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One to Grow On

This lady has as many sacks this season as Jared Allen does.
This lady has as many sacks this season as Jared Allen does.

Knowing you're going to have to write about a Minnesota Vikings loss is bad enough, waking up with a headache and having to write about a loss is right up there with accidentally running across an ex's wedding pictures on Facebook when you're at home sick. It's getting kicked when you're already down.

That's a sensation the Vikings are probably experiencing today too.

In theory, I was prepared for this. With the Vikings in the first year of what is acknowledged by pretty much anyone not named Spielman as a four-year rebuilding process,Vikings fans need to brace themselves for ups and downs every week. Considering how many players on the roster should be asked to show their IDs at R-rated movies, it's more surprising if they play consistent, disciplined football and leave the field with a win.

More after the jump.

But, since the Vikings pulled off a last-second tie and won in overtime against Jacksonville, they raised expectations that they could do it again. Instead, the Indianapolis Colts owned this week's last-second victory.

It might simply be that that Vikings are worse than we thought going into Sunday's game and that the Colts are better than we thought. The Colts' rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, at any rate, played with more poise than expected. People expect a first overall draft pick to be good, but Luck evaded pressure in the pocket frequently by simply stepping up rather than tucking the ball and running for his life the way rookies so often do. That was surprising, but not as surprising as veteran players like Jared Allen making costly mistakes.

The problem in looking at the stats for the Vikings' penalties (11 for 105 yards) is that it takes only the cost in yardage into account. However, the actual cost of those penalties in lost opportunities and lost momentum is even higher. The penalty on Andrew Sendejo for running into the punter revived a drive for the Colts, and then, just when it looked like the Vikings defense had made a critical stop, Jared Allen gets called for a late hit on Luck out of bounds to keep the drive going and snare a field goal for the Colts.

What's so concerning for me about the Vikings' performance on Sunday isn't how bad it was, it's how familiar it was. They got off to a slow offensive start and had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns as drives fizzled. Then, the defense struggled to get off the field, failing to consistently stop the Colts on third-downs. Add in some critical errors on special teams and it isn't any wonder that the Vikings were again trying to comeback from behind and scrape into overtime. What they needed was a confident win on the road before coming home to play the San Francisco 49ers, but what they got was a defeat that looks eerily like so many of the losses they recorded in 2011 that were valiant efforts plagued by consistently undisciplined play. You have to wonder how the locker room will hold up if losses pile up in an apparent continuation from last season.

Speaking of next week's game against San Francisco, this is a team that plays the kind of football that the Vikings aspire to, and they win with it. The 49ers, like the Vikings, are a run-oriented team that prides itself on defense. They haven't bought into the current fad that defense is a dead art and that you need a lightning passing attack that simply outscores opponents rather than stopping them. San Francisco is winning with a classic style of football that Minnesota wants to play.

I would love to have the kind of giddy optimism that says the Vikings can regroup this week during practice, buckle down, clean up their errors (tackling, missed assignments, failing to create separation, etc...), and pull off the upset of the week when they take on San Francisco at the Dome next week. If my head didn't hurt so much right now, I might just suggest that very scenario. What I hope happens is that as the Vikings prepare to face a San Francisco team that is like them but much better than they are, that they will learn and improve from that study.

It's a concept used in a lot of different disciplines. In business it's adopting best practices, in writing it's called prose modeling, it simply comes down to figuring out what the successful folks are doing and doing the same thing. San Francisco's similarities to the Vikings should make it clear to our Purple how they can improve using a system that has a strong likeness to their own. If the Vikings can learn to emulate San Francisco's disciplined football, then even if they don't win next week against the 49ers, it won't have been a complete bust.

That might not be the most hopeful reaction to the Vikings next match-up, but, considering what they did against the Colts and my continued headache, this might be as hopeful as I get today.