DETROIT -- Wait, wasn't this supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Vikings?
Another death march of heartbreaking losses, lessons learned, frustrating mistakes and a baptism by fire for a roster full of young, unproven talent. Wasn't Leslie Frazier supposed to be roasting on the hot seat, his future at the helm growing murkier with each passing week? And that defense. Whew, close your eyes and hold your nose when that unit takes the field, right?
All of those things might come to fruition eventually. But not now. No, the picture they've painted so far looks entirely different than anyone outside the Winter Park ZIP code predicted for a team that ushered in a youth movement after a three-win 2011 season.
Instead of another serving of pigskin calamity and comedy, we're witnessing competence and budding confidence. And winning football.
On a day when their offense didn't score a touchdown, the Vikings still managed to win a road game -- 20-13 over the Lions -- end their unsightly 11-game losing streak within the division and demonstrate that a spirited upset of the San Francisco 49ers a week prior wasn't so fluky after all.
"Maybe the world of spectators is surprised, but we're not," Adrian Peterson said. "We knew that we could play some good football."
Who knows if the Vikings can keep it up, but this much is certain: They are 3-1 and sit atop the NFC North at the season's quarter-pole. A fast start does not define an entire season, but the Vikings are forcing others to pay attention for reasons beyond off-field drama or historic ineptitude.
Heck, maybe this team really is better than we thought. Not that the Vikings seem to care about outside opinions.
"We'll sneak up on everybody," veteran leader Kevin Williams said. "Let's just keep playing well as a team and who cares if anybody sees us coming. We want people to have a blind eye."
Not likely at this rate. The Vikings already matched their win total from last season and now enter a stretch in which they play three of their next four games at home, and two of the home games are against Tennessee and Tampa Bay, both 1-3. NFL parity usually is unforgiving to any team that takes things for granted, but the Vikings prospects certainly look better now than, say, two weeks ago.
"This is a great spot to be in after four games, but we need to remember it's just the first quarter of the season," center John Sullivan said. "We just want to get on a roll and win more games. Put some in the bank."
They were money in what amounted to a "prove it" game Sunday. In a span of eight days, the Vikings lost to one of the NFL's worst teams (Colts) and dominated one of its best (49ers). That's a large spectrum that required more evaluation to gain a clearer understanding of what this team is, or is not. The players answered that challenge.
"[Frazier] said last week's win would mean nothing if we came out here and lost," Percy Harvin said.
A similar refrain echoed throughout a loud, happy locker room afterward. Players and coaches lauded the attitude and focus in practice last week. They handled success with proper restraint.
"To come on the road, division game -- we haven't won in the division for a while -- and to control the game," Jared Allen said, "this was a huge team win."
A team win that revealed several encouraging developments. The defense, particularly the secondary, held up well against the Lions' top-ranked passing offense. Peterson eclipsed 100 yards rushing and showed an explosive burst for the first time since returning from knee surgery. Jerome Simpson gave the offense a vertical threat, and special teams decided the outcome.
They also made key plays at key junctures, which is more indication that this team isn't constrained by the same fatalistic mindset that engulfed the locker room last season.
"We knew last year we could play with anybody if we played our best ball, but we couldn't find a way to do that," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "This year we're doing that. We're finding ways to play our best football at the most critical times."
Maybe that will change at some point. Maybe the Vikings will stumble and become the team many expected. Of course, there's also a chance those predictions were wrong. Perhaps it's time we consider that scenario, too.