The 2010s began for the Minnesota Vikings with seismic optimism. Fresh off an NFC Championship appearance the year prior, the ushering in of a new decade could not have started sooner for the Vikings in September of 2010.
Within two months, the fans (and probably others in the organization) wanted to fast forward to 2011. The 2010 campaign saw the abrupt shriveling of Brett Favre, the whimsical trade and release of Randy Moss, and the termination of head coach Brad Childress. It was Minnesota malarkey.
Current head coach Mike Zimmer would not arrive until four years later. This 2011-2013 gap was mostly one of defensive buffoonery, uncharacteristically poor quarterback play, and blown leads. The lone sublime achievement of this three-year era was the MVP-trophy hoist by running back Adrian Peterson. Aside from that honor, the team was 18-25-1 (.385) in those three seasons, which exiled the Vikings to the twenty-fifth best win percentage during the Leslie Frazier era.
Zimmer was hired in 2014 and has been the skipper ever since. Under him, the Vikings have won 58% of all games and the franchise — prior to 2020 — returned to its defensive supremacy akin to that fostered in the 1970s.
In the midst of the Zimmer era and the decade as a whole, one particularly pivotal game stands out.
The Vikings defeated the Chicago Bears in a Monday night matchup in Week 5 of the 2017 season by a score of 20-17. There are a few reasons this game was the most pivotal rendezvous for Minnesota from the last decade.
Bradford Was Done. So Was his Career.
This was bittersweet for Sam Bradford in the most sizable proportions imaginable. Just 28 days prior, Bradford had the best game of his life in the season-opener against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings bashed the Saints, and Bradford tossed a 143.0 passer rating game to make it happen. To put it bluntly, that game could not have gone better for Bradford.
Four weeks later — and he was a shell of himself due to a petulant knee injury. He was removed from the contest against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, and Case Keenum led the team to a narrow victory.
Many bizarre after-the-fact statistics occurred in the game. The score at halftime was 3-2. Weird.
It was the last time the Vikings won a game via game-winning field goal late in a contest. That was courtesy of a Kai Forbath 26-yard chip shot.
More broadly, this match-up was only the fourth time the Vikings have won at Soldier Field in the last 20 attempts.
Two New Eras Begin
The dawn of Mitchell Trubisky is largely unimportant to the day-to-day operation of the Minnesota Vikings anymore, but he was the quarterback of a team within the NFC North division for four years.
The important aspect was the commencement of Case Keenum’s brief tenure as starting quarterback for the Vikings. Keenum’s Vikings would win thirteen games in 2017 while only dropping three contests. Those regular-season losses came to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and Carolina Panthers.
As a future-telling component to the Vikings recent history, Keenum’s success in 2017 was gravely important. An eventual trip to the NFC Championship arguably coalesced Mike Zimmer’s job security in forthcoming seasons. Keenum’s wherewithal also sparked a debate pertaining to the future of the quarterback position. The contentious topics of the subsequent offseason were:
- Extend Keenum “for cheap”
- Revert back to Teddy Bridgewater and his uncertain capabilities
- Ink a free agent, Kirk Cousins, for top dollar
General Manager Rick Spielman chose option three.
A Win Streak is Born
The momentum stemmed from squeaking by the Bears on the road propelled the 2017 Minnesota Vikings to an unanticipated stretch of triumphs. For the Vikings, it was the longest winning streak since 2002.
In each of the games, there was a sense that the success was “too good to be true,” yet the Vikings kept mowing down opponents–most of them in a decisive manner. The team finished best in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed.
At the time, the defense’s opposing third-down conversion rate of 25.2 percent was the best in recorded history. That feat has since been edged by the 2019 New England Patriots.
The victory over the Bears and ensuing win streak navigated the Vikings to an NFC Championship in the end. Although that contest was lost, the appearance alone in that NFC Championship game caused one vital and overlooked thing to occur: it made the allure of the Minnesota Vikings the top landing spot for Kirk Cousins’ impending free agency.
Life Without Dalvin
The Monday night game at Chicago was the first game following Dalvin Cook‘s catastrophic injury.
The Monday night game versus the Bears in 2017 was the first glimpse as to how the Vikings would function without Dalvin. It would turn into a theme.