If you’re one of the 20,000-some people who went to the Cincinnati Bengals game in person and want a refund, I don’t blame you. Good luck getting your money back, although Delta was offering north of $1,000 on a debit card, a free night’s stay at a local hotel, and a first-class flight out the day after the game if you chose to take a later flight out. The 50-seater heading back to MSP was overbooked.
The Minnesota Vikings faithful wanted to get out of there after that game. Or maybe there just happened to be a lot of people itching to leave Cincinnati. Either way, the Vikings aren’t going to give you front row seats and a free flight to one of their upcoming away games because you shelled out for the Week 1 defeat. The lack of offense in the first quarter, a fumble that probably wasn’t a fumble that turned the tide in the game, and myriad penalties in between? That’s football, baby. That ticket is non-refundable.
So why should anyone believe things will be different in the desert this week? Because this is a whole new ballgame. The Bengals are Mercer; the Arizona Cardinals are Michigan. They’re the Big 10 team after the FCS appetizer. A loss to Mercer is a fluke if you can hang with the Wolverines. It’s a harbinger if you get blown out.
The Cardinals are the real deal. They’re a sun-baked squad from snowbird country representing a division that may send four teams to the playoffs. They’ve got Kliff Kingsbury, a handsome young coach who brought a college offense to the professional game and has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal that would make Kevin Garnett jealous. Kyler Murray has the quickness to scamper around the backfield and the arm to maximize the talent around him. He’s more difficult to track than MH370 and has the firepower of a warplane.
The Vikings were looking for a No. 3 receiver when they entered training camp. The Cardinals were wondering if their fifth-best receiver, a Hall of Famer, would retire. Arizona is a modern team; Minnesota is old-school. Mike Zimmer believes in stout defense and running the ball. Kingsbury is of the next generation that will spread you out and have his receivers blow by your secondary. You can’t defend the modern offense, and he knows that.
The air raid almost seems like it was designed to let the old-timers know that their way of life is no longer viable. Put up 30 on Arizona, and they’ll score 40. Zimmer is an outlaw, and Kingsbury, a Pinkerton. Arizona’s Week 1 opponent, the Tennessee Titans, represented the Zimmer philosophy. Mike Vrabel believes in defense, and Derrick Henry melts clocks. But the Titans were soundly beaten 38-13 last week. The Vikings have to make things closer than that if anyone is going to believe that they can beat the Seattle Seahawks when they return home, let alone finish with a winning record and qualify for the playoffs.
All week, Minnesota’s players reminded everyone that it’s only Week 2. Asked if he was preaching urgency or calm, Cousins said he was preaching consistency. It was a common refrain from the rest of the team: They just need to be consistent. That will hardly appease a fanbase for which consistency would mean a slow start, penalties, and sloppy defense. But what I believe they’re saying is that they were consistent in camp and want the team they were before the Cincinnati game to manifest itself in the regular season.
The Week 1 result surprised everybody. The Bengals are projected to win 6.5 games by most sportsbooks. The real test is the next three weeks: Arizona, Seattle, and the Cleveland Browns. But while it would be easy to conclude that because the Vikings can’t hang with Cincinnati, they’ll get blown out by teams like the Cardinals, they have a rare chance to change the narrative about them this week.
A slow offense can be attributed to first-game jitters. Sloppy penalties can be chalked up to a lack of communication. Ja’Marr Chase blowing by Bashaud Breeland can be explained as Breeland setting up too close to Chase before the ball was snapped. Cincinnati was hardly one of the most hostile environments in the league, given how much purple was in the stands, but it was still the first full stadium the Vikings have played in since 2019. And there will be a lot of purple in the stands in Glendale this week; Seattle in primetime this is not.
Rarely does a team get a second chance to make a first impression, but the Vikings get that opportunity this week because they face a higher caliber opponent — the kind of team they’ll need to beat if they want to be a factor this year. The season isn’t over until they lose at home, but they have to play well enough against the Cardinals for anyone to believe that they’ll beat the Seahawks in Minneapolis.