Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where my boasts of discovering the Internet are easy to disprove with basic facts. Let’s get to it:
*On Wednesday last week, Mike Zimmer was in the midst of some pretty short answers during a press briefing when he latched onto a question about Xavier Rhodes’ penalties early this season to deliver a message.
“I know everybody wants to evaluate everybody after four weeks, but I think if you remember last year or early in the year Xavier had some penalties early in the year. We cleaned them up. This isn’t a time for “woe is me,'” Zimmer said. “If people remember we were 2-2 this time last year. We finished 13-3. We were 5-0 the year before and we finished 8-8. We were 2-2 the year before that and we finished 11-5, so all the predictors, this isn’t a good time to predict.”
It was clearly a message to all those preparing to write off the Vikings, who were 1-2-1 and struggling mightily on defense heading into one of their toughest games of the season at Philadelphia. If it seemed a bit desperate or wishful at the time, it seems more prescient in the wake of Sunday’s 23-21 victory — a game the Vikings led 20-3 at one point and very much controlled for much of the day.
Zimmer’s quote had all the facts right about what happened the previous three seasons. The Vikings were sputtering in 2015 through four games, then took off with a five-game win streak starting in Game 5. They were an early Super Bowl favorite in 2016 after starting 4-0 (and eventually 5-0) before offensive line woes contributed mightily to a 3-8 stretch to end the year. And last year, the Vikings were again 2-2 and looked headed for a dead-end year with Sam Bradford injured and Dalvin Cook out for the year. Then Case Keenum took them on an improbable journey to 13-3.
This year, of course, the Vikings had big issues in all three phases of the game — with defensive woes being the most surprising and troubling. They got much of it sorted out Sunday and got a wonderful performance under pressure from Kirk Cousins. Now their record is all square after playing three of their first five on the road against presumed NFC contenders.
The bizarre 27-6 loss to Buffalo still feels like it could negatively impact the season, but turning a potential “L” into a “W” in Philly helps square that. At the very least, it added credence to what Zimmer said last week about judging his teams after four games.
*Speaking of Cousins, Sunday was his best game so far in purple. In particular, his 68-yard completion to Adam Thielen — with the Vikings backed deep in their own territory and Cousins hit as he threw — was a thing of beauty. It was very reminiscent of the play in last year’s NFC title game that shifted momentum permanently: Keenum being hit as he threw to the sideline, leading to a pick-six. Only this time, the outcome was far different.
*Dan Bailey struggled early against Philadelphia, missing two field goals. But the fact that he was able to gather himself and deliver a clutch 52-yarder right down the middle to seal the game late in the fourth quarter was quite possibly the difference between a win and a loss.
Mason Crosby had a similarly day Sunday for Green Bay but couldn’t produce a similarly clutch redemption kick. His 56-yard try with 3:40 left and the Packers trailing by 11 went wide right, leaving the Packers down 31-20 and basically sealing their fate. Had he made that kick, I wouldn’t have bet against Aaron Rodgers getting the ball back and producing a TD/two-point conversion to send that game to overtime.
*The Gophers volleyball team is on a tear. They’ve won seven matches in a row since losing a pair a month ago on the West Coast, including a 3-1 win at Nebraska on Saturday. At least give third-ranked Nebraska this credit: it was able to at least take a set from the Gophers. The rest of their matches during the streak have been sweeps.
*This might be my favorite Linval Joseph oxygen mask take: