Wanna know what I was thankful for on Thanksgiving this year? That the Minnesota Vikings only had to live in the aftermath of the Dallas Cowboys catastrophe for a short four days before slaying their demons against the New England Patriots.
Last week, Minnesota showed that their culture is strong enough to rebound from a tough loss — on offense, at least. With Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson‘s stellar performances leading the way, the Vikings outlasted the Patriots and made a statement against one of the better defenses in the league.
Did the defense make Mac Jones look like vintage Tom Brady for four quarters? Well, yes. And we’ll try not to think about how they’re one or two more injuries away from letting fans try out for the starting corner opposite Patrick Peterson.
But, most importantly, they regained that scrappy, fight-to-the-finish, chaotic Vikings energy they’ve had this season. Gutting out tight wins and battling to the end seems to be in this team’s DNA, and yet we all remember the two games when that identity vanished — the blowout losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Outside of those two regrettable losses, the Vikings have shown the grit to persevere and bounce back. And that’s good because there’s a major gut check incoming this weekend against the New York Jets. The Zach Wilson era in New York may be over, but their season is far from it. And this game could be a tone-setter for the Vikings as they continue their path to January.
We’ve seen two teams utterly dismantle the Vikings, and there have been common elements in both games. Styles make fights, and it seems the NFC East’s titans are bad for Minnesota.
The Vikings were dominated at the line of scrimmage against the Eagles and Cowboys. Completely and utterly dominated. We saw the worst versions of Cousins in both matchups, and the offense became a discombobulated mess.
We also saw the defense get dismantled. This unit invites teams to run the ball by design, living with two deep safeties and off coverage on a down-to-down basis. It’s built on the premise that the front seven will eventually make a play, get the offense behind the chains, and limit the explosive plays.
That is a fine plan until the running defense is so impotent that you have no choice but to cheat up, leaving your struggling secondary open to a play-action kill shot.
So these losses provide a blueprint for beating the 9-2 Vikings: a dominant defensive line, a high-powered running game, and a quarterback who can take advantage of his opportunities. And while there are not many teams in the NFL that fit that bill, several of them will be in the mix come January. Vikings fans should be wary of a rematch with Philly or Dallas, while other teams like the San Francisco 49ers are also certainly capable of following that game plan.
That’s why the Jets are such a valuable test.
Minnesota is favored against Gang Green for a reason. If it takes a passable quarterback to fully exploit the Vikings’ weaknesses, then hearing Mike White’s name announced on Sunday should put Vikings faithful at ease — even if the idea of rookie star receiver Garrett Wilson lined up against Duke Shelley brings back that familiar anxiety moments later.
But perhaps more critical is the battle for the line of scrimmage.
The Minnesota Moving Company is in for another tough test against the Jets, and they’ll likely be facing that test without their star in Christian Darrisaw once again. Quinnen Williams and Solomon Thomas are game wreckers on the interior, while Carl Lawson leads a tenacious rotation of edge rushers. They set the edge, they’re gap sound, and they make you earn it.
And while stars like Jefferson should fear no one, Sauce Gardner is staking his claim for defensive rookie of the year and won’t back down from this matchup either.
Then there’s the defensive side of the ball. Despite showing signs of life earlier this season, it appears to be regressing as injuries mount, and weaknesses get exploited. New York’s offensive line is playing good football this season. They’ve got multiple explosive receivers, and second-year runner Michael Carter is a nice player. A quality game from Ed Donatell’s unit would be a massive step in the right direction.
Jets head coach Robert Salah clearly has a vision for his team to embody many of the same traits his San Francisco teams displayed. First and foremost, it’s tough, hard-nosed football that’s built up front on both sides of the ball. The Jets are exactly the style of team the Vikings need to figure out how to beat if they’ll ever have a chance of advancing in January.
New York may be a step down from Dallas or Philly, but that’s a good thing. The Vikings have a combined point deficit in their two losses of 10 to 64. It should be abundantly clear that they must take a few more steps up before they’re ready for a January rematch. If Kevin O’Connell’s team can take a gut punch early and prove they can keep grinding against a tough Jets defensive front, it could pay dividends down the line.
And while we’re learning these lessons, let’s keep stacking wins and continuing the chase for the No. 1 seed along the way.