Minnesota's Growing Pains Make Ugly Wins Very Valuable

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have played three games and put up three different performances.

Very good, VERY bad, and very ugly. And boy, Sunday was ugly.

If not for a few fourth-down blunders by Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, we’d be talking about a 1-2 football team with a Week 1 fluke far in the rearview mirror.

But that didn’t happen. Fortunately, Campbell made his mistakes. Austin Seibert missed the field goal from 54 yards, leaving Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ offense with excellent field position and a chance to win the game with 1:10 remaining. A few plays later, Cousins connects with K.J. Osborn for the go-ahead touchdown, Paul Allen lets loose a hype touchdown call, and the rest is history.

It leaves Vikings fans with the frustrating question of how to feel coming off a win like this. Does a last-minute blunder by the Lions — and, admittedly, some game-winning heroics — erase all the groans of frustration we had before this game turned in the final seconds? Because there was plenty to groan about.

The Vikings’ defense looked bad yet again. For a scheme predicated on complex zone coverages, they continue to struggle with the basic rules of simple zone coverage. When passing off or shifting the coverage responsibility for a receiver from one defender’s zone to another, communication issues and busts continue to be a massive problem. The Lions’ running game looked tougher than Minnesota’s defensive front could handle, especially when rotating in any of the second-stringers, leading to an efficient day at the office for Detroit’s running backs.

And the Vikings’ offense continues to run hot and cold. Granted, that’s a notable improvement from last week when the Philadelphia Eagles froze them in place for four quarters, but still not what anyone hoped for after Week 1’s fireworks.

Justin Jefferson posted another disappointing box score. Detroit decided they’d rather let defenders double him or commit a penalty every play than let him be the reason they lost on Sunday. Perhaps that’s not a winning formula every team will mimic, but it is disheartening for Vikings fans to watch their best player go three catches for 14 yards.

Remember when JJ was moving around the formation on every play and was nigh unguardable in Week 1? Either that’s harder to replicate than people thought, or Kevin O’Connell made the odd choice not to try.

Here’s the good news for fans shaking their heads after this game: In the NFL, the ugly wins count the same as the pretty ones.

Sure, smoking Aaron Rodgers and the Packers felt better than barely squeaking one out against the Lions, but they both go down as a W in the record book.

The Vikings are working through some growing pains. The coaches are trying to change the culture and implement a new defensive scheme. O’Connell is discovering what it means to be a head coach for the first time. Old dogs are trying to learn new tricks as veteran defenders adjust to this new defense. This team is still trying to establish what it does well.

It makes perfect sense that the Vikings would undergo growing pains in this early stretch of the season, and some of these issues may take longer to sort out. But if we have any faith that this new regime has the right guys in place, these are fixable problems.

So until the day comes that we see these Vikings playing at peak efficiency, don’t sulk after an ugly win. Celebrate it like the valuable commodity it is. Gutting out a victory you might not strictly deserve lets you stay in the race. By the time you’re looking good enough to dominate some of these games with style, it won’t be too late.

It’s a long season. With 14 games left to play, this team still has a chance to be the playoff dark horse fans were teased with in the Green Bay game. If they can continue to find their footing on offense and settle Cousins into a rhythm, they have a chance to be pretty exciting as the season wears on. There’s still yet to be a game where their offensive personnel fire on all cylinders at the same time; that should be a fun day.

Let’s hope that, when that day comes, the defense has also taken the steps necessary to succeed within this new scheme and start playing with some confidence.

Next week in London is another chance to stack a win against a New Orleans Saints team struggling to find itself. Minnesota must take advantage of that situation and find a way to win, even if it’s not pretty. Because any win right now, especially against the hated Saints, is worth celebrating.

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