The worst kind of gut punch is the gut punch you didn't even see coming, but probably should have seen coming anyway.
Many of us thought the Minnesota Vikings were going to get blown out by the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings were completely decimated by injuries and facing a red-hot Cardinals team on the road on a short week. With the Vikings' recent history in primetime games and their horrible performance against the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday, the ingredients for disaster were certainly there.
But this game didn't follow that recipe. Instead, they just lost in usual Vikings fashion--with missed opportunities, blown plays, turnovers, and unfathomable heartbreak in the final seconds.
I predicted a complete blowout, so I should be happy that the Vikings came so close to pulling off the upset. Instead I'm even more depressed and second-guessing every facet of the game.
Maybe the Vikings got too close. I get so excited about this team every time. I try, but I can't fight it. The Vikings are making it hard for me to be a fan.
And so in honor of Larry Fitzgerald--DID YOU KNOW HE'S ORIGINALLY FROM MINNESOTA?!--my song selection this week will come from Minneapolis-based 90's R&B group Next.
I get so excited
Ooh, how I like it
I try but I can't fight it
Oh, you're dancing real close
Cuz it's real, real slow
(You know what you're doing, don't you)
You're making it hard for me
Time for the stocks.
Blue Chip Stocks
Teddy Bridgewater. If you're one of those Teddy Truthers that thinks the last play shows how Bridgewater will never be able to get it done, kindly stop reading this article right now. I'm serious. Close your browser. Click that little X in the upper right hand corner and do not proceed to the comments section. I don't want your kind of lunacy in my part of the internet.
If you're still here, can we all appreciate how well our team's quarterback played tonight? Bridgewater finished 25/36 for a career-high 335 yards and a touchdown. He found 11 different receivers on a vast array of different throws. Yes, even the deep ball.
The last play was bad. He has to know with that situation and these offensive linemen the ball has to come out earlier. There is no time to triple clutch before trying to throw the ball away. Bridgewater shares some of the blame there but don't you dare pin this loss entirely on Teddy for one minute.
Adrian Peterson. We used to have the Randy Ratio in Minnesota and now apparently we have the Peterson Proportion. AP only ended up with 69 yards on 23 carries but he ran with authority throughout the game including this amazing touchdown run.
As a bonus, Peterson actually did a good job pass blocking the majority of the night as well. He gave Bridgewater extra time on a few key passes. The offense is just better when Peterson is getting the ball as much as he did tonight.
Zimmer and Edwards' defensive game plan. Without a large number of important starters, the defense played much better than expected overall. Outside of a couple big plays that could have been avoided with better execution (we'll get to that later), the Vikings defense did a respectable job against the league's best offense. Carson Palmer's final stat line probably should have been worse. Mike Zimmer and George Edwards called a good game with what they had to work with.
The tight ends. Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt, and Rhett Ellison combined for 9 catches and 144 yards on Thursday. All three had important grabs that extended drives and kept the chains moving. Arizona has one of the best secondaries in the NFL so it was smart to get these guys going underneath.
Danielle Hunter. The rookie defensive end continues to improve with each passing week. I was impressed with how often he created pressure and his sack in the second quarter to take Arizona out of field goal range was a crucial play.
The offensive line. They weren't perfect by any means but they were leaps and bounds better than their recent losses. It's no coincidence that Bridgewater had a career day throwing the ball when he actually had time to do so. The Vikings don't need amazing line play to move the ball consistently; they simply need "not terrible" line play. They definitely got that on Thursday.
Anthony Harris. Being called up from the practice squad to face the arsenal of weapons Arizona has on offense is no easy task. Harris acquitted himself quite nicely in his first start, accumulating eight total tackles and nearly picking off a deep pass. I wouldn't mind seeing more of him even when Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo return from injury.
Everson Griffen. I think Griff might have set the NFL record for near-sacks in a game. He was a disruption on all sorts of plays and came painfully close to bringing down Palmer several times before finally getting to him on a huge second and goal sack. With Linval Joseph out Griffen is easily the most reliable member of the defensive line.
Mike Sighting. Who is Mike Sighting, you ask? Well, I thought his name was Mike Wallace but I guess Wallace must be his middle name. Because every time he catches a pass--which isn't very often, but he made a couple big ones tonight--everyone on Twitter says "MIKE WALLACE SIGHTING!" So congratulations Mike Sighting, whoever you are, for your first appearance in the Stock Market Report!
