How the Vikings Respond To Adversity Will Define Their Season

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It was hard not to notice that Stefon Diggs scored his third touchdown for the Buffalo Bills shortly after Jalen Hurts made a second effort to put the Philadelphia Eagles up 21-7. The NFL ran two games simultaneously on Monday night. But a casual viewer would find no reprieve if they wanted a better game than Minnesota Vikings vs. the Eagles. Diggs’ Bills pounded the Tennessee Titans, 41-7.

The Vikings shouldn’t have folded down 21-7, though. Philadelphia had thoroughly outplayed them at that point, but there were still two minutes left in the first half when Hurts scored. A quick touchdown could have changed the game’s momentum going into halftime. However, in a play reminiscent of Christian Watson‘s drop in Week 1, Irv Smith Jr. let Kirk Cousins‘ perfectly thrown pass slip through his fingers. Had the oft-injured tight end held onto it, he would have had seven.

The Eagles put the Vikings on their heels early. Ed Donatell looked like he was trying to bait Hurts into making a mistake, but he took what the defense gave him early. Philadelphia’s dual-threat quarterback completed his first 10 passes. He scored on a second effort on third-and-goal to put the Eagles up 7-0, then took advantage of Minnesota’s defensive breakdown early in the second, hitting Quez Watkins for a 53-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

Still, Cousins led the Vikings on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead in half, 14-7. But Minnesota couldn’t get anything going outside of that. They went three-and-out on three of their first four drives and appeared to let go of the rope after a particularly frustrating sequence following Irv Smith Jr.’s drop.

Josh Sweat sacked Cousins on the first play from scrimmage but grabbed Cousins’ facemask. However, the offense couldn’t capitalize on his mistake. Dalvin Cook dropped a screen pass that looked like it could have gone for a meaningful gain. Then Cousins hit Smith when he was behind the defense, only to have him bobble the pass. Finally, Cousins threw it away under pressure on third-and-10.

Philadelphia drove 75 yards down the field on eight plays, and Josh Elliott’s field goal sailed through the uprights. 24-7 Eagles. Minnesota’s response in the second half? Interception, interception, punt, and an interception.

Specifically, the Vikings marched 60 yards down the field on their first drive in the second half. But Jefferson ran the wrong route in the end zone, and Darius Slay picked off Cousins.

Minnesota then stalled Philadelphia’s 11-play, 59-yard drive with a blocked kick. Kris Boyd scooped up the ball and ran it 27 yards to the Eagles’ 30-yard line, but Minnesota couldn’t capitalize on the excellent field position. Avonte Maddox picked off Cousins’ pass for Adam Thielen in the end zone.

Finally, Jordan Hicks picked off Hurts and got the ball to the Eagles’ nine-yard line with 7:25 left in the game. But Cousins missed Thielen and Jefferson on his first two throws, and then Slay picked him off in the end zone again.

“Just one play away,” said O’Connell, “and then guys started to try to be the guy that makes the play that changes the momentum of the game. And it felt at times, me included, that we pressed a little bit. And then that’s where we just gotta go back to it.”

“They caught us slipping with our heads down tonight,” Jefferson added. “We didn’t come to play like we wanted to, so really the best part is having a short week this week, having a short turnaround, and we can do it all over again and try to be better next week.”

The Vikings play the Detroit Lions at home next Sunday. It’s a noon game, the only “normal” contest they will have in the first four weeks of this season. To call it a trap is unfair to both teams. Detroit beat them last year, and Minnesota knows they almost lost twice. Instead, it’s an immediate test of how this team handles adversity.

Last year things were tense, and they folded under pressure. But O’Connell and the new regime have indicated that things will be different this year.

“I can promise you this much: Our guys, and even postgame, there’s a feeling of wanting to get right back to work,” he said. “A bad taste in our mouth is one thing, but we know what our standard is, and it starts with me tonight, and I gotta make sure I do much, much more to help our guys play to their standard.”

Every week reveals more information about the previous one. Did the Vikings establish themselves as the team to beat in the NFC North in Week 1? Or did the Green Bay Packers just start slow again? Are the Eagles that much better than Minnesota, or did they just catch the Vikings on an off night? How will Minnesota perform in a noon game against a team like the Lions?

The last question is probably the most important. The Vikings head to London to take on the New Orleans Saints after they play Detroit. Then, they have four winnable noon games. We’re about to learn what their standard is and how they respond to a tough loss. We’re about to see how they handle a game that isn’t in primetime. But most of all, we’ll get an indication of what four of their next five games will look like before they have to take on Diggs’ Bills in Week 10.

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Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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