The Minnesota Vikings’ Week 13 bye seemed a long way away after they started 0-2. The Philadelphia Eagles had beat them 34-28 on Thursday night, and only 11.5% of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs. The Vikings lost the next week, and only six 0-3 teams have made the postseason since 1990. But that night in Philadelphia, T.J. Hockenson was adamant that his team believed in themselves.
“There’s an unwavering belief in this locker room that we’re gonna come out with a win every week, and it’s a credit to these guys in here that we continue that,” he said. “There’s 15 games left, and we can’t lose that unwavering belief. It’s our job to get our bodies right. We have a lot of games left before bye week. I think bye week is Week 12 or something, Week 10, somewhere around there, and we have a lot of games before that.”
Minnesota has their bye week next week, and at 6-6, they still believe in themselves. Joshua Dobbs, Dalton Risner, and Cam Akers weren’t on the roster when the Vikings lost in Philadelphia, but they have made meaningful contributions. They beat the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago, their fifth win in a row, and had a 74% chance to make the playoffs following that victory. But after two consecutive losses, they’ll have to make up substantial ground in the final five games. Still, Hockenson echoed a similar sentiment to what he said after losing in Week 2.
“Everything is out in front of us,” Hockenson said. “We gotta take this rest and recovery, we need it. A lot of guys in here are very much in need of it. You’ve gotta get away from here and forget about football for a few days and then come back and rest and recharge and just dial it in.
“We have this second half of this football season, we have five games left, and we just need to do our thing and come back and pound the rock, and we’ll be right where we want to be at the end of the year.”
The Vikings are still alive but feel lost in space after losing 12-10 to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. Jordan Addison caught a deep pass out of bounds that he could have scored on because he lost track of the boundary. Chicago’s defense contained Dobbs, giving him minimal room to work his magic by scrambling. Brian Flores’ defense held the Bears to 12 points and didn’t allow them to score a touchdown. But they left D.J. Moore wide open on the final drive, setting up a chip-shot field goal. As a result, they are .500. They are too good to tank but may have relinquished any shot at winning the division.
“It’s tough right now, they’re circling around us, we can feel it,” said Dalton Risner. “But I’m damn proud to be a Minnesota Viking still. We are 6-6, 2-1 in the NFC North, and we’ve got a lot of ball ahead of us coming off this bye. So, we are going to stay positive, continue to rally around each other in this locker room, love each other up, and we’re going to get through this.”
Dobbs was magnificent in Atlanta, and he backed that up with a promising performance against New Orleans. But the Vikings suffered a halting loss in Denver, and Dobbs threw four picks on Monday night. At 4-8, the Bears have struggled all year, but their defense has been great. They’re the only team that has picked an opponent off three times in three games, and they held the Kirk Cousins-led Vikings to 19 points in Chicago. Still, four interceptions are four interceptions, and Kevin O’Connell considered replacing Dobbs with Nick Mullens late in this week’s game.
“We’re going to take a look, really evaluate the inventory of plays now we have of Josh,” said O’Connell. “We got healthy, got Jaren back available to us, and Nick Mullens is available to us as well. Look, I think what Joshua Dobbs has done coming in here on short notice and really going 2-2 in a stretch where a lot of people might have thought Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson being out [that] the deck is stacked against us. [But] that’s not the way this team thinks, not the way this team operates, not the way I operate. We are trying to go out and win every football game we play.”
Minnesota has two winnable games coming out of the bye in Vegas and Cincinnati. Both teams are shorthanded. The 5-7 Las Vegas Raiders are starting their backup quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, and Antonio Pierce took over for Josh McDaniels midseason. Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending injury on November 16. But the Vikings can’t win those games turning the ball over like they did the past two weeks. After that, they have two games against the Detroit Lions and one more at home against the Green Bay Packers.
At the beginning of the year, the middle of their schedule looked winnable, even when they were 0-2. They picked up a win in Chicago and upset the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football, kicking off a five-game winning streak. But they won two, lost their last two, and need wins in their next two to give themselves a chance to be the seventh team since 1990 to make the playoffs after starting 0-3. Week 13 seemed a long way away when they lost in Philadelphia. Now it’s arrived. They are currently lost in space, but they can still bring this home.