It was a Wednesday night at Kevin O’Connell’s house, and the Minnesota Vikings were gathering for their annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Za’Darius Smith brought the turkey. Harrison Phillips brought the stuffing. The offensive line brought the mashed potatoes, and Kirk Cousins brought the finest Michelob Ultra money can buy.
But as the Vikings sat down for their team dinner, there was a knock at the door.
Bill Belichick walked in and instantly bemoaned the Thanksgiving spread. He looked uncomfortable as he ate potatoes right off the serving spoon. He demanded ranch with his turkey and griped every time his food was touching on his plate.
After initiating a 90-minute conversation about politics, he confirmed what many already knew: He is the Vikings’ worst possible Thanksgiving guest.
Every time the Vikings have run into Belichick, bad things have happened. In 2002, Minnesota was mired in a 3-7 season when Belichick and his New England Patriots took a 21-0 lead en route to a 24-17 victory. The Vikings finished the season with a 6-10 record, but they were already bad, so it just seemed like a typical Sunday.
But the Vikings were a different team in 2006. The Brad Childress era was off to a 4-2 start, and he was set to host the Patriots on Monday Night Football. This could have been the moment when a first-year coach could have become one of the greatest minds in the NFL. Instead, Belichick taught Childress a lesson in humility.
The Patriots spread out the Vikings and proceeded to move up and down the field. Tom Brady threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Minnesota’s only points came on a Mewelde Moore punt return. New England dominated with a 31-7 victory. It was also the turning point in the season — the Vikings finished 6-10.
The 2010 Vikings were a walking disaster. Childress lost control of his team, and Brett Favre had finally run into Father Time. Their stadium was about to implode, and at 2-4, they fell woefully short of their Super Bowl aspirations.
Belichick licked his chops at this matchup like he had just put a dollop of Top the Tater in his mashed potatoes. The Vikings held a 10-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Patriots turned it on late. Favre got hurt, and Randy Moss lost his mind postgame, eventually forcing a trade to Minnesota.
This was the beginning of the end for Childress, who would wind up cutting Moss later in the season. But it led the way for another head coach to get his crack at Belichick in 2014.
Mike Zimmer won his first game as head coach of the Vikings and was getting ready for the home opener. With a punishing defensive effort against the St. Louis Rams, Vikings fans were optimistic even after the league suspended Adrian Peterson for a child abuse incident. Unfortunately, Belichick had other ideas.
The Vikings took a 7-0 lead on a Matt Cassel pass to Matt Asiata, but the tables turned faster than you could say, “NORV!” The Patriots held Minnesota to just 217 yards on the afternoon and scored 30 unanswered points in a 30-7 victory that got so bad that Teddy Bridgewater came into the game.
The loss was a precursor for that team, who didn’t have Peterson the rest of the season and finished 7-9.
Another four years passed, and the Vikings made the trip to Foxborough. Just like their previous trips in the Belichick era, this was a sloppy game that featured little offense. After watching Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen tear up the league in the opening months of the 2018 season, Belichick had the idea to double both and force someone else to beat them.
Laquon Treadwell wasn’t up for the challenge, and Cousins was lost without his favorite targets. Dalvin Cook had 84 yards, but he only had nine carries, drawing Zimmer’s ire in a 30-7 loss. He fired offensive John DeFilippo eight days later, and the Vikings missed the playoffs in a season where they were considered Super Bowl contenders.
That brings us to Thursday’s game with the Patriots. The Vikings have done well despite Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. At 8-2, they have a division title wrapped up, and the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles look vulnerable in the race for home-field advantage. But Sunday’s game also showed some weaknesses that are as salivating as a piece of pumpkin pie to Belichick.
The Vikings’ offensive line arguably had its worst performance of the season against the Cowboys. Cousins was sacked seven times in the loss, and things won’t get easier after Christian Darrisaw has already been ruled out due to his second concussion in two weeks.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Patriots own a 28.5% pressure rate after Week 11. The team that’s in first place? The Cowboys, at 28.6%.
Cousins was also pressured on 60% of his dropbacks against Dallas – the highest clip in Week 11. Meanwhile, the Patriots were third, generating a 48.3% pressure rate on Zach Wilson.
If watching the Vikings’ interior offensive line get knocked down like bowling pins isn’t enough to make Belichick cackle like the Grinch, perhaps their secondary will.
With Cameron Dantzler and Akayleb Evans out of the lineup, the Vikings tossed Andrew Booth Jr. into the deep end. Much like Amari Cooper cooking Mike Hughes for 11 receptions and 154 yards in a 2018 matchup with the Cowboys, Booth was targeted a team-high eight times for seven catches and 85 yards.
Even Jordan Hicks struggled in coverage, allowing two touchdowns, including a 68-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Tony Pollard at the beginning of the third quarter.
The Vikings also have a negative point differential on the season, a byproduct of the heart-stopping comebacks that have become a staple. After living on the edge for so many weeks, the Vikings finally couldn’t get off the canvas, and Dallas blew them out 40-3.
That’s why running into Belichick now is concerning. The Vikings have overcome their shortcomings but will face a coach known for amplifying them. Belichick would have found these weaknesses when he flipped on the tape, but the Vikings basically passed around a blueprint on how to beat them like it was a bowl of sweet potatoes.
In a perfect world, the Vikings would let Belichick eat and send him on his way to steal someone’s Christmas. But on Thursday, they’ll have to deal with their worst possible Thanksgiving guest.