascular system of the Vikings defense — missed the influential games down the stretch.

The defense suffered because of it. The 2020 Vikings wound up a bottom-five defensive bunch – a travesty for a Mike Zimmer-led unit.

Typically, a 7-9 season would perhaps be grounds for wholesale change for a head coach in his seventh season. Yet, this is different. Zimmer navigated the temporary dissolution of preseason games, a pandemic, and a slew of injuries that were too devastating to surmount.

The season was not wasteful, though. Here’s why.

A Rookie Star is Born

Rookie receiver Justin Jefferson set an NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie (evidently what Bill Groman did in 1960 with the Houston Oilers does not matter to national punditry because that was the “AFL”). Indeed, Jefferson grabbed 88 passes for 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His receiving yards total is nearly double that of Jacksonville Jaguars wideout, D.J. Chark (706 receiving yards).

Jefferson effectively “replaced” Stefon Diggs – who lit it up in Buffalo. Diggs led the NFL in receiving yards (1535) in 2020. But Jefferson will do his damage for the next four years at a substantially-reduced pricetag comparatively to Diggs. Vikings enthusiasts can appreciate this distinction as Minnesota is seeking to pinch pennies annually during free agency. Jefferson-instead-of-Diggs allows general manager Rick Spielman to sign one or two more free agents this March. That is a big damn deal.

Barring an odd sophomore slump or injury, Jefferson is here to stay. And due to his flair, he is the new face of the Minnesota Vikings. Men like that are difficult to find inside of a draft – ask Laquon Treadwell.

Cousins Re-Confirms His Legitimacy

Listen, if Kirk Cousins cannot be accepted as the sure-fire starter for the Vikings going forward because of folks’ “yeah buts,” perhaps football is not the sport for them to follow.

In 2020, Cousins tossed 35 touchdowns behind 4,265 passing yards. That production does not grow on trees. Only five quarterbacks in 2020 threw more touchdowns: Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Josh Allen. Four of those men were MVP candidates – one has won six Super Bowls. Why is Cousins still the “yeah but” quarterback among the group?

The man the Vikings drafted in 2014 with first-round capital – Teddy Bridgewater – connected on 15 touchdowns in 2020 in Carolina. With the Vikings 2020 defensive woes, Bridgewater’s hypothetical placement back in Minnesota would have netted the team a record closer to 2-14 or 3-13 record.

The Vikings remained afloat to the tune of a 7-9 record because of Kirk Cousins – not in spite of him. Bottom-five defenses do engender playoff prosperity. Lo and behold, the Vikings are not participating in the postseason – surprise, surprise.

Vivid Weakness Identified

The 7-9 campaign, while not ideal, showed signs of encouragement. Minnesota’s offense was ultra-efficient and the team’s standard-bearer. The rookie draft class with Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Ezra Cleveland, D.J. Wonnum, Harrison Hand, and [of course] Jefferson seems like a homerun (for now).

And a topsy-turvy 16 games illuminated glaring, correctable weaknesses. Mike Zimmer cannot coach a team of career reservists and rookies to prosperity. That was wildly apparent. The Vikings skipper will need his core players relatively healthy to restore Minnesota’s defensive ferocity.

A young group of cornerbacks cannot thrive without a pass rush. The Vikings pass rush in 2020 was an embarrassment. With Hunter presumably back for 2021, the team must invest very high draft capital in a pass rusher or explore free agency for a player exhibiting that trait.

The offensive line is one or two guards away from gridiron civility. Possibly cutting ties with longtime players like Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Harris will slip money in Rick Spielman’s wallet to pursue reputable veteran guards.

The kicking monstrosity is back. The front office must refocus Dan Bailey or move on. That decision will pose far-reaching impact. Bailey arguably cost the Vikings a playoff berth with his antics versus Tampa Bay weeks ago.

That’s about “it.” Nurse prominent players back to health, find personnel to reestablish Zimmer’s notorious pass rush, insert guards that are not career back-ups, and finally solve the kicker question. It is a checklist that is easy to follow during the offseason. If the Vikings can do it, they can easily contend for the NFC North in eight months.

Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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EBrown
EBrown
5 months ago

I’m so tired of this narrative of not being disappointed by the Vikings each and EVERY season, it’s always something and it comes down to coaching, management, and yes Kirk Cousins, he’s a top 15 QB no doubt but when he was brought in and paid like a top 5 QB he needs to better he needs to carry a team even when other areas are lacking during a game, the fact that the Vikings are focusing on the run so much now just because they don’t trust Kirk to throw the ball and he’s basically just an overpaid game manager

Chuckert
Chuckert
5 months ago

Prior to season beginning there was lots of uncertainty on how the NFL was going to handle the pandemic. Would there be a season, would it be shortened? It appeared to me that Vikings management made many key decisions about players to strengthen the future years rather than to put a strong team on the field in 2020. Than came injuries to key defense players. It was a blessing that there was an interesting season to watch. I looked forward to each weeks game to see the improvement of all the young players. I’m looking forward to the 2021 season and beyond. SKOL to all that love football in MN. SKOL to Zimmer for not taking a knee yesterday in Detroit.

Bobby
Bobby
5 months ago

You lost me at Kirk cousins. Another fool thinking cousins can win a super bowl. Clown article

Eric
Eric
Reply to  Bobby
5 months ago

Nick foles Trent Dilfer and Rich Gannon won superbowls..kirk is better than all of them.

Sylvester Jackson
Sylvester Jackson
5 months ago

Mike Zimmer needs to be fired Kirk cousin need to be replaced and they need some taller cornerbacks and safeties

MilesC
MilesC
5 months ago

I’m way excited for this team the next 3 seasons . The way they’re set up with Dom Capers, Mike Zimmer, and Gary Kubiak is the reason Rick Spielman is on fire in the last two drafts. With that defense coming back, and assuming spielman nails this draft….. They have 2 3rd round picks, 3 4th round picks, and supposedly they have a 3rd round compensatory pick coming.. They need to either move up and get Trey Lance, and/ or get back into the 2nd round where Rick Spielman is nailing offensive lineman . As long as they continue the successes in the draft this season, this teams is nearly fully reloaded with young talent. I’d like to see Jayron Kerse come back, because Zimmer had him playing like George Iloka . I see the Vikings winning the North next year for certain. Hopefully DJ Wonnum continues his rookie success and is able to compliment Danielle Hunter next year. If they don’t go up to grab Trey Lance, I’d like to see them take a defensive tackle and offensive guard or safety in round two, the other in round 3. Or, safety in round 1 ( impact safeties are usually available around pick 14 ) defensive tackle in round 2, guards in 3rd and 4th rounds. This team has a chance to take off next year

Tony Vonasek
Reply to  MilesC
5 months ago

I agree 1000%. Good take.

Bradley Peterson
Bradley Peterson
Reply to  MilesC
5 months ago

Round two? Short term memory loss or bad attempt at a joke?

Lonnie Watson
Lonnie Watson
5 months ago

For some on this site and others that continue to berate Cousin’s, by all means go on. I don’t think anyone is or has, claimed him to be the next Joe Montana! But in no way is he a bad quarterback! Actually if you seriously look at the injury factor coupled with the youth movement from both offense and defense…I don’t know of any quarterback that could effectively carry a team like that anywhere in terms of the playoffs or regular season. I’m interested in listening to what people will say next year when he has a plethora of support on both sides of the ball. This team if healthy , has a real potential to be better than anyone.

EBrown
EBrown
Reply to  Lonnie Watson
5 months ago

2018 he had all those weapons– Kirk is NOT a bad qb I agree but he’s been paid to be GREAT and elevate everyone around him and he doesn’t do that if your happy with this “there’s always next year” mentality that’s stuck around the Vikings organization fine keep believing in him just don’t expect anything different than a loss in the early rounds of playoffs if he can even get them there

Eric
Eric
Reply to  EBrown
5 months ago

Based on your analogy thr Texans should let go of watson..he had a worse record than cousins ..and gets paid way more

Huskie
Huskie
5 months ago

You guys are entertaining. Kubiak is retiring and so should Capers. But please keep him around. He might pull out an old trick from 1960s when game speed and misdirection about 50% of what it is today

Bradley Peterson
Bradley Peterson
5 months ago

You must be watching a different team than me. Cousins is the king of stats but when push comes to shove and you need him to win the game he’ll fold like a cheap blanket. On top of that he makes $30M per year. For what? He’s a career .500 quarterback. Name me a single team he made better. I’ll wait. Oh, you can’t? Exactly. Take off your purple colored glasses and join the rest of us. It’s time to “Alex Smith” this loser and attempt to find a winner.

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