As someone who has been in his share of Minnesota Vikings locker rooms, there are times when there is exuberance and jubilation – perhaps the highest of that being in the cramped visitors locker room in Green Bay in 2009. There are times when it is like a funeral – the best examples of that were at the Metrodome following the 1998 overtime loss to Atlanta and in 2009 in the overtime loss to New Orleans.
The mood of a locker room can change wildly from one week to the next. The worst of those situations is when players are convinced they were the best team and didn’t win.
The 1998 Vikings thought they were invincible and, up until Gary Anderson’s field goal sailed wide left with just over two minutes to play against the Falcons, it could be argued they were. With that miss the Vikings suddenly became vulnerable and never got to touch the ball in overtime to lose to Atlanta and make their Dirty Bird dreams come true.
The 2009 Vikings were the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, but they were convinced they were a team of destiny. When they met the Saints in the Superdome, they rolled up 475 yards to just 257 for the Saints. What made it worse was that, in the second half of the game, Minnesota outgained New Orleans 286-57. But the Vikings turned the ball over five times, including the infamous Brett Favre interception in the final minute of regulation, while the Saints turned it over just once. It was a dominating performance that came up short when, once again, the Vikings didn’t touch the ball in overtime and lost on a field goal to keep them out of the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s 10-9 loss to Seattle didn’t have the impact of an NFC Championship game, but the pain, the tears and the stoic silence were eerily similar. Following a game in which record-setting was the original storyline, defensive dominance quickly took over.
Neither team was able to muster 100 yards of offense in the first half, with the only points coming as the result of a bad snap on a Seattle punt that gave the Vikings a short field.
The only touchdown of the game came as the result of a play that looked like a disaster – a high shotgun snap that whistled by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s head that looked like it would be a 15-yard loss and turned into a 35-yard gain.
Yet, with slightly under two minutes remaining, the Vikings had a chance to win the game with one final drive. When Kyle Rudolph hauled in a Teddy Bridgewater pass, made Seattle safety Kam Chancellor miss and rumbled 24 yards down to the Seattle 20-yard line, it looked as though the Vikings had the game won.
The offense milked the clock with three rushes by Adrian Peterson to get it down to 26 seconds and left their fate on the right foot of kicker Blair Walsh. From 27 yards away, he was barely beyond the old extra point mark. It wasn’t automatic, but, unless it was blocked, it was everything but automatic.
It turned out to be anything but automatic.
The lore of Sunday’s game was going to be one of old-school football. Bud Grant heading out to the coin flip in short sleeves that only the Old Trapper could get away with. About 20 big-time defensive plays were game-changers, with an inordinate amount of those being made by Seattle’s Michael Bennett and Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks. The dozen or so missed plays could have altered the game.
If not for the final offensive drive, it likely would have been Peterson who would have fallen under scrutiny for his costly fumble that provided what proved to be the game-winning points. Instead it was Blair Walsh.
He scored all nine of the team’s points, but needed 12 to be the hero. Instead, he will be the one remembered for the loss – Wide Left II.
For fans of NFL football – at least those with an appreciation of the game and not so tied into fantasy football when a 10-9 game is viewed as boring – Sunday’s game was a classic between arguably the NFL’s best team (Seattle) and a young team on the rise looking to makes its stamp on the NFL.
In the end, Walsh will be the person most associated with Sunday’s loss, much in the same way Gary Anderson is historically linked to the loss to the Falcons and Favre’s pick is what is remembered most from the loss to the Saints.
The 2015 Vikings didn’t think they were going to lose Sunday. The defense did its part late to get the ball back for one last shot by the offense. The offense did its job to set up a chip-shot field goal. The special teams didn’t finish the job.
With those other two games, there weren’t the vicious social media trolls that flooded the Twitterverse with instant, and often disgusting, reactions to Walsh’s misses. Take the fans reaction, multiply it by about 1,000 but without the ugliness, and you have the reaction of the players and coaches in the locker room following the game.
In January 1999, there was stunned silence. In January 2010, there were tears and anger – tears for Favre and anger at what would come to be known as Bountygate. In January 2016, there was bewilderment. When the game was on the line, the team did so many things right leading up to the point where Pete Carroll was forcibly going to be made to tip his hat and concede defeat.
It didn’t happen.
Some losses take longer to get over than others.
This will be one of them.