Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.
-Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump
After Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal attempt sailed through the uprights at U.S. Bank Stadium yesterday afternoon, the scoreboard showed that the Minnesota Vikings had defeated the Detroit Lions by a score of 19-17. The Vikings led for most of the afternoon but managed to nearly cough it up when Alexander Mattison fumbled while trying to run out the clock, giving the Lions an opportunity to score a touchdown and the go-ahead two-point conversion with just thirty-seven seconds remaining.
Kirk Cousins then proceeded to save Mike Zimmer’s butt. . .and, quite possibly, his job. . .by hitting Adam Thielen on a pair of passes to get Joseph into a position to attempt the field goal and avert what would likely have been the most embarrassing loss of the Zimmer era.
The Lions came into Sunday’s game pretty hard-hit by injuries. They came in without their starting left tackle, without their starting center, without their best pass rusher, and without their two best cornerbacks. And yet it took the sort of last-second heroics that it did for the Vikings to pull out a victory over a team that, by kickoff, they were favored to beat by double digits.
Why did the Vikings not win by more? Because after a couple of games against Arizona and Seattle when it appeared that the offense was really on the verge of something good, it’s gone back to what we’ve become accustomed to in recent years: Three yards and a cloud of field turf particles mixed with a complete lack of imagination.
Now, some of these issues can be traced to the offensive line, sure. . .like the inexplicable decision to keep putting Rashod Hill back in the game at left tackle after Christian Darrisaw had, in my opinion, acquitted himself quite well. But this team is simply not aggressive enough on offense despite the weapons that they have available. There were a couple of situations that illustrate that from yesterday’s game.
The first one actually spans two possessions: The final possession of the second quarter and the first possession of the third quarter. At the end of the second quarter, the Vikings took over at their own 19-yard line, leading 13-6 and having two timeouts in their pockets against a Lions’ defense that had shown neither the ability nor the desire to cover Justin Jefferson. Jefferson was already over 100 yards at that point and was doing whatever he wanted.
The Vikings then handed off twice and jogged into the locker room with both their timeouts still on the board. Basically the exact situation they found themselves in at the end of regulation. Why not at least try to see if you can break something to try to get points on the board?
Minnesota then took the second-half kickoff and proceeded to go three and out, highlighted by Rashod Hill getting smoked on the first play of the half by Trey Flowers for a sack of Cousins, followed by a run and a quick screen to K.J. Osborn. The Vikings, I believe, consistently defer to the second half for a chance to “double-up” on possessions and scoring chances between the second and third quarters, and yet they took advantage of neither.
The second situation was one that definitely could have iced the game. Detroit was forced to go for it on 4th-and-15 from their own 43 late in the fourth quarter, down 16-6. D.J. Wonnum came through untouched and sacked Goff to set the Vikings up with great field position at the Detroit 34. What did the next possession look like for the Vikings?
Run up the middle, run up the middle, incomplete pass, followed by a missed field goal. The Lions then marched down and got a field goal to cut the Vikings’ lead to 16-9.
You know what winning teams and good coaches do right after the Wonnum sack? They draw something up to try to end the football game. Andy Reid goes for the throat there. Sean McDermott goes for the throat there. Bruce Arians goes for the throat there.
The Vikings play for a long field goal. Just pretend that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen aren’t even there and rely on your kicker. Because when has that ever backfired on this franchise?
And if you want to tell me that those coaches can do that because of who they have at quarterback. . .fine, whatever. Yes, Kirk Cousins isn’t Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or Tom Brady. But it’s not as if he’s Jacoby Brissette or anything, either. Honestly, if you’re still griping about Kirk Cousins at this point, your issue is that you simply don’t like the guy or you’re still angry that the Vikings picked him over Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater in 2018, even though that was absolutely the right move.
Kirk Cousins is more than capable of delivering in that spot. Thielen and Jefferson are more than capable of delivering in that spot. Why not at least give it a go? Sure, there might be times when it’s appropriate to grind the clock, but it’s always an appropriate time to put a touchdown on the board, particularly if you can break the back of an opposing team and put your team on the path to victory.
Paul Charchian put the stat out there this morning that the Vikings are 31st. . .that’s second from the bottom. . .in the NFL in passes over 20 yards attempted, averaging just three such throws per game. That’s completely unacceptable when you have a pair of stars at wide receiver like the Vikings have. The Vikings' complete lack of aggression on offense nearly cost them a victory on Sunday against a team that they should have thumped. The upcoming stretch of the Vikings schedule is stacked with very good teams, and if the Vikings won’t be able to get away with what they did on Sunday.
Something needs to get fixed, and if Mike Zimmer doesn’t make a decision to fix it this season, the odds are very good that he won’t get a chance to fix it in 2022, because there will be a new coach and a new offensive coordinator on the Minnesota sideline.