It has been a strange week for Team Wobegon.
The head coach barely slept, drove home late one night, decided that eating occasionally might be wise, ordered two fast-food burgers and later realized they only gave him one. Bud Grant would have gone back through the drive-through with a shotgun.
The quarterback got called “scared’’ by an opponent, then later said the opponent was an old friend with whom he exchanged jerseys after the game.
The star running back complained that he only got eight carries in a 31-point loss. All four of the team’s safeties were hurt, and its three best defensive players, and the NFL forced this tattered bunch to fly to Arizona three days after that 31-point loss, and not for sun and fun, or rest and rehab, but to play one of the league’s most complete and best-coached teams.
One week after the Vikings won to reach 8-3 and become one of the more promising teams in the NFL, a 38-7 loss at home to Seattle cast everything they have accomplished into doubt. It’s as if the Vikings ship outside the new stadium should be replaced with a life raft.
Things figure to get worse on Thursday night. The Cardinals are 10-2, healthy and home, so the Vikings are facing the possibility of their first two-game losing streak of the season and the endangerment of a playoff spot that had become assumed.
It’s time like these that cause overreaction. Here’s the right way to react to three key issues:
1. Losing to Arizona won’t be disastrous, unless injuries mount.
If the Vikings lose tonight, they’ll be 8-5 with two winnable home game between now and their season finale at Lambeau Field. That’s about where any optimistic realist would have projected them to be before the season began. They still can reach 10 victories and make the playoffs for only the second time since 2009, and they might be better off finishing second in the division if that means a chance to play against the NFC East champion instead of Seattle.
In a theoretical world, you could argue that the Vikings would be best off resting as many important players as possible against Arizona and preparing for the final three games. In the real world, you can’t expect the Vikings not to try. For at least two or three quarters. Then they need to save their most important bodies.
2. Adrian Peterson is the kid who won’t eat his spinach.
Just as the Vikings are bound to try to win against ridiculous odds on Thursday night, Peterson will want to carry the ball 25 times. And like trying to beat Arizona, that’s a fine plan going in, but if this game turns into a blowout the Vikings would be right to again put him on the sideline.
Peterson hated missing 15 games last year, but that rest probably led to his remarkable performance this season. He hated getting only eight carries against Seattle, but that game became unwinnable and he and the Vikings might benefit if he’s fresh going into the last three games and the playoffs.
This might be a good time to develop Jerick McKinnon, who has played well and might be a bigger help than Peterson to the passing game.
3. It’s Teddy Time, and time is short
The Vikings’ formula of sound defense and a powerful running game has enabled them to beat a lot of mediocre teams. To beat good teams, they’ll need to throw the ball better. Bridgewater is playing behind a weakened offensive line and being asked to take deep drops. That might have to change. It might be time to allow him to work out of a shotgun and make quicker passes. Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright and Mike Wallace are all capable of running well with short passes. For the long-term health of the franchise, the Vikings can’t afford to let Bridgewater get too beat up, physically or emotionally.
Odds are, the Vikings are about to lose another big game in front of a national audience. If they can survive the game physically while getting Bridgewater back on track, a loss won’t necessarily be a terrible outcome.