Vikings

Will the Vikings Lose That Winning Feeling?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have been here before. They lost to the Cooper Rush-led Dallas Cowboys last year, but this one hits differently. A 40-3 blowout at home feels like a lot of regression happening at once. It’s the kind of loss that can suck the soul out of a team.

Dallas was favored, and the Vikings are only a week removed from an improbable win over the Buffalo Bills on the road. Still, it’s hard not to think of Minnesota’s 24-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football after this one. Philly didn’t beat the Vikings by as much as the Cowboys did, but it was a tough loss to an NFC East opponent. It cast doubt on the team after a big win.

The loss in Philadelphia also served as a wake-up call. Minnesota had just beaten the Green Bay Packers 23-7 in primetime to start the season. The Vikings responded in Week 3 with a last-second win over the Detroit Lions at home, 28-24. Minnesota only led for 45 seconds, but it was enough to beat Dan Campbell’s knee-biters and kick off an improbable seven-game win streak.

“We knew that we didn’t play our best ball last week,” Kevin O’Connell told his team after beating Detroit. “Not only did we have to persevere [after] a week of preparation, which you guys prepared your [butts] off. But I saw the look in your eye all week long that no matter what the [heck] happened out there, we were gonna come in here for the second time with this feeling right here, okay?”

O’Connell let a smile slip as he said, “feeling.” He knows that that winning feeling drives players. That there’s nothing like returning to the locker room after a win. He wanted to highlight that, to create an incentive for them to chase all season long.

“It’s addicting, man,” he exclaimed.

The Vikings chased it. They went to London, beat the New Orleans Saints, and then reeled off five more wins. But there were always caveats. They let New Orleans hang around and the Chicago Bears back in. They powered through the oppressive heat in Miami and held Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid in check but nearly lost in Washington.

Their win in Buffalo was as improbable as it gets, and the Vikings fell hard after it. They fell so hard that they became the first team in NFL history to be 8-2 or better through 10 games while also having a negative point differential (-2). That stat quantifies this season. Minnesota’s seven-straight wins came by one score, and they lost by 17 in Philadelphia and 37 against Dallas. Their 23-7 win to start the season hardly makes up for that.

“We didn’t do the things…that have helped us win eight games,” said Adam Thielen. “And I think we kinda just expected that we would find a way to win because we’ve been doing that. So sometimes these games are good, just to wake you up a little bit, realize that, hey, you gotta bring it every single week.”

For O’Connell, the key to winning again is acknowledging what happened. Just like they were able to dismiss some of their shortcomings when they won seven straight, they have to acknowledge that the Cowboys stomped them in Minneapolis.

“I don’t really know any other way other than to go back to work and really accept this result,” says O’Connell.

“I think it’s important that we accept this result and understand when you can look to a man and coach and player, and say, ‘We just weren’t good enough.’ That allows you to move forward. But we gotta accept it, first and foremost, even on a short week. Correct some of the things that we can correct, and then make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to turn these guys over, build a great plan for them.

“Even on a short week, the expectation is that we’re gonna come out and play well in four days.”

O’Connell says he likes the challenge of turning around and playing the New England Patriots on Thursday. He and many players see it as a way to wash the bad taste from their mouths. They’ve done it before. The Vikings bounced back from the Monday night loss in Philadelphia to beat Detroit, and they rode that feeling through a seven-game win streak.

But the Patriots aren’t the Lions. The team that’s coming to town on Thanksgiving may not be Tom Brady’s Patriots, but Bill Belichick is still coaching them. The Washington Commanders revealed Minnesota’s Achilles heel – they’re susceptible to pressure. Dallas exploited it, and Belichick will find a way to get to Kirk Cousins.

He’ll also make Minnesota play left-handed. He’ll do what he can to keep Justin Jefferson, who had three catches for 33 yards against Dallas, in check. The Vikings had that winning feeling in a bottle, but the Cowboys shattered it. They’re going to have to capture it again. But will they be able to on a short week against Belichick and the Patriots?

It all depends on how addicting that feeling really is.

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