As many of you that follow us on the Twitters are aware, yours truly wasn’t able to actually watch yesterday’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers as it was actually occurring. Due to a combination of location and technological inferiority, I wound up simply following the game via the play-by-play from various sites across the internet.
So, when I got home, I sat and had a viewing of the game (thanks, DVR). Here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to after viewing yesterday’s game.
The wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments that we saw online after the final gun sounded is completely unwarranted. While this may have been the start of a trend in past years, for the 2017 Vikings it would appear that this is just a blip on the radar.
- The Vikings, who came into this game with one of the top five rush defenses in the NFL, gave up 216 yards on the ground. Over half of that total came on the sorts of big plays that this team has avoided all season. . .the 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart in the first quarter, and the 62-yard run by Cam Newton that set up the winning score. Every defense gives up the occasional big play, and the Vikings have done a great job of avoiding them thus far. If teams are going to need these sorts of plays to take down the Vikings, they’re going to come up short more often than not.
- Case Keenum turned the ball over three times, including his first lost fumble of the season. This was a part of a reshuffled offensive line giving up six sacks, which nearly doubled the total that Keenum had taken all season. He also threw two interceptions, one deep in Carolina territory.
- For the first time in a long time, the Vikings’ run game couldn’t get on track. They ran the ball just six times in the entire second half, and after Jerick McKinnon had 46 yards on seven carries in the first half, he didn’t have a single touch in the second half.
The Carolina Panthers aren’t a collective of slouches. That team is now 9-4, and three of their losses have come to the 9-4 New Orleans Saints (twice) and the 11-2 Philadelphia Eagles. (They also managed to lose to the Chicago Bears. . .no idea what happened there.) Yet despite all of those things, in a game where the Vikings were playing their third consecutive road game against a team that was fighting for their post-season positioning, the Vikings fought back to tie this game with just over two minutes remaining. They had the opportunity to pull this game out despite playing one of their worst collective games in several months.
As Ted pointed out in his Stock Market Report for this week, a team winning three consecutive regular season road games against teams with records above .500 hasn’t been done since the 1967 Raiders did it. There’s a reason that such a feat hasn’t been accomplished in fifty years. Because it’s freaking hard. But even with all of the mistakes and issues this team had on Sunday, they had an opportunity to pull it off.
Now, the good news.
- This team still controls its own destiny for a first-round bye and are still in the thick of the battle for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Two wins in their final three games should be enough to wrap that up.
- The Vikings actually get to play two of their final three games in the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium. Consider this: Between Week 8 and Week 14, the Vikings got to play at home once. In that time, they’ve traveled to London, they’ve traveled to D.C., they’ve traveled to Atlanta, and they’ve traveled to Charlotte. Now the Vikings are going to play at home against a Cincinnati Bengals team that sure looks like they’re ready for the offseason, and then make a trip to Green Bay before returning home to face Chicago.
These are not the “same old Vikings,” ladies and gentlemen. This is still one of the NFL’s best teams, and after what’s happened with Carson Wentz, they might even be considered the team to beat in the NFC as a whole right now. So, if you’re feeling a little frightened after what we saw yesterday in Charlotte, you probably shouldn’t be.