And then depression set it.
Following Sunday’s 30-13 humbling of the Minnesota Vikings by the Green Bay Packers, there was a sentiment of stunned silence in the Vikings locker room that was reminiscent of the hours and days following the unexpected pummeling the Vikings took at the hands of the 49ers in the season opener.
In between, there had been just one loss in eight games. Times were good.
Now? Not so much.
The Vikings came into Sunday’s game in the driver’s seat. They hadn’t lost at home in 364 days – the last loss being to the Packers. They had a chance to stick a dagger in Green Bay. When teams that have enjoyed the sustained success the Packers have, going a month without winning doesn’t happen. The tension would be ratcheted up to crisis levels.
It would have been epic.
The Vikings never got their dagger out of its sheath. Green Bay had control of the game early and the Vikings’ time on the throne atop the NFC North lasted about seven days.
The players and coaches won’t have time to dwell on the defeat. If Mike Zimmer is looking for a new phrase of things the team can’t do, he may want to explore the possibility of beating teams that are fogging up their rearview mirror.
Get ready for it in the next two weeks.
As things currently stand, the Vikings are the No. 1 wild card in the NFC. Right behind them is Atlanta. Right behind them is Seattle.
Right ahead of them are the Falcons. Right beyond them are the Seahawks.
If the Vikings were a boxer, the Packers busted them open with a flurry of punches that left them groggy. The team that had the most to lose won the game.
With four straight losses and the expected absence of Devonta Freeman after suffering a concussion that, at a minimum, would make him a question mark for Sunday, you can bet the Falcons are going to have make-it-or-break-it discussions this week.
For those with short attention spans, the Falcons started 6-0 and were looking at Green Bay and Arizona, not Carolina. Four games (and four losses) later, the Falcons are in Defcon 1 mode.
It ain’t pretty.
Georgians are remembering historic collapses of “stars and bars” proportions.
Suffice it to say, the Falcons are going to be bringing their best. Julio – last name not necessary because he’s that regarded – may be targeted 25 times. If the South is going to lose again, it’s going to go down swinging.
Unlike “Beat Green Bay,” there won’t be T-shirts saying “Beat Atlanta” … unless the words “You Better” precede them.
Like the Packers, the Falcons are a team in need of a knockout punch to let them know what dog holds sway.
A-Rodg and the boys didn’t hit canvass. Matty Ice? Next man up.
Once again, the Vikings find themselves at a watershed moment. Taking the Packers to school would have been nice. Considering the Packers won’t face a team with a .500 record from the time they eat turkey at Thanksgiving until holiday decorations come down (or at least should), the Vikings’ focus is now on survive and advance.
Records say the Vikings’ closest competitor for their playoff turf is Atlanta.
They’ve got them.
Waiting in the wings is the two-time defending NFC champs. If not for a botch of historic proportions, the Seahawks could be hawking illegitimate “Three-peat” apparel like they do 12th Man swag.
For the third time Sunday, Seattle dragged, scratched and clawed its way back to .500. The Hawks have yet to be over .500. It doesn’t matter if Seattle wins or loses Sunday when it hosts Pittsburgh, the Seahawks will have a chip on their shoulder when they face the Vikings. In the wild card world, it’s kill or be killed.
For different reasons, the Vikings are one game into a three-game run of teams that are behind them in the standings and no matter how you look at it, it’s time to draw a line in the sand.
What’s really at stake is whether Green Bay’s loss to Detroit will come back to haunt them. Until then, the wolves are howling outside the herd.
In three hours the Vikings went from the masters of their own destiny to a team fighting off the pack – not the Pack.
The season will be made of how the Vikings respond.