At this time a year ago the rumors were swirling about the fate of Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer, general manager Rick Spielman, and some of the more prominent veterans on the Vikings roster.
The Vikings’ slim playoff hopes were dealt a body blow when Kirk Cousins tested positive for Covid and would miss the week 17 game at Green Bay. The Vikings had just lost to the Rams at home in a game that was never in doubt, falling to 7-8 overall and 6-8 in one-score games. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had said before the season that making the playoffs was his expectation, and the chance of that happening now was slim and none.
There were also some hints of internal strife involving Mike Zimmer and his relationship with Kirk Cousins and Rick Spielman. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland had been released earlier in the month after an altercation in practice between him and Dalvin Cook that had to be broken up by Rick Spielman.
The prevailing view was that Zimmer would be fired at the end of the season and maybe Rick Spielman too- although that was less certain. If the Vikings were to clean house, they may also part ways with Kirk Cousins, and deal away older veterans as part of a rebuild by a new regime.
The season was all but over. Fans had to endure what was likely to be an ugly loss at Green Bay with Sean Mannion at quarterback, and then a meaningless finale against the Bears.
It was a disappointing season from beginning to end, with only a few respites in-between. Too many times the Vikings fell short and now the season had been lost. The fallout and revelations about what happened behind the scenes were yet to come.
Kirko Chainz, historic comebacks, winning wildly entertaining, play-making football games, and a positive, can-do culture were beyond the realm of imagination.
Fast Forward 365 Days
New general manager. New head coach. New approach. New culture. Mostly the same players, but a whole new vibe.
A big win over the Packers to start the season. Then a big loss to the Eagles. Then close win after close win after close win- culminating in a win at Buffalo in the NFL Game of the Year. Then a big let down against Dallas. Then a close win and then another. 10-2 in December. A bit of a lull and a loss at Detroit. Then the greatest comeback in NFL history to clinch the division title and punch their ticket to the postseason tournament. Another close win against the Giants - who played their best game of the season according to PFF.
So many clutch plays. Kirko Chainz. Justin Jefferson - again and again. But also so many other players making key plays at critical moments. Cam Dantzler against Chicago. Dalvin Cook at Buffalo and against the Colts. Greg Joseph against the Giants and in London against the Saints. Patrick Peterson at Buffalo and against the Giants. KJ Osborn against Detroit and the Colts. Jordan Hicks. Eric Kendricks. Harrison Phillips. Harrison Smith. TJ Hockenson. Za’Darius Smith. Danielle Hunter. Kene Nwangwu. Josh Mettellus. Ryan Wright. Cam Bynum. Adam Thielen. Chandon Sullivan. Dalvin Tomlinson. DJ Wonnum. Duke Shelley. They’ve all made key plays in critical moments for the Vikings this season, not to mention the unsung work of the offensive linemen.
This may not be the best team the Vikings have ever produced, or the winningest, or the best by certain other metrics, but it has been the most entertaining. Nearly every game has been a dramatic win with no shortage of great plays when it mattered most.
What a difference a year makes.
The regular season isn’t over, and the postseason has yet to begin, but it’s been a pretty good ride this year. What will the new year have in store?