When the Minnesota Vikings got off to their 5-0 start heading into their bye week, there was legitimate talk of them being a Super Bowl team with the potential to dominate, especially considering that the Vikings had beaten Green Bay, Carolina, the New York Giants and Houston – all teams with playoff pedigrees and playoff expectations.
There were legitimate reasons to believe the Vikings could make a deep playoff run, making their streak of losing eight of their last 10 games even more improbable. The “easy” part of the schedule was supposed to be in front of them.
When the Vikings were 5-0, their remaining schedule was going to include several non-playoff teams, including Philadelphia, Chicago twice, Washington, Arizona, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Detroit twice.
Not just losing so many games, but who they lost to, has made the Vikings’ collapse even more disappointing and frustrating for them and their fans.
“It is tough because everyone in this locker room knew how good we could be,” wide receiver Adam Thielen. “We still had a lot of confidence going into these last few games. It is just tough when you have a team that is so talented, but you don’t go where you want to go. We have a lot of really good guys and great leaders. We also have a lot of fighters and that is what you need to win games, but obviously we need to execute better.”
Prior to the last two games, despite having lost six of eight games at the time, the Vikings had never allowed more than 26 points in any game, including losses in which they allowed 21, 20, 22, 26, 16 and 17 points. Those were all winnable games because it doesn’t require scoring a ton of points. But the offense consistently died in the red zone and touchdowns were hard to come by. Prior to Sunday, in the Vikings’ losses, the team had point totals of 10, 10, 16, 20, 13, 15 and 6.
Injuries became the story arc of the season, as one player after another was lost due to injury and truly tested the depth of the roster.
Still, the Vikings felt that they could pull out of the tailspin. They kept the faith that their next win would start a streak like the one that started the season. It never came and the players are left to speculate their own reasons why – if they have any.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I am sure I will be thinking about it all offseason when I am training, thinking about what I could have done differently. We had a 5-0 start and now missing the playoffs. That is kind of bad. A team did that last year, Atlanta, I remember. We did it this year. This one hurts, it definitely hurts. This season feels like a waste. We put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time to go out the way we did today. It wasn’t a good feeling.”
The bigger problems the Vikings had were the critical missed plays and blown assignments that were their undoing. Their five-game winning streak was closely correlated to having just one giveaway the entire way – and that was a fumble by safety Andrew Sendejo following his own fumble recovery.
Fumbles. Key interceptions. Red zone woes. Missed sacks that turned into big gains on defense. Sacks that turned into turnovers on offense. Critical penalties. All of them played a part.
“We just didn’t do enough things to win games, especially some of the close games where we had an opportunity,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I think, when you look at it, there were just a lot of mistakes, a lot of self-inflicted wounds, and they came back to bite us. We weren’t able to overcome those at times and I think that’s really the biggest reason for us being where we are right now.”
Was it the offense’s fault? Was the lack of a defensive killer instinct to close out close games – especially twice against Detroit – to blame? Were the injuries – from Teddy Bridgewater to Adrian Peterson to Sharrif Floyd to Matt Kalil on down – their undoing?
Any of those excuses could have viable support, but, as Bradford said after the game, he doesn’t expect to see fingers be pointed or excuses being made.
“I hope we’re not a team that’s going to make excuses for our performance and for where we’re at right now,” Bradford said. “I think everyone in there will own up to the mistakes that have been made. I think we have all played a part in it. We all could’ve played better at times to help us win. It’s disappointing to be where we are right now.”null