Perception kissed the Vikings gently on the forehead and awakened them Sunday morning as NFC favorites, NFL darlings and a warm-and-fuzzy Super Bowl feel-good story in the making. Then, after a 3-hour, 9-minute Philadelphia flogging, perception kicked the Vikings out the back door as a 5-1 fraud, an exposed pretender and a 5-11 flop in the making.
As usual, reality sits somewhere between the pitchforks and purple rose petals that have been thrown toward Winter Park.
Is there cause for concern? You bet. And it’s as big as Jake Long, T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles rolled into one giant Triangle of Pain for Sam Bradford.
But the knee-jerk reaction outside the walls of Winter Park shouldn’t always be immediate and unconditional surrender while sucking one’s thumb from the fetal position.
Essentially, for a lot of teams outside of New England, the modern-day title can be won by continuously climbing out of crater-sized setbacks, surviving inevitable attrition in a brutal sport and getting hot come Christmas. Eli Manning has stolen two of Bill Belichick’s Lombardi trophies that way.
In 2007, Eli’s Giants were 0-2, giving up 40 points per beating and had just lost 35-13 at home to the Packers. Then they went 13-4, with a Super Bowl win over Belichick’s 18-0 Patriots.
Four years later, Eli’s Giants started 4-2, went 3-5 over the next couple of months and finished 6-0 by beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Again.
The Vikings weren’t the perfect 5-0 team Sunday morning. They were a team with a quarterback, two starting offensive tackles and a Hall of Fame running back on injured reserve. And, by the way, those who thought the Vikings were better off without Matt Kalil and Adrian Peterson had something to think about while watching Long’s pass protection and the running game’s inability to get two inches on third and fourth down at the Eagles 6.
The Vikings were outplayed and outcoached by the Eagles. It happens. The Eagles, of course, were outplayed and outcoached by the Redskins a week earlier.
“[The Vikings] were on the reactionary end today,” Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin said Sunday. “We were kind of dictating to them. Last week was just the opposite.”
Those last six words should be printed on the NFL’s shield and distributed to every fan base that experiences a loss. Except in Cleveland, where the pain is perpetual.
Sunday, the Bills took a four-game winning streak to Miami. The Dolphins were 2-4.
“We got outplayed, we got outcoached, we got out-everythinged,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said after the three-point loss.
In beating the Bills, Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi joined O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams as the only players in NFL history to top 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games.
“It’s surreal to me,” Ajayi said.
Ditto for those of us who grew up watching O.J. and Earl.
But that’s the NFL. No two games, no two opponents and no two matchups are ever the same.
Two weeks ago in Washington, the Eagles supposedly were exposed as a team with a weak offensive line that couldn’t protect a rookie quarterback. Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a rookie fifth-round pick, gave up two sacks while looking as bad as Long, Clemmings and Sirles did on Sunday.
So what happened? The Eagles tinkered with their game plan. They went to shorter drops and passes to neutralize the Vikings’ extraordinary pass rush. Carson Wentz still had a poor game, but he wasn’t sacked or even harassed that much.
Meanwhile, the Vikings’ offensive coaches were caught off-guard by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who must have had a good chuckle when one of last week’s story lines was the advantage Bradford would have because of his familiarity with Philadelphia’s defense.
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Schwartz called only 31 blitzes in 172 pass plays — a league-low 18 percent — during the first five games. Sunday, Schwartz went after Bradford with Zimmer-esque blitz-heavy aggression.
Monday, Zimmer was asked if the coaches should have done more schematically to help the offensive line.
“Yeah, we need to,” he said. “We didn’t do a good enough job in that way.”
The Vikings have a strong coaching staff and players who typically fight back. Perhaps the coaches will figure out ways to hide the blemishes better, as the Eagles did a week earlier when all was supposedly lost in Philadelphia.
Or the Vikings could go with the trending solution: Immediate and unconditional surrender while sucking one’s thumb from the fetal position.