Devastating Loss to Lions Produced 3 Silver Linings for Vikings

The Gringe Visited
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The Week 16 loss for the Vikings made life even harder for the purple team, putting the playoffs into doubt, although the team hasn’t played well enough in recent weeks to earn a wildcard spot. They are now on the outside looking in for the first time in weeks after starting the week as the sixth seed.

Devastating Loss to Lions Produced 3 Silver Linings for Vikings

Besides the defeat costing them in the playoff race, injuries depleted the roster as players left the field one after another. However, even on such a lousy day for Vikings fans, they should find some positives.

1. Justin Jefferson

He missed half the season because of a hamstring injury, sitting on IR while his teammates fought to keep the playoff dream alive, even when Kirk Cousins got hurt. During his absence, Dolphins’ star Tyreek Hill continued to put up huge numbers, and other guys passed JJ in the public’s perception.

Devastating Loss
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The former first-rounder out of LSU once again reminded his fans and doubters why he was regarded as the league’s best wideout in the 2023 offseason. He was targeted ten times and caught six of those for 141 yards and a touchdown. The score came after a beautiful route on a scrambling drill.

But the most memorable play on a forgettable day in the Vikings’ universe was his catch in crunch time when he kept the hopes alive on a third and 27. Quarterback Nick Mullens just threw it to the best player on the field, hoping he would make a difference. He did, snatching the ball out of the air against double coverage.

Of course, folks were immediately reminded of his grab against the Bills in 2022 when the Vikings needed a play on a similarly grim-looking down when it was fourth and 18. Claiming the three-time Pro Bowler is the best player in the league might not be a hot take anymore. He is that good.

Jefferson is the face of the franchise, and if everyone and everything in purple fails, remembering that he is still on the team can immediately lighten the mood.

2. Draft Position

The goal is to make the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl in January. But the good news is that even when the Super Bowl hope dwindles, the team can earn a better draft selection. No franchise should ever intentionally lose games, and the Vikes certainly tried everything to beat the Lions. Ultimately, the game perhaps cost them a playoff invitation, and it surely cost them the division, but if they continue to be unable to win games with a backup under center–they dropped four of the last five games–at least they rise on the draft board.

Lottery Ticket QB
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General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah owned the 20th overall pick last week, but he is currently sitting at the 15th pick, and more losses would improve the selection even further. And that changes everything.

Suddenly, they don’t have to trade up to get a quarterback. A good prospect will fall to the middle part of the first round. The organization could also start to think about trading into the top five to select an elite QB prospect.

The decision-makers have to figure out which prospect can become an elite player and then find a way to draft him. Having a better draft position will help.

3. Kevin O’Connell

The head coach owns a 20-12 record in the regular season, and his teams have shown the ability to make games close, whether they can match the talent level of their opponents or not.

Silly Narrative Laughable
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In recent weeks and months, however, there has been some increased skepticism that the former NFL quarterback can lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl win. A lack of aggression to clinch games and putting too much trust in struggling players have been cited.

The criticism is somewhat valid, but finding a way to be in close games regardless of the defensive performance or the name of the backup quarterback is an impressive skill. His offense put up roughly 400 yards in back-to-back games and ranks sixth in EPA/Play in those two weeks, despite the frequency of turnovers. Quarterback Nick Mullens threw six INTs and still ranks second in EPA/Play over the entire season, trailing Brock Purdy.

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He keeps the offense going despite the horrible injury luck and deserves a lot of credit for that. Still, only in his second year, O’Connell has shown that he is a brilliant offensive mind, and those tend to have long-term success. At 38 years old, KOC still has a lot to learn, and just like young players, he will improve at his craft, but for the injury-riddled 2023 campaign, he deserves the benefit of the doubt, and Vikings fans should be happy to have him as the captain of their organization.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt