For the better part of a generation, the Minnesota Vikings have been their own worst enemy when trying to become one of the better teams in the NFL, with the exception of a season here and there. Every time we thought the Vikings might be on an upward trajectory, they would hit a snag.Those snags, which are essential in avoiding if you want to be good in the NFL, are as follows:
- Winning on the road
- Winning within the division
- Winning in Chicago
- Winning in prime time
Whenever this franchise seemed to be taking a step forward, they would face a 'stiff road test', or a 'big division game', or 'step into the spotlight on national TV', and promptly take two steps back. And for us, as Vikings fans, we'd rub our forehead, deal with the frustration, or in a best case scenario tell ourselves that a close loss--the heinous moral victory that allows you to accept and embrace mediocrity--that was a good character builder for this team, and they'd be better the next time one of these statement games came about.
Only the Vikings rarely made that next step, nor did they get better. More often than not, they regressed, and in those instances it felt like this team was farther away from seriously competing than ever before.
Coming in to 2015, this Vikings season hinged on a few things that would determine whether or not they would be successful. The main one was the play of Teddy Bridgewater, and that's the case with every team in the NFL. Good quarterback play means you're probably going to be pretty good, bad QB play means you're probably talking about the draft come mid October. There were also questions about the offensive line, Adrian Peterson, and whether or not the defense would sustain it's Renaissance from last year, but there were some familiar dragons waiting on the schedule, ready to set the Vikings season on fire.
The same dragons that burned the Vikings every year. And when the season started, it kind of felt like those dragons would still haunt the Vikings in 2015.
Winning On the Road: Coming into 2015, the Vikings have not exactly been road warriors in recent years. The last time they finished .500 on the road was in 2009, which was also the last time they won the division. The last time the Vikings were above .500 on the road was...wait for it...1998. When the season started out, they went 0-2 to start the season on the road, with an embarrassing loss at San Francisco, and another dreaded moral victory against the Broncos. But then they reeled off four straight road wins, including come from behind wins against the Lions and Bears. With a win against Green Bay this Sunday, the Vikings would finish 5-3 on the road.
Oh, and they'd win the division. Funny how there seems to be a correlation there.
Winning Within The Division: Entering 2015, within the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings had compiled a record of 8-21-1 dating back to the start of the 2010 season. Four of those division wins came against the historically inept Detroit Lions, which means that the Vikings were essentially as inept as Detroit, at least within the division. The last time the Vikes were above .500 within the division was, again, 2009, when they went 5-1. This year, Minnesota started out 3-0 in the division, has swept Detroit, swept Chicago, and has a chance to split with Green Bay, which would give them a 5-1 divisional record.
Oh, and they'd win the division. Something something correlation.
Winning in Chicago: The Bermuda Triangle. Stonehenge. the Pyramids of Giza. Soldier Field. Many people think that these four places have some mystical power that causes great tribulation, or is a source of some alien power that challenges the senses and is a place that one has to suspend conventional thinking and logic when watching events unfold.
What's that? NOT Soldier Field for most people? Oh, I beg to differ, madam. Not only does Soldier Field look like an alien spaceship crashed in to it sideways, it's also been a House of Horrors for Minnesota. Their futility there has been well chronicled, going 2-13 there in this millennium, and it was a place that not even 2009 Deal With The Devil Brett Favre could win at. And this year's Chicago game unfolded in a manner similar to most other Soldier Field battles--close game, Vikings staying close, and one the Vikings would lose in a manner that kind of defies belief.
And that disbelief came with just under 6 minutes left, when Jay Cutler trucked Harrison Smith on the goal line to score what looked to be the game winning touchdown. If you tell me Smith has a clear shot at Cutler, I'd tell you Smith kills Cutler 14 times out of 10, yet Cutler ended up in the end zone and Hitman Harry ended up on his back. Like I said, you have to suspend conventional wisdom. But Teddy Bridgewater and the 2015 Vikings came back and won, in dramatic fashion. With the Bears win probability sitting at 90% midway through the 4th quarter, the Vikings scored 10 points in under two minutes to win a thriller, 23-20. They still need to win more often than not in Chicago to get this monkey completely off their back, but that win was huge for this team, and for this fan base.
Winning in Prime Time: 4-16. That's the Vikings record in prime time games going back to 2009. Prior to their beat down of the Giants, the last prime time win they had was in 2013, against the Washington Redskins. The last time they won a prime time game that had any post season implications? Well, it would probably be the 2009 Monday Night game against the Packers. But that was an October game, and even after Favre Revenge Bowl I the Vikings had only played four games, so that's a stretch, at best. This season, the prime time games unfolded much like we've seen in recent years. An ugly, ugly loss to open the season in San Francisco, and another Thursday night loss in Arizona. The Cardinals game was one the Vikings had every chance to win, yet once again we had to console ourselves with another moral victory.
The Giants win was, in many respects, an Exorcism of the worst of these demons. And it came in a manner in which all of these other dragon slayings have happened this season--a reminder of what was, and then a game or a finish which has given us a what is and what we now expect things to be. A new normal, if you will.
A Mike Zimmer normal.
There is one dragon out there still, and killing that one will be even bigger than the Giants game, as it wraps all of these issues, save winning in Chicago, into one nice bow--prime time road game against a division opponent.
Green Bay. Lambeau Field. Division Championship to the winner. Home playoff game on the line.
As late as yesterday afternoon, I would be dreading this game:
Rams up 22-10. Prepare for the national TV flop. This is what it must have felt like to step out of the tree line for Pickett's charge— Ted Glover (@purplebuckeye) December 27, 2015
I was glad I was wrong about last night, and as this season and the Mike Zimmer era progresses, I'm finding it harder and harder to imagine dragons the Vikings need to slay.
And I'm good with that.