Another year, another rollercoaster ride for the Minnesota Vikings and our beleaguered fanbase.
“Please unfasten your seatbelts, lift up on your harnesses, and exit the ride in an orderly fashion.” It is now time to take a deep breath.
After feeling many years of my (still young) life seemingly slip away due to the stress of watching the Vikings’ 31-24 Wild Card round loss to the New York Giants, I can find relief in one fact.
“They are who we thought they were.”
The late, great, Dennis Green’s words have been repeated many times across this season by both sarcastic fans and those looking to make a joke at our expense. I use them now in a matter-of-fact manner.
We all knew, deep down, that this team was not as good as our record suggested.
It should have been nearly impossible to believe this team had a deep postseason run in them. These Vikings were too inconsistent, too sporadic, and too prone to the pitfalls of momentum.
Yet, many fans (myself included) valiantly defended them to the death.
These Vikings succeeded on emotion. That is the reason why their only one-score loss was the one that ended their season.
What is this team’s identity then?
Vikings history says this team is in the most frustrating stage of a franchise’s development: The “good, but not good enough” phase.
The modern Vikings franchise development has been ongoing since the at-best average stretch of teams from 2001-2007.
2008/2009 were consecutive successful yet disappointing seasons, mainly fueled by a solid defense and a great run game (re: Adrian Peterson) plus one good Brett Favre season.
From 2010-2014 The Vikings regressed, finishing 4th out of 4 in the NFC North in 3 of those 5 seasons.
Since 2014, the Vikings have been mired in a pattern; Win 10+ games and make the playoffs then go 8-8 (or 7-9, or 8-9) and repeat. Only in 2020 and 2021 did the Vikings fail to make the postseason once in two seasons during this stretch.
The introduction of Kevin O’Connell’s regime is giving hope to fans. It is inarguable that he completely turned around the locker room after the internally toxic final year(s) of Mike Zimmer. That should be considered this year’s greatest success.
Faith should remain in that KOC is a winner and culture-builder, but he needs time and further change to bring this team’s form from inconsistency to sustained momentum. This is a great year to build off of.
This team finally figured out how to win games when it mattered most, something that cannot be said about pretty much every other modern Vikings team. It was refreshing to see the Vikings come through time and time again in the clutch, even though the one time it didn't was the end of its season.
It may be too soon to start pointing accurate fingers, but there will need to be changes to this year’s team.
First and foremost, the defense needs to go through systematic change. Simply put, offense wins games (I can give you at least 11 examples), but defense wins championships.
Many fans are calling for the firing of Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. It is hard to say that they will get that, with that question already being lobbed to KOC. One year is hardly any time in the NFL to come in, install a new system, and immediately bring top-tier success.
On the other hand, A bad defense can and will scuttle a good offense, and people of consequence will need to be held accountable. “Bend, but don’t break” can be rightly singled out as a frankly ridiculous defensive philosophy. Ranking 28/32 in points against shows there was plenty more breaking than bending.
The 3-4 defense experiment, tried again in Minnesota for the first time since 1985, has been met with deservedly large distaste. It doesn't help that many defensive players were brought in for Zimmer’s much-different defensive scheme.
Will it be ditched? I think KOC will chalk this season up to a learning year. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...
KOC predictably did not state any desired changes to the defensive scheme, personnel, or staff in his postgame presser, but did not rule anything off the table.
With a few substantial changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, this could be a seriously incredible team in the coming years. Many were not expecting these Vikings to win 13 games this season, including myself.
This team overachieved, yes, but there was plenty of inspiring play through the season that points towards a brighter future.
O’Connell now has two more years left to implement second-year changes and prove his worth compared to his $84 million contract.
This season, and this offseason, feels like the shuffling of a set behind drawn curtains, setting up the main act to follow. Positive, tangible, and attainable change is happening, and although painful now, many should continue to invest faith in the direction of this team.
For any of you still moaning, just consider what it must feel like to be a Green Bay Packers fan. It could be so much worse right now. At least we know who we are.