The referees. Surprise surprise, they were awful again. Only seven penalties were accepted on the night but this time it was more about what the zebras didn't call. On the long touchdown to John Brown it certainly looked like Brian Robison was being held and Griffen was downright being mugged:
Not every bad no-call went against the Vikings. Griffen's sack of Palmer was a pretty clear facemask on replay but it wasn't flagged. And there may have been a facemask against Bridgewater that was missed later in the game but I can't quite be sure. It's hard to tell from this screen capture.
And why the hell did they have to overturn a touchdown when David Johnson was clearly down TWO YARDS before the goal line? The incomprehensible ineptitude of these referees week in and week out continues to baffle and frustrate football fans regardless of team affiliation.
Trae Waynes. The Vikings' top draft pick has been relegated to special teams for the majority of his rookie year and tonight he showed why. He isn't ready yet. On the Michael Floyd touchdown he inexplicably jumped the short route even though two of his teammates were clearly there. It's frustrating to see so many Vikings rookies excelling this season while Waynes is getting benched for a couple drives even when the secondary is so depleted. I won't drop the b-word on him yet but it sure would be nice to get at least a little production.
Buy: No color rush! The Vikings and Cardinals didn't wear ridiculous alternate uniforms like the previous iterations of Thursday Night Football. The nation's eyeballs thank the NFL for sparing us from another uniform monstrosity.
Sell: Xavier Rhodes on the first drive. It looked like #29 was going to be in for a horrible night as he repeatedly got torched and called for penalties (sometimes on the same play). It was less "Rhodes Closed" and more "welcome to the autobahn" at first.
Buy: Xavier Rhodes' toughness. For the second time this season, Rhodes suffered a scary hit administered by a safety on his own team. Rhodes battled back from what looked like an incredibly painful wrist injury to perform pretty well the rest of the game. Now only if could have held onto what looked like a certain pick-six...
Sell: Eric Kendricks in pass coverage. Kendricks is struggling with diagnosing coverage on a regular basis and it's causing him to be out of position on a lot of plays. The Cardinals kept drives alive by going after Kendricks on third down a lot on Thursday. That said, I'm not worried about Kendricks long-term. He's an excellent tackler that is getting beat in the same ways Anthony Barr struggled in his rookie campaign last year. He'll figure it out.
Buy: First half Norv. For weeks we have been imploring Turner to call more quick passes and fewer seven-step drops in a more up-tempo offense. And he actually did it! The Vikings marched 80 yards on 7 plays on their first drive to set the tone for a surprisingly effective opening half.
Sell: Second half Norv. So the offense is chugging along better than expected with simple concepts and quick reads. What does Norv do on the first drive in the third quarter? He calls a reverse! And on the final drive with the game on the line and no timeouts left, Turner called a seven-step drop with slow-developing sideline routes. Why does Norv insist on playing with our emotions like this?! Surely he watches the film and realizes what's working and what isn't, right?! Let's move on before I light my laptop on fire.
Buy: The Vikings should still be a playoff team. If Minnesota gets healthier and plays like they did Thursday over their next two home games against the Bears and Giants, ten wins and a playoff berth are still definitely in the picture. They have now have ten days to regroup and finish their home schedule strong before that ominous final game at Lambeau.
Sell: This was some sort of moral victory. Yeah it's great that the Vikings played better than we expected but a loss is still a loss. You can't go -3 in turnovers on the road against a great team and expect to come away victorious. The Vikings are now 1-16 in primetime games played outside of their home stadium since 2009. As I already mentioned, coming so close and still losing somehow feels worse than just getting blown out like a lot of us anticipated (myself included). I was searching for a way to describe this feeling until I received this tweet from Nick after the game:
@eric_j_thompson I prepared myself for this game as if we had already been beaten, yet they still found a way to lose in a way that upset me— nick (@beersnob22) December 11, 2015
Thanks Nick. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Gemma Thompson Quote of the Day
My 2 1/2 year old daughter only got to watch the first quarter before it was her bedtime, but she certainly knows her football already. Maybe a little too well. After brushing her teeth she plopped down on the couch next to me and looked at what was on TV.
"Thass the Bikings daddy! The purple ones lost. OK I go nuh-nye in my big girl bed now."
She was recalling what I told her about the Seahawks game last week, explaining how we like the purple team but they lost.
Or maybe she's already so familiar with this team that she knew how this one was going to end. Either way, I'm jealous that Gemma didn't have to watch that ending and ended up getting lots more sleep than I did.