Usually, the first week of a brand new NFL season is not a time for gloom and doom. But, usually, you don’t see a team put on the sort of performance that the Minnesota Vikings did in their 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
The fact that the Vikings had any sort of opportunity at all at the end of the day borders on the miraculous. According to a stat from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on Sunday in Cincinnati the Vikings faced nine third-down situations of 10 yards or more, and six such situations where they needed at least 15 yards to convert. That’s the most they’ve had in a game since the folks from Pro Football Reference started keeping play-by-play stats in 1994, so that’s at least 27 years since the Vikings’ offense had a performance that bad.
For as long as Mike Zimmer has been the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, whether it was under Pat Shurmur, Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak, or whoever else, the offense has been predicated on grinding opponents down, sustaining drives, and keeping the opposing offense off the field. It’s really, really difficult to do that when your offensive line feels the need to soil itself in some way, shape, or form on every second or third play. I mean, teams don’t have a lot of plays in the playbook for 2nd-and-20 or 3rd-and-25.
This stat from our own Eric Thompson pretty much summarizes how often the Vikings shot themselves in the foot on Sunday.
This was not including punts and accepted penalties that negated the plays, by the way. If you count those, the Vikings technically snapped the ball with 11+ yards to go 30 times yesterday. https://t.co/hlXVHyOUaj— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 13, 2021
The Vikings made a lot of moves this offseason. They complemented those moves by pretty much not playing anyone of note during the preseason. Sure, Kirk Cousins played in the second and third preseason games, but Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson didn’t suit up (the latter because of injury, which is understandable), you could almost count Adam Thielen’s snaps on one hand, and the starting offensive line played very few snaps as a unit.
From the first series onward. . .a series that featured three false starts and a holding penalty. . .it appears that might not have been the optimal way to handle things. But that’s the way that Mike Zimmer handled things, and there’s nothing that can be done about it now.
What I’m about to say next is not intended to disrespect or downgrade what the Bengals did yesterday. They were the better team for 70 minutes and deserved to walk out of that game with a W. Yeah, you can complain about the missed call on the Dalvin Cook fumble at the end, but it shouldn’t have come down to that and, in your heart of hearts, if you’re a Viking fan you know that as well as I do. But here’s the issue:
If you didn’t have things “figured out” against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that had won six games in the previous two seasons combined (with one tie). . .presicely when do you reckon you’ll have it “figured out” by?
Are you going to figure it out next week in Arizona against a Cardinals team that walked into Tennessee on Sunday and absolutely housed a team that went to the AFC playoffs last year? With a quarterback that accounted for five touchdowns and a defensive end that went against an All-Pro offensive tackle and beat him like a drum to the tune of five sacks?
Are you going to figure it out against a Seattle team that looked quite good in Week 1 and, for whatever reason, in every possible location and every possible scenario absolutely has your number? The Vikings have never beaten Russell Wilson, they’ve never beaten Pete Carroll, and the last time the Vikings did beat the Seahawks, Minnesota’s starting quarterback was some guy named Brett Favre.
Color me skeptical.
Are you going to figure it out against a Cleveland team that walked into Arrowhead Stadium yesterday and really should have beaten the two-time reigning and defending AFC Champions in their house?
I doubt it. And that’s exactly what the Vikings are looking at over the next three weeks.
I talked about this yesterday on Vikings Rewind with Drew and Ted (which was friggin’ spectacular and I’m not even going to try to feign modesty about it). This season is starting to give me a vibe similar to the 2001 season.
The Vikings started the 2001 season as a double-digit home favorite against the Carolina Panthers, a team that had gone 7-9 the previous season. Not only did the Vikings not win that game, they lost by double digits, 24-13, to a bad Panthers team. How bad? The Panthers beat the Vikings in the opener that year and proceeded to lose their final 15 games of the season. They were that bad, and yet they took down a Vikings team that had gone to the NFC Championship Game the year before.
That season ended with the Vikings finishing 5-11 and Dennis Green either quitting or getting fired (depending on which story you believe) before the final game of the season.
Or perhaps a better parallel would be the 2010 season, after the Vikings got off to another rough start and, after an embarrassing loss to the Packers that dropped them to 3-7, saw Brad Childress get axed in favor of Leslie Frazier. In both cases, the result was the same, as a coach that had experienced some recent success got fired, and on the surface it appeared that they both had “lost the team.”
Last season, the Vikings had their bye in Week 7 like they do this season. They hit the bye week last year at 1-5. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman kept their jobs despite that.
I don’t think they can do it twice.
If the Vikings hit the bye week this year at 1-5 or. . .lord help them. . .0-6, then I firmly believe that the house cleaning is going to begin. I would like for it to not come to that. I’m assuming that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer would rather it not come to that, either.
But that’s what’s going to happen if this team doesn’t get it figured out, and get it figured out in a hurry. And the situation that they face is not exactly conducive to figuring things out on the fly.
There’s no fanbase that can hope for the best but knows to expect the worst quite the way that Minnesota Vikings fans do. As much as I’d like to be optimistic, it looks like the time to strike such a balance is approaching once again.