The Minnesota Vikings are sitting at 2-3 after a 19-17 victory over the Detroit Lions. While they’ve come up on the short end of several winnable games, head coach Mike Zimmer feels like his team can come together and make a playoff run.
The good news is that Zimmer has been here before. In all three seasons that his Vikings made the playoffs, they started out by splitting the first four games. Although these Vikings have three losses right now, that could be discounted as part of a 17-game schedule, allowing Zimmer’s team to get it together and head deep into January.
The problem is that this team doesn’t feel ready to make a run. Instead, the Vikings feel like a team ready to burst at the seams.
A primary factor is that the team’s status has changed over the years. During the 2015 and 2017 seasons, the Vikings were a scrappy underdog. They had a head coach who had been passed over by several teams before getting his shot. They had a fifth-round pick (Stefon Diggs), and a UDFA (Adam Thielen) become the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. They had a journeyman quarterback (Case Keenum) lead them to the NFC Championship game.
But they were no longer underdogs after that season. Suddenly, they were contenders. They gave their players massive contracts and signed a top quarterback (Kirk Cousins) on the free-agent market. They got an offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) who was previously with the Philadelphia Eagles and made moves to try and get over the hump.
This produced lackluster seasons in 2018 and 2019, and the Vikings continued to push their identity as underdogs. Things boiled over when they missed the playoffs last year, which led to a desperate attempt to add players in free agency. The result was a slew of players who weren’t brought up in the underdog culture Zimmer had established at the beginning of his tenure. With one-year deals, some players could see Minnesota as a chance to rehab their value before cashing in elsewhere.
It also produced a team that may be unwilling to buy in. Zimmer begged for his team to get vaccinated; the players responded with one of the lowest rates in the NFL. With five starters reportedly declining the vaccine, the Vikings are one positive test away from potentially wiping out the locker room for a week or more.
When the Vikings needed a defensive end, they turned to Everson Griffen. Although he’s been great on the field, the signing came months after calling Cousins “ass” and suggesting that Zimmer never wanted to sign him before the 2018 season.
Those were just some of the things that went on before a 1-3 start. Sunday’s game was like a greatest hits collection of the past two years. The Vikings went out and played like they were afraid of making a mistake. With a 13-6 lead before halftime, Minnesota killed the clock even though they had 40 seconds and two timeouts left instead of looking to put more points on the board.
And instead of looking to clown-hammer an inferior team, the Vikings decided to lean on a backup running back instead of chucking it to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. When the Lions came back, they rose from the dead and produced an improbable victory to keep their ill-fated playoff dreams alive.
To top it all off, Cousins and Zimmer had an awkward moment on the sideline where fans couldn’t tell if they were celebrating or ready to throw hands. The aftermath even had Bashaud Breeland egging fans to boo him before trashing them online.
The 2015 and 2017 teams went out and played a disciplined but loose style of football. What we’ve seen from this team is nowhere close and is not indicative of a group ready to make a magical run.