See this? Way too early to think about pressing it. (Picture via Dr. Tedi Koehn)
The 2008 Arizona Cardinals.
The 2007 New York Giants.
The 2006 Indianapolis Colts.
Those three teams have a couple of things in common. The first is that they all went to the Super Bowl. Two of those three teams, the Giants and Colts, won the Super Bowl in the years listed. But that's not the main thread that connects them. . .not for the purposes of this post, at least.
Each of those three teams went on to represent their conference in the biggest game of the year. . .and they each had a game late in the season where they got their butts collectively handed to them in a manner that made people wonder if they were legitimate contenders or not.
Remember Minnesota's trip to Arizona last season? Tarvaris Jackson threw four touchdown passes, Adrian Peterson ran wild, and the Vikings blasted the Cardinals to the tune of 35-14. . .and that wasn't even the worst loss the Cardinals suffered that month, as they went out the next week against the New England Patriots and got hammered by a score of 47-7. But, lo and behold, five weeks after the loss to the Patriots, there they were, representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, and were two minutes away from winning the whole ball of wax.
How about the 2007 Giants? Does the Vikings' trip to the Giants Stadium that year ring any bells for anybody? Going into the game without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings got a 60-yard Jackson to Sidney Rice touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, intercepted Eli Manning four times (returning three of them for touchdowns), and throttled the Giants 41-17. But the Giants just kept on going despite the blowout, and a couple months later they went to the Super Bowl and derailed what would have been the only 19-0 season in NFL history by knocking off the Patriots. The 2007 Vikings? 8-8, and watching the playoffs from home.
The 2006 Colts? In Week 14, they lined up against their division rivals from Jacksonville. . .and got thrashed in every conceivable way. The Colts gave up 375 rushing yards. . .yes, three hundred and seventy-five yards allowed on the ground. . .en route to a 44-17 pummeling by the Jaguars. And it's not as though the Colts were resting starters by that point or anything. . .Peyton Manning threw 50 passes (with no touchdowns), but the Colts allowed Maurice Jones-Drew to gash them for 166 yards and two scores, and Fred Taylor chipped in another 131 yards and a touchdown. Even something named Alvin Pearman tossed in 71 yards and a score. But, again, on the first Sunday in February, there was Manning and company holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft and telling everyone they were going to Disney World. The Jags finished 8-8 and missed the post-season.
Yes, the Vikings got handled by the Cardinals last night, and everyone saw it. The Cardinals are, in my opinion, the best team Minnesota has seen all season, and they played like it. Still, even with the loss to the Cardinals, the Vikings are 10-2 on the year. . .the only two teams that have better records are New Orleans and Indianapolis. That's pretty damn good. Their schedule the rest of the way isn't terribly menacing, and they still have a two-game advantage on everyone else in the NFC for the conference's other first-round bye for the post-season party. . .a party that they will, undoubtedly, be attending. I'll concede that we're not getting home field at this point, but a first-round bye would still be nice.
Even after last night, the Minnesota Vikings are one of the NFL's best teams. There are four regular season games and, hopefully, a first-round bye for the Vikings to solve this problem. Hopefully Antoine Winfield will be back soon. . .and if he's available if we see the Cardinals again, I think things might be a little different. . .and the Vikings can get back to what they do best, which is pound the opposition and win football games.
One loss, no matter how big or how seemingly one-sided, is reason for panic. Last night's thumping by the Cardinals is no exception to that rule. The bigger story is the loss of linebacker E.J. Henderson, and hopefully there will be some news on him later on today. As soon as we hear anything, we'll let everyone know.