It’s hard to explain the gravity of the Minnesota Vikings’ 30-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The subplots were all there.
There was the game after the end of the Blair Walsh Project, where it would appear his fellow kickers made him feel a lot better about himself by whiffing a dirty dozen extra points – four more than were missed in all of 2014, the last year of the standard extra point.
There was Xavier Rhodes and his record-setting pick-6 touchdown that at one point topped 22 miles per hour on his way to the end zone.
There was Cordarrelle Patterson, the forgotten man of the Vikings offense for an extraordinarily long stretch, doing Rhodes four yards better to put some distance between the teams 13 seconds into the second half.
There was the FOX guy who got corned by Linval Joseph. His broken glasses went viral, along with his bruised dignity.
There was the untold story of Mike Zimmer’s halftime discussion of a defense that had David Johnson 11 rushing yards away from the century mark and Carson Palmer on pace to throw for 300 yards on top of that. His defense ended up allowing 27 yards on 29 second-half plays.
There was the Jeff Locke hit-and-bounce punt that that turned out to be a field position groin kick to the Cardinals that made the improbable almost impossible.
All of those were legitimate headline grabbers.
The one that got missed?
What if the Vikings had lost?
With all of the collective individual heroics from the game that led to victory Sunday, had the Palmer led the Cardinals on a game-winning drive, the Vikings would be most sincerely downed in their attempt to make the 2016 playoffs.
At 5-5, the Vikings would be the 10th seed in the NFC out of 16 teams. They would be a game behind Detroit with a home loss in hand to the Lions. In the wild card race they would be behind the Giants (7-3), Redskins (6-3-1) and Cardinals (5-4-1) and would be tied with Philadelphia (5-5) and Tampa Bay (5-5). In that scenario, they would lose out to both teams, given their head-to-head loss to the Eagles and by virtue of conference record against the Buccaneers.
However, with the win, the Vikings have created a cushion between themselves and their competition. They control their own division playoff destiny and can bolster it with a win over Detroit Thursday, which would put the Vikings back in the divisional driver’s seat.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Vikings would be on the outside looking in – the NFC East would be in control of both wild card spots and Detroit would take the NFC North crown.
But, at the same time, the Vikings would own a tie-breaker edge over the Giants that, if they were to finish with the same record, would came back to bite New York and propel the Vikings forward.
There are those who will say – and rightly so – that the Vikings didn’t lock down a playoff spot with Sunday’s win. They didn’t. But they improved their lot in the NFC when they absolutely had to. After a month of seeing every postseason advantage they held get wiped away by losing four straight games, the Vikings got back on track and started drawing on the equity they had earned with the first five wins of the season.
Thanks to their win over Arizona Sunday, the Vikings have stopped the slide and started building momentum moving forward. A win over Detroit on Thursday and the Vikings will be in sole possession of first place in the NFC North with all the tie-breaker advantages back in their favor.
There were a ton of storylines from Sunday’s win that were worthy of being front and center in terms of significance and importance. But a loss would have undone the good feelings.
We’ll never know how the social media trolls would have reacted to that and how many fans would be hitting the water jumping off the Vikings’ ship to distance themselves from the team.
Sometimes the best stories are the ones that aren’t told. The doomsday clock stopped Sunday and the positivity that has been missing for the last month has started to sneak back into the picture.
The Vikings have something to be thankful for today and it may be enough to propel them through the final six games of the regular season as the favorite to win the NFC North title.