Missed opportunities, not injuries, have defined Vikings season
While the Minnesota Vikings have been hit hard by the injury bug, they have to blame themselves for their 7-6 record and dubious playoff chances.
If you asked most people about the Minnesota Vikings collapse this season, they would tell you the same thing: injuries ended all hope for the year. The mounting injuries simply became too much to overcome after a 5-0 start, even for a talented team that once boasted Super Bowl aspirations.
On the surface, that argument certainly has merit. The Vikings have had to deal with more injury woes than any other team in the league. The injury of a starting quarterback, which the Vikings had to endure when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a tibiofemural dislocation and torn ACL, is usually enough to end a teams’ playoff hopes on its own. On top of that, however, the Vikings lost a future Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson, their top four offensive tackles in Phil Loadholt, Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, and Jake Long, a talented guard in Mike Harris, and a starting defensive tackle in Shariff Floyd.
In addition to the debilitating injuries, the team has faced uncertainty and turmoil at every corner off the field. First offensive coordinator Norv Turner shockingly resigned midway through the season, and now head coach Mike Zimmer has had to undergo multiple emergency eye surgeries for a detached retina, forcing him to miss several practices and the team’s Week 13 game against the Cowboys.
It’s completely reasonable to blame the Minnesota Vikings break down on all these extenuating circumstances, but that argument ignores one crucial fact: even with all the injuries and all the turmoil, this team is simply too talented to be 7-6.
Sep 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches a touchdown pass against Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall (23) during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Packers 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings have one of the most dominant defenses in the league, ranking 2nd in total yardage allowed and 2nd in points per game allowed. Every team that the Vikings have faced this year, regardless of how explosive and celebrated their offense has been, has struggled to move the ball in the face of Minnesota’s tenacious and technical defensive approach. Led by athletic playmakers like Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph, and Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings boast some of the most tantalizing defensive talent in the league.
Even the Vikings’ much-maligned offense has several bright spots to note. Even though he’s been getting much of the blame for the Vikings 2-6 record over the past eight weeks, Sam Bradford has had a better year than anyone could have possibly hoped for. While the explosive plays have been lacking, he’s played very efficiently. Led by Bradford’s smarts and accuracy, the team has had the third fewest turnovers in the NFL. Beyond that, the team boasts several exciting playmakers, with budding star Stefon Diggs leading the pack.
So why are the Vikings just 6-6? They simply haven’t been making the most of the opportunities that they have made for themselves. In each of the Vikings’ past four losses, they have led or been tied in the fourth quarter before letting it slip away.
Only in two games this season, a Week 7 beat down by the Eagles and an embarrassing Week 8 loss against the Bears, have the Vikings been clearly outmatched. In every other contest the team either could have or should have won, even in its current state of dilapidation.
Take the team’s overtime loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 9. After scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter to seemingly put the game away, the Vikings let the Lions drive the length of the field on their vaunted defense in just 23 seconds to send the game to overtime with a field goal. Then, the defense folded again, allowing the Lions to win the game with a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime.
The next week, against the Washington Redskins, they got out to a 20-14 lead at halftime before letting it slowly slip away, failing to muster a single point in the second half en route to a 26-20 defeat.
After the brief respite of a victory against the Cardinals, the Vikings fell back to their old ways in a Thanksgiving day rematch against the Lions. They were in perfect position to win the game, getting the ball with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter of a tied ball game, but instead turned the ball over on a careless interception by Sam Bradford, allowing the Lions to seal a 16-13 win with a field goal.
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In Week 13, the Vikings even proved that they could hold their own against the best team in the NFC, the 12-2 Dallas Cowboys, before ultimately losing. After driving 65 yards to score in the waning moments of the game, the Vikings had an opportunity to force overtime with a two-point conversion, but failed after a false start by T.J. Clemmings and incomplete pass by Sam Bradford.
The Vikings currently sit at an uninspiring 7-6, but the team could just as easily be 11-2. Whether this stands as an optimistic reminder that the Vikings have put themselves in position to win every week or a grim example of the team’s inability to close out games is up to one’s own interpretation.
Now, the Vikings are in an interesting spot. After winning last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota has a clear shot at the playoffs. Despite all of the injuries, all the turbulence, and all the missed opportunities, the Vikings will likely make the postseason if they can win their remaining three games.
With the way that this season has gone, that’s about as much as the Minnesota Vikings could hope for – a chance. Given the team’s track record, however, its hard to see them taking advantage of this golden opportunity.