What If Losing To Detroit Was For the Best?

Photo Credit: David Reginek (USA TODAY Sports)

If you truly bleed purple, you had to have had a sinking feeling as Amon-Ra St. Brown fell to the turf cradling Jared Goff’s 11-yard touchdown pass to secure a 29-27 win. Yes, it was a catch. And yeah, he was securely in the end zone. In a sentence I never thought I’d ever write, the Minnesota Vikings left Dan Campbell and Jared Goff too much time, and it bit them in the kneecaps.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Detroit Lions may have initiated meaningful change in the Vikings organization.

The Lions always seemed like the third rail. Yeah, they’re probably better than their record indicates. And sure, the Vikings were banged up. But this isn’t about missing Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Everson Griffen. It’s not about Adam Thielen’s sprained ankle. It’s that change seemed inevitable after Minnesota fell to the San Francisco 49ers last week, and losing to Detroit feels like the coda for the current regime.

It would have taken a nearly impossible run for Minnesota to end up better than 9-8 or 8-9, even if they won on Sunday. Nine wins probably gets you into the playoffs, but do we think the Vikings stand a chance against their first-round opponent if they qualified for a wild card spot? They’re not beating Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And I’m not sure a close Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals offers bona fide hope of beating them in the playoffs.

After losing in Santa Clara last week, the Vikings would have had to pick up wins in Lambeau, Soldier Field, and against the Los Angeles Rams to finish with double-digit wins. They would also have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week and take care of business against the Chicago Bears at home in Week 18.

Yeah, the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers earlier this year, but the Pack are 5-0 in the frozen tundra this season. Minnesota has only beaten the Bears once since Cousins took over in 2018. The Rams have formed a Super Bowl team with playoff aspirations. And there’s always variability on a short week, even if the Steelers look vulnerable this year.

A 10-plus-win season became impractical after losing to San Francisco.

But beating the Lions shouldn’t have been. All week the Vikings kept saying that the Lions were better than their record indicated. That they had a good run game, a stout defense, and a motivating coach. Minnesota had survived a scare in Week 5 where Greg Joseph’s 50-plus-yard kick gave them a 19-17 victory as time expired, saving them from a 1-5 start.

The best-case scenario on Sunday would have been a cleansing win. We’re talking something like their 34-20 victory over the Lions in Week 9 of last year. The Vikings only have played in one game that was decided by more than one score, their 30-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. A route against Detroit would have allowed them to rest their starters ahead of a short week and given them some momentum going into Thursday night’s game.

Instead, everyone played until the bitter end and suffered a deflating loss.

Look, this team has bounced back before. The Vikings have had a COVID outbreak, and Dalvin Cook was named in a lawsuit. Everson Griffen had a mental health episode and has revealed that he’s bipolar. Still, they beat the Los Angeles Chargers on the road and Green Bay at home. But it’s going to be hard to bounce back from losing to a previously winless team on a short week.

Minnesota has already lost to a Cooper Rush-led Dallas Cowboys team. They blew a double-digit lead to the Baltimore Ravens and penalized themselves to death against the Cincinnati Bengals. They missed a chip-shot field goal in Glendale and turned it over on downs twice against the Niners.

The Wilfs have been magnanimous with their patience but apparently are not monogamous in their relationship with Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. According to Judd Zulgad and Darren Wolfson, the Wilfs have done due diligence on replacements for both the coach and GM. In a league where ownership often makes knee-jerk decisions about management, the Wilfs have fostered stability. But it looks like change is inevitable, and it’s probably for the better.

The modern NFL is a passing league. The rules favor airing it out and running up the score. Gone are the days of building up a defense, spending big on a running back, and having a good enough quarterback to get you by. There aren’t many teams that are winning a Super Bowl with a signal-caller like Trent Dilfer or Joe Flacco. You’ve got to have a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or Brady and load the team with weapons around him.

Any offensive mind would clamor to coach Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. Irv Smith Jr. will be back next year, and guys like K.J. Osborn and Tyler Conklin have become valuable depth players. There’s still the question of whether you can rely on Cousins in crunch time, but the Vikings have the option of riding out with him for $45 million next year and then making a decision from there.

The point is, change feels almost inevitable after the loss to the Lions. It would take a miracle run for this team to make the playoffs, let alone a playoff run. Stranger things have happened. But if there’s an overhaul this offseason, it may be for the better. Now the Wilfs can get a jump-start on researching their potential options.

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