Now there is a new – much better – challenge ahead of the team. They are 2-1 and shocking nearly everyone outside the roster, even if they insist they knew they had the necessary talent to compete all along. Some in the know were fully expecting a season of growth. Others preferred to espouse a confident exterior, like Christian Ponder saying before the season ever began that he thought the Vikings were a playoff team.
At this very early juncture, both views can be portrayed as correct. This is still a team of growth, but it appears to have received an autumn shot of Miracle Gro. Ponder is blooming quicker than expected and he doesn't even have a full season of starts to his credit, scheduled to make only his 14th start Sunday against a Detroit Lions team that vexed him last year at Ford Field.
And it's not only the Vikings' surprising win against the 49ers or Ponder's impressive three-game stretch of efficiency that gives those long-time riders of the rough trip known as Vikings fandom more hope this season. The other NFC North teams are showing vulnerability.
The purple bus isn't exactly the Magic Bus just yet. There is a distinct possibility it will sputtered and maybe even break down while traveling down Playoff Path. It's far too early to tell. But, so far, the team that started out with 200/1 Super Bowl odds only three weeks ago has moved up to 75/1 and is in a tie for first place in the division, having beaten the team that put a whipping on the two NFC North playoff teams from 2011.
Yep, it's too early to start talking about controlling their own destiny or thinking they have a chance to do damage during the stronger second half of their schedule. But, know this: Nearly a quarter of the way into their 16-game schedule, the Vikings have not only beat the team that was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Pro32 Power Ranking, they did it convincingly. There were no "fluke plays," no rare 108-yard Percy Harvin kickoff returns and tipped passes returned for touchdowns. No, they simply went about their business and outdid the San Francisco 49ers at their own game – physical, fundamental football on both sides.
"That's a big win. It validates the confidence that we have as a staff in our players. It should be something that hopefully we can build on the rest of the season because there's no question that is a very good football team," Leslie Frazier said. "To come home and defend our home turf the way we did at Mall of America Field, that's a big deal."
A bigger deal, however, would be following it up with another quality win to justify their 2-1 start. Sure, the 49ers were a 2-0 team, but the Vikings were at home. That won't be the case Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Vikings have lost their last two at Ford Field and last three in a row against the Lions after building a 19-2 record against the Lions since 2000.
Fortunately for the Vikings, despite having a young team, there are veterans who understand they can't afford to let a long-forgotten good feeling turn into overconfidence.
"For a confidence factor, it's huge. In the grand scheme of things, we're 2-1," center John Sullivan said.
Last week, Frazier grew tired of hearing about how physical the 49ers were and how they were built on a strong rushing attack and a dominant defense – all qualities that he aspires the Vikings to possess (and believes they do).
So how do they go about building on that momentum instead of having it register as only a blip on the screen?
"That's the $64,000 question right there. We have to find a way to bottle this and improve," Frazier said.
The Vikings started the season with an overtime win at home against a team that isn't expected to do well this year. Instead of capitalizing on that momentum, they went on the road and lost to another rebuilding project in the Indianapolis Colts.
If they want to be taken as a serious threat to compete for the NFC North title and become a playoff team ahead of most outsider projections, they can't just win at home and they can't afford to be choppy and inconsistent. They've talked about it all week and tried not to revel too much in the victory that Antoine Winfield said caused a lot of people to lose money in Las Vegas.
The Vikings did nearly everything right against the 49ers and looked like the seasoned team they aren't just yet. Christian Ponder may have had his best game as a pro against a legitimate defense in only his 13th NFL start, but even he is sounding the horn or reason.
"I think it's the biggest win, for sure against a very good opponent. But again, it makes it easier when the guys around me are making plays," he said. "… We're very close and we're getting better and for me, I just have to progress week-to-week."
He has three straight games with a quarterback rating of 94 or better. Last year, he never had two in a row with that rating. But, more impressive than the rating was his decision-making. He ran when he couldn't find an open receiver and threw the ball away when there wasn't a running lane, either.
And he's being made better with better weapons. Not only is Adrian Peterson rounding into shape, but Percy Harvin is playing as possessed as ever and Kyle Rudolph is finally showing the potential that was so apparent to practice observers over the last year. Getting a deep threat with Jerome Simpson should only help. Ponder is on the verge of garnering the attention of the national media covering the NFL. A win against the Detroit Lions to snap an 11-game NFC North losing streak would put him front and center, even if he knows that it's too early to start to thinking too big. Even if he knows that the win against the 49ers might have meant more to outsiders than player and coaches.
"It's big, obviously. I think more for people outside this organization than us. We're already confident in what we can do and I think we're just going to show people outside what kind of team we have," Ponder said. "Every year our goal is to go win a Super Bowl and we're confident we will always have that ability, and that's how every team is. Everyone thinks they're going to make it to the Super Bowl, but we know that we're a good team.
"Again, this is the third game and we haven't won the Super Bowl. There's 13 games left and we're not declaring ourselves champions of anything."
They shouldn't. It's far too early to do that, but if they can find consistency and play at a high level in a win at Detroit, they will at least be champions of momentum, which is saying a lot for a team that owns only one two-game winning streak since the start of the 2010 season.
On average, 15 to 20 percent of all NFL bets are wagered on Monday Night Football games.
"We knew about that. We heard he hasn't (made) a turnover since last year, 12th game, I believe," Robinson said. "We knew we could change that. We knew what we had in our secondary. We know what we're capable of. Thank God we were able to step up."
Stafford is on a nice roll against the Vikings. In his last two games against Minnesota, Stafford has completed 69 percent of his passes for 605 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We have a lot of respect for him. He catches the balls underneath; he can stretch you vertically, as well," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "You're right, you don't see a lot of his name in the newspaper, but he makes a lot of plays for their offense and he can block. He's a very good blocker."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.