The Vikings Are Asking For Patience Once Again

Photo Credit: Billy Hardiman (USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t hard to believe Mike Zimmer when he said he felt he had a good team after the Minnesota Vikings’ fell to the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale. They had lost 34-33 on a last-second kick that Greg Joseph pushed wide right. It feels a little different after a 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns where the defense did their job — or perhaps Baker Mayfield didn’t do his — and the offense couldn’t get anything going after the first drive.

This felt like the 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field two years ago. One of those games where the turf turns into quicksand, and a potentially inferior team drags the Vikings deep enough in the sand that they start gasping for air. It’s an ugly way to lose.

“I firmly believe that this is a good football team,” Zimmer insisted after losing to Cleveland on Sunday. “I believe we’ve still got a lot of time left.”

The narrative all week was that Kevin Stefanski would be able to match wits with Zimmer and offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak because of his longstanding relationship with them. Stefanski is a Vikings lifer who took the Browns job last year and has turned that moribund franchise into a contender. He knew all their secrets, and he’d be able to match wits with them all game long.

If you only watched the first quarter of the game, you’d come away believing that was the case. Kubiak wrote a masterful script for the first drive, and the Vikings meticulously marched down the field to go up 7-0. Stefanski and the Browns countered with a drive of their own that left them in the red zone at the end of the first quarter, but they proceeded to turn it over on downs.

However, what should have been an indication of preparedness and an opportunity to build a commanding lead early turned into sloppy play and squandered opportunities. The Vikings would not score after that first drive, and Cleveland took an 8-7 lead when Sheldon Richardson tried to take a timeout Minnesota did not have, allowing the Browns to punch in a two-point conversion from their goal line. Two more field goals were enough to put the Vikings away for good.

It felt like the Vikings lost to an earlier version of themselves, which makes sense given how much of Cleveland’s DNA is driven by Stefanski’s methods. But the Browns hardly looked like a contender. Mayfield routinely missed receivers deep, they only scored three points in the second half, and the Vikings bailed them out at times, like when Tyler Conklin held Miles Garrett on a 37-yard pass to Justin Jefferson.

It was easy to believe Zimmer when he said he had a good team in Glendale because the Vikings looked like a modern football team. Cousins moved the ball up and down the field, using all his weapons as he threatened to beat Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and Co. on the road.

That notion was reinforced when they returned to Minneapolis and beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-17 last week. Alexander Mattison ran for over 100 yards in place of Dalvin Cook, and Cousins distributed the ball to Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and even Tyler Conklin. If the Vikings find that one big play to break things open and beat the Browns 21-14, most fans would leave feeling alright about this team. They’d be 2-2, with a defense that no longer looks porous.

Instead, this felt like the same old Vikings. They take a 12-men penalty if Richardson doesn’t signal for a fourth timeout at the end of the first half. Cousins couldn’t get anything going because the offensive line got beat all day, and he threw an interception at a critical juncture.

Worse yet, they gave up 184 yards on the ground to a team that couldn’t get much rhythm going in the passing game because of Mayfield’s poor play. Nick Chubb ran for 100 yards, and Kareem Hunt ran for 69, allowing the Browns to dominate time of possession. The Vikings were never behind by more than a score, but it always felt like an insurmountable deficit.

The Vikings are 1-3, just like they were last year. They will need to get their offense going again if they have any chance of turning things around. The O-line needs to give Cousins more time, and the run defense needs to clamp down so that he can get off the sidelines. Now they are beginning to feel like the same old Vikings, which isn’t a good thing.

“I’ve been doing this 27 years, I know good teams, and I know bad teams,” Zimmer insisted. “I know this team has a chance to be pretty darn good. We may not look like it right now because we’re 1-3, but even like Kevin [Stefanski] said to me before the game, ‘You got a really good football team here.’ And they do, too. They were just a little bit better than us today.”

“Every loss that we’ve had so far, it’s been on ourselves,” echoed Jefferson. “We’ve been killing ourselves, shooting ourselves in the foot. We just gotta finish throughout the whole game. This team is very good, and we just gotta play through all four quarters.”

Jefferson isn’t wrong. The Vikings took too many penalties against the Cincinnati Bengals, they missed a last-second kick in Glendale, and they could not take advantage of the Browns when they let them hang around all day.

They have two winnable games coming up, with the Detroit Lions coming to Minneapolis and a road game against the Carolina Panthers. They easily should be 3-3 going into their Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. Moreover, they didn’t go 0-4, and they easily could have after losing in Cincinnati. But they need to get the offense going again to beat anybody. They need to embrace their identity as a modern football team.

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