If you live in Minnesota, you live in a state with a fragile collective sports psyche. We don’t believe in bad news coming in threes, unless we’re talking about years or decades. And so if you watched the end of that awful Gophers game Saturday that we shall never speak of again (and maybe even flipped over after to see the Wild lose in overtime, a game they would have won if Jason Zucker’s OT shot hadn’t hit Marco Scandella as he lay prone inside the Blues net), you might have wondered this: Should I even bother watching the Vikings on Sunday? I know what is going to happen.
If you did watch, out of boredom, faith or a perverse masochism, that is pretty much how the game played out for 56 minutes. The Vikings took an early lead thanks to a Marcus Sherels punt return, but a Teddy Bridgewater interception late in the first half totally changed the momentum of the game. The Bears eventually — predictably, since the Vikings hadn’t won in Chicago since 2007 — took a 20-13 lead, and with Bridgewater sputtering and the Vikings looking bereft of creativity (again) on offense, it had all the makings of a disappointing loss to cap off a rough 24-hour stretch of sports. And, of course, that stretch followed a wildly emotional week that was disheartening for much heavier reasons.
What followed in the final four minutes, then, was completely off script for everything we have come to expect about Minnesota sports in general, the Vikings in particular and the direction of the weekend specifically.
I don’t know what happened other than to say this: the NFL has become a five-play league. Almost every game — particularly given the way the Vikings play, with narrow margins — comes down to a handful of key plays. If you deliver on the majority of those plays, you’re probably going to win. If you don’t, you’re probably going to lose. The 2013 Vikings were the epitome of being on the wrong end of those five plays. Last year, under Mike Zimmer, the needle moved closer to the middle. This year, it’s started to swing in the positive direction. That is the mark of a good team. It’s not the mark of a great team, since the great ones can still blow teams out and appear in control from start to finish. But it is certainly the mark of a good team.
Bridgewater shaking off a bad day to first scramble for a drive-starting first down and then find Stefon Diggs for a game-tying TD catch and run is something that happens to a good team. A receiver dropping a wide open third down pass, as happened to Chicago on the ensuing drive, is what happens to a bad team. A receiver coming in relatively cold and making the kind of catch Charles Johnson made to set up the winning field goal is the kind of thing that happens to good teams, as was Blair Walsh calmly drilling the field goal.
This is not even close to saying the Vikings are a complete team or a group without flaws. If they fail to make any of those plays, or if Chicago makes one more, we might all be talking about a very different weekend and be feeling a lot differently about a 4-3 squad instead of a 5-2 squad.
But we’re not. There are no do-overs (if there were, Tracy Claeys would be the first in line). When it happens enough, it’s not luck. It’s the natural order of things.
As of 3 p.m. Sunday, I believe two things: I believe Zimmer has this thing going in the right direction, and I believe a whole lot of Minnesotans feel a lot better right now than they thought they would.