The Minnesota Vikings’ win last week against the Los Angeles Chargers was a lot of things. It was fun, close (again), and it injected hope into an otherwise foundering team lost in the football landscape. Justin Jefferson got the targets he deserved, and a banged-up defensive unit stepped up to stop a talented Chargers offense.
It was nice to see the Vikings back in the win column. Sunday’s performance was summed up well by the guys in the locker room.
“It’s keeping our foot on the gas pedal,” said Mason Cole on Monday. “We were aggressive in that four-minute situation to hold on to the ball.”
Last week, I wrote about how Mike Zimmer was at risk of losing the locker room if he didn’t adapt. Looking at the reports coming out of Minneapolis right now, he helped his case on Sunday.
“When you’ve got good character in the locker room, guys continue to fight,” Zimmer said on Monday.
For the time being, it seems like the Vikings are starting to get a taste of what it’s like to finish games despite missing some cornerstones on defense. Tides are turning in Minnesota at precisely the right time, with a matchup against the Green Bay Packers looming.
Say what you want about Aaron Rodgers’ au naturale lifestyle, but Green Bay is the top dog in the NFC right now. It’s exactly the sort of matchup that can further validate Minnesota’s legitimacy or tear it right down. If Zimmer wants to have any chance, he will have to show the same aggressiveness he did a week ago.
Last week, the most noticeable change in this squad was that they had a plan and stuck to it rather than being entirely reactionary. That’s when the Vikings are at their best. If they want any shot at taking down Green Bay, they’ll have to attack the game the same way.
Expect them to look for Jefferson early and often and to stay aggressive on fourth down. The Vikings can’t play scared anymore if they want any hope of a wild card run.
Zimmer’s track record against the Packers as a head coach is a mixed bag (6-7-1). The gravity of this particular matchup is reminiscent of the game in 2019 when the Vikings hosted Green Bay on Christmas Eve.
It was a Monday Night Football showdown, and the Vikings had the opportunity for a big statement game coming off back-to-back wins. Minnesota made a statement — albeit the worst kind possible. Green Bay dominated Zimmer’s defense on the ground, and the Cousins can’t play on Monday night narrative resurged after he threw for only 122 yards on 31 attempts.
The humiliating loss didn’t bounce Minnesota from the playoffs. However, it proved to be a good measure of how high the Vikings’ ceiling was. Cousins led the way in the wild card round against the New Orleans Saints but then got pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers in a game that never felt close. Their 27-10 loss in Santa Clara didn’t come as a shock to anyone after the Christmas Eve drubbing against the Packers.
This matchup with the Packers isn’t a must-win game for Minnesota to make the playoffs. Their hopes for a division title are fading fast. However, with an extra regular-season game and another playoff spot, the Vikings are still in striking distance of the postseason regardless of the outcome.
However, Sunday’s matchup is a must-win in terms of the legitimacy of the team. If the Vikings are a squad that can make noise in the playoffs, this is a game they win. Minnesota is coming off a potentially momentum-swinging victory. Now they go play their biggest rival in front of a home crowd desperate for a reason to cheer this season.
Zimmer laid the foundation for success in the Chargers game, but he’ll have to stick to the blueprint if he wants to construct the house. That blueprint is simple: Put the best players on your team in a position to succeed. If the Vikings do that, there’s no reason to think they can’t take care of a banged-up Green Bay team.
On the other hand, if Zimmer reverts to what Vikings fans have become accustomed to seeing earlier in the year, the house will come crashing down right in front of their eyes.
Sunday’s game is for so much more than a win. It’s for the opportunity to ride the momentum from a potential season-changing victory to beat your biggest rival heading into Thanksgiving week.
It’s time for Minnesota to feast on Sunday and return to NFL relevancy. Otherwise, they’ll be faced with mediocrity again, and the defunct Turkey Committee will have an easy choice for Turkey of the Year.