It was only 10 days ago, I promise you, that the Vikings were the darlings of the NFL. They were 5-0, about to go play an Eagles team suddenly struggling, and everybody was straining to see just when — when? — this team would ever lose. The national media was writing glowing things about the defense and Sam Bradford. The troubling performances of the offensive line and running game were being papered over with sentences like “if the Vikings can figure this out …”
And, well, it turns out that functional offensive line play is pretty important. After two dismal road performances, the Vikings are 5-2. Those same fans who were straining to see the next loss are now covering their eyes and wondering when they’ll see another win. And the national media has turned on the Vikings. Oh, they have turned on them.
It’s not surprising. It’s not even wrong (even though, as the truth usually reveals itself, the Vikings were not as good as they looked when they started 5-0 and they’re not as bad as they have looked in these last two games). This is still probably a 10- or 11-win team when the dust settles. But it is all kicked up right now. Here are some of the thoughts on the local team from the outside (in italics) with additional comments from me:
Nancy Armour, USA Today: More troubling than the sudden losing streak, however, is the way the Vikings are playing. A team that just a month ago played with swagger and ferocity now looks lost and tentative. The offensive line can’t protect Sam Bradford, and a defense that was the league’s stingiest now can’t stop anyone.
She’s right, of course. If the Vikings had gone to Philadelphia and lost, say, 24-20 while competing but coming up short, that would have been one thing. Maybe a clunker in Chicago would have been more forgivable. Instead, these were back-to-back wretched all-around games. Every time the Vikings played poorly last season, they came back the next week with a much better performance. This is new, troubling territory.
Chris Wesseling, NFL.com: Over the past two weeks, the Eagles and Bears combined for 26 QB hits, 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 14 passes defensed. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Bradford will survive intact before the Vikings find a fix for overmatched tackles Jake Long and T.J. Clemmings. It’s a shame general manager Rick Spielman lacks the salary-cap space to pull off a major trade ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s deadline.
I covered this ground last week, lamenting how hard up against the cap the Vikings are (and how much different it might be if they hadn’t had to trade for Sam Bradford). At this point, Joe Thomas would be an upgrade. But he would be an expensive and complicated one — and I’m not even sure how much one man would help a line with so many problems.
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Again, this isn’t all on (Sam) Bradford, but it also doesn’t change the fact that the Vikings gave up a first-rounder for him, presumably because they thought they could make a deep playoff run. And maybe that still happens, but after a 5-0 start, the Vikings have dropped two straight. Minnesota’s all-world defense isn’t able to do everything, and unless this offense can get back on track, the final two months could seem like an eternity.
The offensive line has been problematic, but Bradford has certainly regressed in the last two weeks. He had a chance to make a game-turning throw early against Chicago but missed Stefon Diggs deep (barely) for what would have been an easy touchdown.
Brad Gagnon, Bleacher Report NFL National Columnist: Nobody can survive solely with great defense. Not in this offense-oriented, pass-happy era. That’s why a second straight double-digit defeat has many wondering if the Minnesota Vikings sold us fool’s gold to start the 2016 season. Was Minnesota’s 5-0 start a mirage?
That’s the question Vikings fans are asking themselves right now. If they were all-in 10 days ago, there are a lot of them with at least one foot out right now. But ultimately it’s a question that will be decided over the final nine games. Which version of these Vikings is the most accurate representation of their truest form?
Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune: Boy, I don’t know if Mike Zimmer’s plan to fire up his offensive line by calling them “soft” and “embarrassing” last week in a loss at Philadelphia was the way to go. They look bad with Jake Long at left tackle and T.J. Clemmings at right tackle.
That’s a fair challenge aimed at Zimmer, who again has seemed to push all the right buttons in the past when dealing with adversity and poor performances. After two bad games in a row instead of just one, it will be interesting to see how he rallies a team whose hallmark has been resiliency.