In shades of what we saw entirely too much of in 2013, the Minnesota Vikings played well enough for the first 58 or 59 minutes of their game against the Buffalo Bills to escape with a victory. And then, in maddening fashion, they allowed a team that they had stifled offensively for much of the afternoon to move down the field, convert numerous third (and fourth) down opportunities, and snatch a victory away in the final minute. Or, in the case of Sunday's contest, the final second.
Like many of you, I really thought that the Vikings had this one. Honestly, they should have had this one. It stinks that they didn't get this one. But as I sit here and look through some of the ridiculously stupid overreactions (OMG TEDDY IZ THE SAME AS PONDER LOL) and the general cursing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied today's loss, I couldn't tell exactly what it was I was feeling at first, and then it occurred to me.
I was feeling. . .nothing.
Not anger, not sadness, not disappointment. . .just a sort of numbness, I suppose, would be the best way to describe it.
At 2-5, the competitive portion of the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 season appears to be just about over, barring something completely miraculous. We can argue about some of the decisions that were made during the game. . .for example, I don't know why the Vikings didn't call a timeout prior to the 4th and 20 play that kept the Bills alive when, clearly, the defense was in a state of confusion. We can talk about playing not to lose rather than playing to win and what that usually gets you. We can talk about how Matt Kalil can look completely competent for a significant stretch and then revert back to what we've seen for most of this season. And I'm sure that we will.
And yet, there are plenty of positives about today's game that can sort of balance that.
The Vikings, despite losing 40% of their starting offensive line for the afternoon on one play, ran for 158 yards and averaged 5.4 yards/carry against a defense that was allowing 67.5 yards/game and 2.8 yards/carry coming into this one. And that was with a guy (Mike Harris) playing a position on the offensive line (right guard) that he had never played in live NFL action because he was, literally, the only guy left to play that spot.
Teddy Bridgewater, after a couple of ugly throws early on, stepped up in a big way over the last 2.5 quarters of action. Sure, he was still sacked five times, including back-to-back times in a goal-to-go situation that turned out to be absolute killers (and, in both cases, he got absolutely zero time), but he also showed a willingness and an ability to go down the field a little more, finding guys like Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright for big chunks of yardage.
Anthony Barr. . .holy hell, Anthony Barr. . .could this guy exceed expectations a little more? He had two fumble recoveries on Sunday, eight solo tackles (10 total), a tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and was all over the place on defense for this entire afternoon. With his skills, as he continues to grow into the position, he appears poised to be a game-changer on defense for this team for a long time. He's already a game-changer in a year that was supposed to be a rough transition for him.
The defense, as a whole, forced four turnovers (including Robert Blanton's first career interception) and sacked Kyle Orton six times, including 3.5 for Everson Griffen. Jerick McKinnon had his second 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and looks every bit the part of a full-time running back. . .he still has some warts as a pass protector, but that will eventually come. Even punter Jeff Locke had a relatively good day for Minnesota, and we could go on about Blair Walsh for quite a while if we wanted to.
As sad as it is to say seven games into a season, it appears that the rest of this year is going to be about the Vikings' young players growing and developing as a team. And this is still an incredibly young team. Many of those young players are already showing that they have the ability to be something special, despite the chaos that has been going on around them since the second week of the regular season. There's still a very good chance that Mike Zimmer's group could throw a wrench in the seasons of a couple of teams along the way, and there's an even better chance that this will be a significantly better team in December than they are right now.
That probably doesn't mean much now, but honestly, it could still be worse. We've seen this more times than fans should have to, but better times are on the horizon for this football team. . .whether we can feel them right now or not.
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