In sports, the bar for success is always changing. A few weeks back, Gophers fans were fixated on beating Penn State and earning a signature victory. With that win in hand, I wouldn’t say fans got greedy, but they naturally wanted more. The axe. Rose Bowl. Maybe even a trip to the College Football Playoff?
The charmed season and eventual comedown Saturday against Wisconsin reminded me so much of the Vikings’ 2017 season and eventual loss to the Eagles in the NFC title game. I would write hundreds of words about it, but I don’t want to depress anyone. Suffice to say, the favorable schedule, the big dreams, the early 7-0 lead and the eventual lopsided defeat to a very good team — it was all quite familiar.
And now the Gophers won’t play again for a month, probably not until New Year’s Day somewhere in Florida. The Vikings will play five times — the rest of their regular season — before the Gophers take the field again.
Coaches and players are fond of saying “next player up” when someone goes down. In this case, it’s “next team up” in the spotlight with the Vikings retaking their normal spot in the center of the stage.
The first of those five is Monday night in Seattle, and arguably this is the biggest of them (at least, you know, until it is displaced like Gophers/Penn State was).
The significance of this one goes beyond the standings, though it is true that a Vikings win keeps them in position to control their own destiny in the NFC North while a loss dings them in the division race.
This feels like the game where a win means we stop doubting/wondering about the Vikings and Kirk Cousins.
Wait, didn’t that already happen against Dallas in primetime a few weeks ago? It seemed like it could, but now the Cowboys keep sliding. And ask the Gophers: When you prove it once, people want you to prove it again to be sure.
It wouldn’t guarantee future victories, but a primetime win on the road on Monday against a very good team that has been a nemesis in the Mike Zimmer Era would take a lot of people on the fence and move them into the “believer” category.
A question I get asked a lot and toss around with friends is this: Do you trust Cousins? The sense I get is that a lot of people (myself included) are almost all the way there.
“I don’t know of a game we play where it’s kind of lackadaisical and not that much intensity or not that much on the line,” Cousins said. “But certainly, a night game in Seattle, with two teams that are having good seasons so far, there’s a lot there. I think that’s what makes it fun.”
The spotlight and opportunity belong to Cousins and the Vikings.