The Minnesota Vikings led by seven in nearly every game this season. Every loss they had was by one score. They remained in playoff contention for most of the year and constantly came within a game of .500, only to lose the next one. They were good enough to keep hanging around.
That was until they visited the Frozen Tundra this weekend.
The Vikings couldn’t get the offense going with Kirk Cousins on the COVID/reserve list. They couldn’t stop the Aaron Rodgers–Davante Adams connection. The Vikings never led, were down 20-3 at halftime, and lost 37-10. They have been eliminated from the playoffs.
Adams had 136 yards, but it wasn’t just Adams who beat them. Allen Lazard had 72, and Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for 50 yards on the ground. Conversely, Tyler Conklin finished with nearly as many yards receiving (47) as Justin Jefferson (58) and K.J. Osborn (50). Dalvin Cook finished with fewer yards on the ground (13 yards on nine carries) than Sean Mannion (14 yards on two scrambles).
After a year when the Vikings were in every game and nearly won half of them, they finally broke. Not finally as in finally, like you’re sick of this team – although I know many of you are. What I’m saying is it felt inevitable that it was going to happen.
Cousins went 14/31 for 216 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the defense gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter. Still, Minnesota staved off Pittsburgh’s comeback because Cook ran for 205 yards and Harrison Smith broke up a pass on the final play.
Eleven days later, Cousins threw for 87 yards, two fewer than Cook gained on the ground. But the Vikings were able to beat the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football because the defense locked down in the red zone.
However, a week later they weren’t able to beat the Los Angeles Rams because they couldn’t stop Sony Michel (131 yards) or capitalize on LA’s multiple mishaps. Minnesota’s defense held Matthew Stafford to 197 yards and picked him off three times, but they still only scored 23 points.
Cousins’ positive COVID test influenced this game because he’d have given Minnesota a chance under center. And, yeah, given that availability is probably his biggest strength, Cousins could have helped his chances of avoiding a positive test by being vaccinated. But Cousins could have still had a breakthrough case and been ruled ineligible, given that Mannion tested positive and was in the quarterbacks room with him.
“I started to feel a little bit sick,” Mannion said after the game, “and then I talked to Sug (head trainer Eric Sugarman), and that’s obviously how I ended up on the COVID list. [It was a] surprise to me because I’m just kind of to and from work; I don’t really go anywhere or do anything.”
Mannion was vaccinated and had a breakthrough case. He was allowed to play because of the NFL’s COVID protocols and said he felt physically fine before the game. Perhaps if he weren’t, Kellen Mond would have started. Either way, the Vikings didn’t have a backup who could have won this game. The Vikings roster Mannion to assist Cousins, and they drafted Mond as a project quarterback in the third round.
Zimmer clarified after the game that Mond was only in the game because Mannion was unable to play during the penultimate drive. Mannion experienced hand cramps but was under center for the final offensive possession. Asked if he wanted to see Mond against Chicago next week, Zimmer made his thoughts clear.
“Not particularly,” he said.
Asked why, he responded, “I see him every day (in practice).”
Mond has a big arm and is a good athlete. But he has some accuracy issues and locks onto targets. He wasn’t the answer tonight, no matter how much you may have wanted him to be.
Mannion went to Conklin and Ham early and often in this one. In fact, Ham was the first read on a fourth-down try that failed. But that’s no different than multiple games where Cousins was under center. Zimmer went as far as to say that he didn’t change the offense much once he got the word that Cousins would be out.
“I mean,” he said, “for the most part, it was all the same.”
Zimmer wouldn’t offer his thoughts on being eliminated from the playoffs for the second year in a row, and he wouldn’t put into words how he felt about the season. “Maybe after next week,” he said. He’s not the sentimental type, anyways.
If he’s on his way out, he’s going out his own way.
“I don’t think we stuck with it enough,” Zimmer said when asked about the run game. Dalvin Cook finished with 13 yards a game after the Packers gave up 126 to Nick Chubb.
“I mean,” Zimmer added, “We got away from it.”
Green Bay’s run defense isn’t great. But it’s a little easier to sell out on the run when the backup quarterback is under center.
It wasn’t sustainable for the Vikings to continue blowing leads. They couldn’t keep playing one-score games and hovering around .500. They couldn’t have Cousins play like he did against Pittsburgh and in Chicago and win in the playoffs. Minnesota needed to start putting teams away eventually.
They had to play dramatically better than they did all season in Green Bay. Instead, Cousins was out, they couldn’t run the ball, and the defense could only do so much. A team that bent all season finally broke.