It’s not a secret to anybody who has followed the Vikings in the 21st century that their annual trip Chicago is the ultimate nightmare much more than not, and today could prove to be a game that decides this season, and is used as an evaluation for the future.
The entire week leading up to this game, it has been written over and over again how the Vikings are a paltry 3-14 in their last 17 visits to Chicago. What’s more disturbing is the way they’ve lost some of those games. Take last year for example, when the offense simply had no answers for the Chicago front 7. Outside of Khalil Mack, the most notable performance might’ve been Akiem Hicks, who racked up 5 tackles for loss in a game the Vikings unquestionably needed Dalvin Cook to carry them, as they well for this 2019 fixture.
Even if Hicks were to play this game, which doesn’t seem so likely, this Vikings team is supposed to be different. More physical up front, and more consistent running the ball, but it’s still clear that this offensive line is a project. For starters, Garrett Bradbury has yet to truly live up to the billing as the organization’s first round pick, and the first offensive lineman they’ve selected in the first round since Matt Kalil in 2012, which worked out so badly that it makes many Vikings fans sick thinking how far he regressed following what was a pretty good rookie season. Bradbury has struggled with the likes of Grady Jarrett and Kenny Clark to start this season, and his improvement is the second biggest factor to winning this game, behind the play of Kirk Cousins.
The last two times the Vikings made the playoffs, they won in Chicago that season. But it wasn’t just the fact they won, but what it meant, and how those wins helped the team grow during those respective campaigns. In 2015, we saw a team down 20-13 late in 4th quarter be absolutely relentless, and it’s safe to say that game more than many others really earned Teddy Bridgewater the respect he still has from Vikings fans to this day. His prowess in the clutch set the tone for a second half of the season the required Zimmer’s units to be resilient over and over again.
2017 was a bit different. The team was coming off a home loss to the lowly Lions, and also lost Dalvin Cook in that game as well. A Monday Night in Chicago seemed to be the last thing the team needed, after it had been just under a year since getting smacked there on Halloween. But following yet another injury to Sam Bradford, the NFL’s top con-artist at the time, only to be outdone by Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum came in and showed poise and leadership that nobody really knew he had at the time. As a result, the win kicked off an 8 game winning streak, and set the wheels in motion for the Bears to go through another losing season, which at that point, had become customary.
Things have changed, big time.
If nothing else, should the Vikings lose today, Zimmer and Cousins will once again be under a very heavy microscope. Many have spoken about the fact that Cousins has so many assets available to him on offense, but less have spoken on the fact that Zimmer has everything he could want on the defensive side of the ball. This is a team that has been playing together for a long time now, and they should be prepared for offenses that are very up and down. Again though, this is Chicago, weird things happen to the Vikings in the fact of Soldier Field’s bright lights. How they handle it will define the character of this year’s team, and though early, decide their playoff fate.
Get your popcorn ready.