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It’s the Hope That Hurts

“what if” fast becoming the theme of the season

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Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals
yeah...
Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

It’s a hard life.

Being a fan of the Minnesota Vikings is not for the faint of heart. It never has been. That isn’t news.

In the wake of another torturous loss, it’s hard not to feel dejected. Across the last two seasons, these Vikings have found particularly new ways to build their fan base up and subsequently decimate all morale.

Last season was filled with fools gold. It was the type of hope that builds and builds with each win. There was always a way the Vikings were going to win, damn the odds.

The truth of the matter is that last year’s foundation was built more on emotion, and less on skill or talent. Yes, that team had plenty of skill AND talent, but the ball inexplicably bounced the right way.

Until it didn't.

This year, these Vikings are doing the same thing differently. Instead of drawing it out over a whole season, each drama is now an tragedy in built up expectations and bewildering collapses.

The Vikings have won and lost a wide variety of different games in 2023.

They won a big upset against a top team (San Francisco), won handily (Green Bay), won against teams they were lightly favored over (Atlanta, New Orleans), and won games against “bad” teams (Chicago, Carolina).

They have lost games they were “supposed” to lose (Philadelphia, Kansas City), they have lost games that were a toss-up (Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, most painfully Cincinnati), and they have lost games to “bad” teams (Denver, Chicago).

13 of 14 games have gone down to the wire as one score affairs, including every loss. Last year our blood pressure usually released in ecstasy (10 one-score wins through 15 weeks) - this year it is anger (7 losses by one score through 15 weeks).

Even taking it back to 2021, the Vikings played in 14 one-score games, a joint NFL record. A tip of the hat here to SI’s Will Ragtaz - these Vikings are looking well on track to break that record needing two games to finish within 8 points.

My dad texted me after the Bengals game, verbally grief vomiting (who among us, eh?) that these Vikings haven't won by a two score margin in two years. Accompanying that text was screenshots of television scoreboards that had the Vikings closing in on a victory they never got to have.

A few included:

  • Down 4 to Los Angeles with 15 seconds left at first and goal from the 7.
  • Up 1 against Chicago with 3:28 left and the Bears possessing the ball well downfield.
  • Up 2 on Denver with 5:31 left, 2nd and 6, 23 yards to go.

Each time the Vikings lost. It’s not about that they did, it’s about how they did. Let's take a closer look at one of them.

Following drives that both ended on 4th and shorts (MIN ball, LAC 2/LAC ball, LAC 24) the Vikings were in prime position to end the game after an immense defensive stop (get used to it) set the Vikings up one trip to the end zone away from Victory.

What did them in:

After a few frustrating non plays, the Vikings found themselves at 3rd and 11 on the LAC 25. A crucial penalty moves the chains and sets the Vikings up at the border of the red zone. on first down, the always-appreciated delay of game within one minute. 2nd and 15 (LAC 25) goes 5 yards to bring up the second 3rd and double-digits. 5 yards follow.

The Vikings end up squeezing the 4th and 5th for 9 yards on a dagger first down to the LAC 6, with a fresh set of downs. Unfortunately, after the 4th and 5, the Vikings wasted 24 seconds due to not hustling to spike the ball, and the rest is history.

The self-directed shot to the foot was courtesy of inexplicable clock management from the coaching staff and quarterback combined with a forced play due to the resulting confusion.

Cousins stated the fans threw him off his game in that final moment by being too loud, but c’mon man, you're a veteran NFL QB making ungodly money who has faced many similar situations both in Minnesota and otherwise.

Cincy, Chicago, Denver... One could make an argument that in each of those losses this team lost the game more than the opposition won it.

Depending on who you ask, the opinions on how the season is going still range from “they still have a shot” to “without the injuries they would be much better” to “we can still get a high draft pick in April”.

After stewing on the loss, I was telling my mother (who rarely watches the Vikings, but did on Saturday) that it isn’t the loss that hurts, its the build up, the hope that they are in a position where they just can’t lose.

Yet, there it remains, like a child trying to fit his arm through an old vending machine reaching for a snack that is just out of reach.

In the year of the NFC 7-7 team (5 of 16 teams in the NFC have a 7-7 record, with 2 more teams at 6-8) the Vikings STILL remain as the second wild card team.

Entering Week 15, they had a ~60% chance to make the postseason. While that figure has been cut in half after the loss, they still have a real shot at the postseason. It’s also ridiculously small, but they are still (strictly) mathematically able to win the NFC North.

While a playoff spot was guaranteed before the regular season was over last year, don’t expect that to happen this year. If they keep playing their games like they have been, the bigger game will come down to the wire as well.