In an up and down year for the Minnesota Vikings, the pre-season Super Bowl contender entered Sunday with one goal: beat the Chicago Bears, and they make the playoffs as a wildcard. To beat Chicago, the Vikings would have to play a good game on both sides of the ball, but this was a winnable game.
Yet the defense broke down at critical times, the offense could do very little, and at the end of the first half tensions boiled over between Kirk Cousins, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen on the sidelines. Once again, when it mattered the most, Minnesota couldn’t handle the pressure. Could they, Mr. Joel?
I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle
One, two, three, four
The SMR that is mad but not necessarily surprised follows.
Matt Wile, P: Wile bailed the Vikings out all afternoon with his massive punts. And really, when you lead off with your punter as your only blue chip stock, well, it just wasn’t meant to be for your football team. And hey, if you weren’t excited about that 82 yard change of field position early in the game when nothing else was going right, and you thought things were going to turn around pretty fast, then you haven’t been a Vikings fan for very long, have you?
Stefon Diggs, WR: He had the Vikings only touchdown, and seemed to be the guy that brokered peace between Adam Thielen and Kirk Cousins late in the first half. He also went over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards, which is cool, and yay moral victories, I guess.
Kirk Cousins, QB: I don’t know what to make of Cousins. On one hand, he threw for over 4,000 yards, 30 TD’s, and only 10 interceptions, something not seen around these parts since 2009. Yet, on the other hand...like I said, I don’t know. The only thing the Vikings essentially changed between the 2017 Vikings that went to the NFC Championship and the 2018 Vikings that failed to make the playoffs was the quarterback. Last year, Case Keenum was a brand of fearless that I didn’t see in Cousins this season. Keenum made risky throws, and he trusted his receivers to go up and get the ball or prevent an interception. Was there a fair amount of luck with that last season? Probably. Would it have caught up with the Vikings this year? Maybe. There’s a lot of other things that could be factored in here, too, like the drop in o-line play, and a new offensive coordinator, and this isn’t a diatribe on how the Vikings should have kept Keenum over Cousins. I like Cousins, and I think he’s a good QB.
Still, though, Cousins seems too conservative at times, and where Keenum would take a risk with a chance for a big reward, Cousins seems unwilling to do that. There is a hesitancy with Cousins where there was a decisiveness with Keenum, and I think that really hurt the Vikings and their chance to win today.
The second half defense: I am not laying all the blame at the feet of Cousins, though. When the Vikings offense finally got untracked and scored a TD on a 90+ yard drive to pull within 13-10, you could feel that momentum had shifted. If the Vikings defense had been able to go three and out and give the offense the ball back with decent field position, there’s a decent chance the offense could really get untracked and at least get a field goal to tie the game, if not score another TD.
Instead, the Bears go on a 16 play, 75 yard touchdown drive that eats up over nine minutes of game clock, a drive where the Bears convert FIVE third downs enroute to a three yard run by Tarik Cohen that essentially sealed the game. That was utterly disgraceful series from a unit that has been the strength of the team for most of the year, and for all the folks that want to gripe about Cousins, he had nothing to do with that. At all.
Mike Remmers, RG: I get that Akiem Hicks is a premier player in the NFL, I do. Still, though, at some point a player needs to step up and say ‘no more, not on this play’. And it didn’t happen. When the Vikings needed Remmers to block Hicks, he couldn’t.
Tom Compton, LG: I’m done with both guards, to be honest. The Vikings better seriously address the interior line this off-season, and not with some half-assed band aid effort they’ve opted for in the past. Get a big name or two in free agency, draft a couple guys early, and fix this. Once and for all.
Mike Zimmer, Head Coach: No, Mike Zimmer shouldn’t be fired. Neither should RIck Spielman. But at some point, it’s fair to ask what is going on with a team that seems to come out of the locker room and sleepwalk through a good portion of really important games. Yeah, the players need to play, I get that, but at what point do we look at the coaches when a team plays like there is no motivation and/or preparation, almost every week over the last half of the season? Sometimes, teams just have a bad day. It happens to every team at every level. But whenever the Vikings had the most on the line over the second half of the season, they seemed to sleepwalk through significant portions of games, on both sides of the ball. Bluntly, they played like they didn’t care.
It’s inexplicable to have it happen that often with this kind of talent. There is some major disconnect in the locker room right now, and wherever it’s happening, it’s up to the coaching staff to fix it. And right now, Mike Zimmer isn’t fixing it. And not only is it not getting fixed, one could argue it’s actually getting worse.
Sort of Buy: The penalty on Thielen in the first half. Yes, Thielen got mugged, but it should have been pass interference, and not a facemask. It was a difference of almost 20 yards of field position, and might have been the difference between a field goal and a touchdown. Maybe.
Sell: The BS roughing the passer penalty on Stephen Weatherly. It was a terrible call, it gave the Bears a first down instead of making it fourth down, and Chicago took advantage and went down and scored a TD. The Vikings got a makeup roughing the passer call later that allowed them to go down and score a TD, but the call on Weatherly was just a back breaker, and really killed some momentum the Vikings defense had built.
Buy: Dalvin Cook was short on the third down play on the goal line. On the Vikings lone touchdown drive, Dalvin Cook took the ball and went out of bounds right at the first down marker. I thought it was close to a first down, but with all the different camera angles I don’t think you could definitively say he made the stick, though. It was close, and the Vikings set up to go for it on fourth and inches inside the Bears 10.
Sell: Zimmer throwing the challenge flag. So the Vikes rush to the line of scrimmage, and I said to myself ‘hey, just sneak over the left guard, there’s a huge gap in the Bears d-line right there.’ Cousins does just that, gets two yards, and the Vikes have a first and goal inside the five, boom shaka laka. Only...Mike Zimmer threw the red flag challenging the spot of the ball, nullifying the Cousins first down sneak. Of course, the ruling was upheld, the Vikings lost a first down, and I half expected Cook to get stuffed on fourth down. Just an idiotic challenge and complete lack of awareness.
Buy: There needs to be changes in 2019. Something isn’t right with this team, and I don’t know what it is. There was sideline sniping more than once, and they just never seemed to gel as a team. People think team chemistry can just magically happen, but it doesn’t. It takes work, and the chemistry the 2017 team had was not present in the 2018 team.
Sell: I know what those changes are. But I’m not in the locker room, so only the members of the Vikings organization can address the issue. It needs to be addressed, though, or we’ll see another 8-8 season or worse next year.
So, how was the Vikings afternoon, and season in a nutshell? This kinda sums it up to me:
Welcome to the long, cold off-season. I shouldn’t be numb to this feeling, because I go all the way back to 1975 and the Dallas Hail Mary for my Vikings heartbreak, but here we are.