The date that attitude turned: Sept. 23. That was when the heavily favored (and rightfully so) San Francisco 49ers came to Minnesota and were dominated by the Vikings.
The Vikings went from barely beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in overtime in the home opener to losing to the Indianapolis Colts and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck on the road.
But the next week, against what has proved to be one of the best teams in the league throughout the season, the Vikings got more first downs (25-19) than the 49ers and converted 7 of 14 third downs, racking up 344 yards of offense against one of the NFL's best defenses.
In one week, the expectations took a 180-degree turn. Rebuilding was out the window and re-staking claim to the NFC North was now the mindset of the fans. The Vikings returned to their more erratic ways – those that are typically reflected in the younger teams in the league – over the last month, bringing back the buzz phrase of the entire offseason: rebuilding.
Internally, the expectations are the same. Stay the course, continue to try to build a long-term quarterback for the future and add talent and depth around him over the next year or two.
During training camp, players and coaches were fending off inquiries about rebuilding and acting like they couldn't even say the word. Yet, when the dust settled on preseason roster cuts and the Vikings worked their way toward the 53-man roster, there was the unmistakable statistic — the Vikings were the fourth-youngest team in the NFC. Especially with a second-year quarterback as their starter, patience appeared to be the proper approach.
Players understandably wanted to win now and have tried to make that happen. So far, they've been able to do that a little more often than not. Fans, too, especially those that have been aching for Super Bowl win for more than 50 years, were starting to believe a playoff run was possible after one of two signature wins – the San Francisco game or the Detroit game.
But whether the Vikings find a way to pull off a playoff spot this season or not, they don't appear equipped for a deep playoff run. The roster still has plenty of holes that will need to be addressed in the next draft or two.
Their youth has showed throughout the 2012 season, but so has their talent. At times, like in the 49ers game, they were able to put it all together and look like they could hang with the best the league had to offer (and San Francisco might be the best). At other times, like any other number of games they could have won and didn't (Indianapolis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and others), the inexperience was obvious.
Most impartial observers put the Vikings on somewhere around five or six wins for 2012 and had them nowhere within sniffing distance of the postseason. Midway through the season, they had five wins to keep them motivated for the second half. They've added one more since then. Also in their sights was a stretch of five straight divisional games to allow them to control their own destiny. They already dropped one of those against the Bears and the team's flaws were exposed at times, but those fans and observers blessed with the ability to put raw week-to-week emotions aside were able to take a step back and look at the big picture that head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman have been preaching.
"You are going to have some setbacks; you are going to have some growing pains," Spielman said in November. "We've gone through some of that, but are the guys continuing to progress? … That's kind of what you are hoping to see as we go through this thing. But we still have a ways to go to get better. We still need to get improvement."
It's still possible the Vikings could get a couple more wins and have other things fall into place for the playoffs. But whether today's Packers game leaves you giddy about a tough road win or morose or irritated over another sloppy performance, it's best to keep in mind the offseason expectations. The Vikings have past the teardown stage, but they are still building up a more youthful and deeper roster.
Spielman has taken that approach throughout, even if a few enticing wins tantalized the possibilities. It's OK for fans to crave every win, but an understanding of where the team is really at would help the sanity level.
"I don't go by ranks. I go by how the guy across the line is going to beat this other guy. So we just have to do what we do," Peterson said. "We need a good week of practice and make sure we're focused and in tune, knowing that, hey, this offense starts by running the ball. So we have to over-emphasize that and then when we match up against those guys we have to beat them. It's simple."
The differences in run games is dramatic. Peterson leads the league with 1,236 yards rushing and a 5.8-yard average. Alex Green leads the Packers with 302 yards rushing a 3.1-yard average.
Of course, the Vikings were hoping to sack Bears QB Jay Cutler more than once, but Chicago wisely countered with a quick passing attack in which Cutler got the ball out of his hand before the Vikings could get much of a rush. The Packers may employ a similar tactic.
"I wouldn't be surprised. I thought about it. Our staff has talked about it," Frazier said. "But part of what helped the Giants (against the Packers) is they got off to an early lead. Then you force teams to have to throw when they don't want to throw. That's the kind of game you want if you have a pass rush. I'm sure they're working as hard as they can to not fall into a situation like they were in a week ago, so we've got to do a very good job of trying to counter some of the things that we expect them to do."
"Part of it is making sure that we're fine long-term over the course of this season," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The biggest thing is (Schwartz's) experience. That definitely shows up and he gives us a little bit from a movement standpoint. But Brandon is doing a good job for us. We think we're getting the best of both worlds by having both of them rotate right now."
"No. And we weren't keeping count at all. We just know that we had to keep plugging, keep churning and try to keep playing better so that we could try to get back into that ballgame. That was uncharacteristic for our group of wide receivers," he said. "We expect them to bounce back."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.