In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill sawmill in Coloma, CA, setting off the California Gold Rush. From 1848 to about 1855, people came from all over the world to stake their claim and find their fortune. Brimming with confidence, prospectors came from everywhere, to include the Minnesota Territory, hoping to strike it rich.
Some did, but many, many more found California to be a land of disappointment. Arriving with confidence and hope, many ended up broken, and left California with shattered dreams, no money, and more questions than answers than when they arrived. And so it was for the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, as they lost to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 27-10 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Now begins the long off-season of roster re-shaping, free agency, the draft, and possible coaching staff changes. So now, it’s time for the Vikings to wonder what might have been and Fly By Night into the off-season, isn’t it, Rush?
Start a new chapter
I find what I’m after
Is changing every day
The change of a season
Is enough of a reason
To want to get away
Quiet and pensive
My thoughts apprehensive
The hours drift away
Leaving my homeland
Playing a lone hand
My life begins today
Fly by night, away from here
Change my life again
Fly by night goodbye my dear
My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend
My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend
The SMR would like to pass on our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Rush drummer and rock legend Neil Peart, who passed away earlier this week after a three year battle with brain cancer.
No one. Sorry, when you get your ass kicked with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line, no one gets a blue chip.
Eric Kendricks, LB: Kendricks tried to will the Vikings back in to the game with an interception of Jimmy Garoppolo in the second quarter, right before halftime. It set the Vikings up at the 49ers 29, with an opportunity to tie the game going into the locker room.
Kirk Cousins, QB: Not a good day. Part of the issue was a porous offensive line, but there were a couple sacks Cousins took where it felt he had time to make a throw. Probably would have been a checkdown, even after you went down 24-10, because those big, chunk yardage checkdowns that go for three or four yards and burn a minute off the clock get you right back in the game. Because who needs a no-huddle, amirite?
Dalvin Cook, RB: Not sure what happened to Cook, other than he got stonewalled all day. After looking so good last week, Cook was completely bottled up today, getting 18 yards on 9 carries, and a staggering eight yards on six receptions. Cook actually cost himself yards receiving by trying to do too much, running East-West instead of North-South after getting the ball. It invariably ended up in lost yards, and seemed foolish when trying to run laterally against the speedy San Francisco defense.
The offensive line: One of the key matchups in this game was the Vikings offensive line against the 49ers defensive front. It turned out not to be much of a matchup at all, as the 49ers kicked the hell out of the Vikings o-line from about the time their plane landed in California, until the final gun. This position group feels like it will need to be addressed in the off-season. Maybe not a complete overhaul, but upgrades are going to be needed.
Kevin Stefanski, OC: Three words: What the hell was that? okay, five words...but seriously, what kind of playcalling was that? I’m going to go with the working theory that after Stefanski’s interview for the Browns head coaching gig was finishing up, he was really getting a bad vibe about the situation. When they were shaking hands, they offered him the job, and he panicked, thinking ‘holy crap taking this job is career suicide, how in the name of Rice A Roni (that San Francisco treat) can I get out of this?’
Voila...the worst called game of the season, in the biggest moment. Awesome.
Buy: It was a good year. 10-6 with a win in the playoffs isn’t a Super Bowl, but it’s better than what 24 other teams managed to do. 2019 marks the third playoff season under Mike Zimmer in six years, and his fifth straight season of finishing .500 or better.
Sell: It was a great year. Still, for a team that was advertised as one that could make a serious Super Bowl run, 2019 is a disappointment. Yeah, 10-6 is decent...but when the Green Bay Packers go 13-3, you get swept by them and the Bears, and that turns out to be the difference between a wildcard spot and winning the division that was there for the taking...sorry, I can’t and won’t get on board with this being a good year.
Buy: Mike Zimmer will be the head coach in 2020. 10-6 and a playoff win means you’ve done enough to keep your job. For folks that want a new coach, keep this in mind: in 2012, Lovie Smith guided the Bears to a 10-6 record, but missed the playoffs. After nine years, two years removed from a conference championship appearance, and one Super Bowl appearance in 2006, Smith was fired. They finished above .500 for the first time since Smith’s firing last year, going 12-4.
Sell: Mike Zimmer’s job is safe after 2020. Mike Zimmer, GM Rick Spielman, and QB Kirk Cousins all have contracts that expire after the 2020 season. It really feels like the Three Musketeers are a package deal, and next year will make or break the Zimmer era. Whether Cousins, Zimmer, and Spielman are employed by the Vikings after 2020 will largely determine how the 2020 campaign goes. For those that say ‘If you fire Zimmer, who could they get that would be better?’, keep in mind the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North with first year coach Matt Nagy last year, and the Packers went 13-3 and won the NFC North with rookie head coach Matt LaFleur this year.
Buy: The Vikings have talented playmakers on offense. When you look at teams across the NFL, it’s hard to find a quartet as talented as Cousins, Cook, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs. Sure, teams might have a better QB, or a running back, or a wide receiver, but I’m honestly having a hard time thinking of a team that not only has this much top shelf talent, but has kept them.
Sell: It’s acceptable that much talent only put up 10 points. Which is why 10 points in a playoff game is unacceptable. I get that the offensive line had challenges, but I’m sorry, that kind of talent should be able to overcome some of that, not go three and out seven times, including four straight to open the second half. That’s flat out unacceptable.
Buy: This defense is still pretty good. The Vikings defense did a pretty good job today, considering the offense couldn’t sustain any drives. But, by the end of the third quarter, the VIkings defense ws getting gashed and couldn’t get off the field, eventually succumbing to the onslaught. Their performance slipped from the heyday of 2016-17, but it’s still a top 10 unit.
Sell: This defense will remain largely intact next year. But it feels the defense is going to undergo some significant changes, quite possibly the most roster turnover since Mike Zimmer took over. On the defensive line, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph are both north of 30, and each have prohibitive cap hits. They will need to have deals re-sone or be released. CB Trae Waynes is a free agent, and it doesn’t seem like he will be given the franchise tag, and there’s been no news about a contract extension. Xavier Rhodes has had a disappointing two seasons, and will have a cap hit of almost $13 million. With the Vikings already 3 million in the hole for the cap, there will be some significant re-structures or players will find themselves as free agents. S Anthony Harris, who has emerged as one of the best safeties in the game, is also going to become an unrestricted free agent and will need a new deal. There are big time players that need to be re-signed, but there’s not a lot of money right now. To free up money, the VIkings will more than likely have to part ways with one or more longtime players.
Just like that, the season ends, suddenly and with a jolt. The Vikings now find themselves in the off-season, with a lot of roster questions that need to be answered in the upcoming months. How they answer those questions will become clear in the coming days and weeks, but for now, we’re left to wonder what happened, what could have happened, and what will happen.