This past Sunday, the now 1-2 Minnesota Vikings won a "must-win" game against the now 0-3 Detroit Lions, at Mall of America Field. Two Sundays from now, the Vikings must go to the Meadowlands, "somewhere in the swamps of Jersey", to face the New York Jets.
There are those who, coming into this past NFL weekend, have hesitated to use such stark terms as "must-win". I have not, and will not. The Minnesota Vikings took the first step in salvaging their season, with their win over the Detroit Lions this Sunday. It wasn't always pretty, but with a combination of stingy defense, timely big plays in the passing game, and a relentless and punishing rushing performance by Adrian Peterson, the Vikings got the job done.
There's a temptation to employ rhetorical devices of denial or placation such as "no time to panic", "one game at a time" or "we just have to execute", when a team has dug itself into a hole, and doesn't show many signs of wanting to put the shovel down. At that point, what I like to hear is what came out of Peyton Manning's mouth as he described (ex post facto) the situation at half-time, as the Indianapolis Colts trailed the upstart New York Jets in last year's AFC Championship game: "We were feeling a sense of urgency." The rest is history. The Colts climbed out of their hole, staged a second-half comeback, and went to the Super Bowl.
There are some other more technical NFL terms that come into play when one considers the Vikings' shaky 0-2 start, and their current 1-2 record. These terms usually manifest themselves in December, when playoff positioning begins to weigh all of the "tie-breaker" possibilities, but this past weekend's events make them relevant now.
After a team's overall record, the next relevant term is "conference record". The Vikings and Packers are currently1-1, both teams having played one game against an AFC East opponent. The Chicago Bears are 3-0. That's the painful reality, and no "would have, could have, should have" crying in one's Summit or Leinie can change least for now.
The next relevant term is "division record". The Bears have managed to beat two of their division rivals during the first three weeks of this still-young season. If the Chicago Bears keep playing well, and yes, have the ball bounce their way to boot, then this situation will bode very well for them once the snow begins to fly. Both the Bears' record within the NFC North and their "head-to-head" record are already shaping up favorably. That situation can certainly change, because the NFL season is an unpredictable grind, but that's not something that the Vikings can really afford to count on.
At this point, the Minnesota Vikings cannot afford to worry about what the Bears and Packers are doing, until it's time to start breaking down their film. The Vikings have to take care of their own business, which will involve, among other things, getting newly healthy players into the "flow", fine-tuning the communication between Brett Favre and his receivers, and significantly tightening up the pass-protection side of the offensive line play.
NFL eams that are 1-2 know that they have a lot of hard work to do, and that extra time and effort and attention to detail are the answer to most of their ills. NFL teams that are 0-3 usually begin the painful processes of rationalizing, scape-goating, behavioral dysfunctionalism, and general implosion. You'll notice that I said "usually", because I would never want to suggest that no team possesses the resiliency to recover from such a rocky start. That said, no team really wants to place itself in such a dire position, simply to find out whether or not it's made of "sterner stuff".
Anyone who still believes that last Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions was not a "must-win" delusional.