The frustration of the Minnesota Vikings’ inability to close out games is starting to show. The open locker room period on coach/coordinator press conference days has often had the look of a ghost town and those who do venture in are often at a loss for words as to how to adequately describe what has happened over the last two months of their season.
Nowhere is that more true than along the offensive line, where “next man up” has become a painful cliché. Heading into last Thursday’s 16-13 loss to Detroit, guard Alex Boone was celebrating the smallest of things – having the same five offensive linemen playing back-to-back weeks.
Boone, who sat disconsolate at his locker Sunday, was asked if he’s ever been involved with a team so beset by offensive line injuries. As usual, he didn’t mince words.
“I don’t think anybody has,” Boone said. “To be honest with you, it’s like Player 12 coming in now? It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to regroup. We’ve got a huge game coming up Thursday night – get excited and ready to roll.”
With all the different line combinations the Vikings have been forced to make, it has been a unique situation for any football team.
At times, they feel snake bit. At times, they feel like the football gods have something against them.
“I don’t know what it is, but somebody’s really taking a piss on us this year,” Boone said. “We hope that Joe is back in time. Jeremiah seems to be fine. Once again, we’re just going to have to re-work the line and see what works out best.”
What doesn’t help their cause is the best team in the NFL this season is coming to town. While offense has been the calling card for the Cowboys, their success has spilled over to the defense.
Once thought as the weak link of the team because of the lack of depth at key positions, the defense has fed off the offense, as good teams often do, and Boone knows that whoever lines up for the Vikings Thursday night will have to be prepared for an aggressive defense willing to take chances and take advantage of perceived weaknesses.
“They’re a good defense, they’re a solid defense,” Boone said. “I think the one thing about it is they play so fast. They’re a very confident defense right now. You win 10 games in a row, you’ve got to feel pretty good about yourself. I think the challenge this week is going to be go out and play fast with them. We’ve got to set the tempo. We’ve got to dictate how this game is going to go. We can’t let them get off to a fast start and kind of push us around. We’ll just go from there.”
As Boone spoke in the slow, measured monotone of a player who has been beaten down over the last six games, he was asked to assess the mood of the locker room. As usual, he was brutally honest.
The Vikings play well in stretches and, all things considered, the line has held up pretty well considering that most of their original starters were either on the sideline or watching from home on injured reserve.
Yet, they aren’t making excuses. They let Thursday’s loss at Detroit get away from them and there’s no time for dwelling on the past, especially when the hottest team in the league is coming to town looking for an 11th straight victim.
“I think it kind of sank in,” Boone said. “We ate it and now we’ve got to move on. This is the NFL. It’s unforgiving. You played a Thursday game and now you’ve got to play another Thursday game. Move quick and learn from it. There’s some good things we did in that game. There’s some bad things in that game. We can’t continue to keep doing bad things. We’ve got to change that and change the critical situations.”
The Vikings can still control their own fate, which will likely entail having to win four of their remaining five games to get to the postseason. Whether that win total includes what would be considered a big upset win over Dallas or having to run the table in their final four games, none of their opponents will be feeling sorry for the Vikings’ with their current slide.
The nature of the game is that the season goes on whether a team wants to call an injury timeout or not. The Vikings are nearing the point of desperation for their 2016 season after a strong start and there’s little more to do than cut loose and bring everything the players and coaches have to the table for the stretch run.
“It’s football – that’s why you love this game,” Boone said. “You’ve got to play it 100 percent, balls to the wall, full speed or it will come back and kick you right in the ass. We learned from this last game. We know what we can’t do anymore. This week is going to really be to go out and set the tempo and hit them in the mouth early and often.”