It’s hard to know why the Twins have found so much success at home during this season without fans in attendance while the Vikings have struggled without their usual deafening crowd noise.
But even though the Twins lost to the Reds at Target Field on Sunday, they clinched their second consecutive American League Central crown and finished the season with the best home record in baseball (24-7) and the best winning percentage at home in franchise history (.774).
Meanwhile, across downtown Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings let a late lead slip away and lost 31-30 to the Titans and fell to 0-3 overall.
The Vikings’ performance Sunday was far and away their best of the season and nowhere close to their poor showings against Green Bay and Indianapolis.
In a tough loss, this club showed what the coaching staff, front office and players have known all along — the Vikings have the talent to compete with anyone in this league.
Kirk Cousins threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, rookie wideout Justin Jefferson caught seven passes for 175 yards and a score, and Dalvin Cook set a career-high with 181 rushing yards and added a touchdown.
This is a game the Vikings should have won against an unbeaten Titans team that is the real deal. Tennessee beat the Patriots in the playoffs last season, then dominated the Ravens, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, to reach the AFC Championship Game where they lost a competitive matchup with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
This was a great club that came to U.S. Bank Stadium.
“In the first two games, we didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to compete in the game. This game, throughout most of the game, we gave ourselves an opportunity to compete, to fight, do all of those things,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, we’re up by five, and that’s one of the points of emphasis that we always talk about, winning the last 10 minutes of the game.”
Yet when it came to doing the little things, the Vikings fell short.
“The thing I have to figure out right now is to keep this team understanding what’s causing them to lose,” Zimmer said. “We come out at the start of the second half, we throw an interception and they kick a field goal. We give up a big play on defense. The last possession, when we have a chance to go down and win the game with a field goal, it was a complete disaster. Those are the things that are causing us to lose.”
And now, with road games at Houston (0-3) and Seattle (2-0), there is a real danger that the Vikings could start 0-5 for the first time since 1962, their second campaign as a franchise, when they finished 2-11-1.
Fan noise can help
If there is one thing Zimmer has said from Day 1 of this pandemic season it is that the NFL has created an unfair advantage with some teams playing in front of big groups of fans — the Cowboys brought in 20,000 last week — and other teams having no spectators.
The Vikings had 250 fans in the stadium Sunday, mainly employees and family members. But you have to imagine that having a larger group of fans could have made a difference with Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski going 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder with 6 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and then the game-winning 55-yarder with 1:44 left.
Gostkowski already had missed two field-goal attempts and two extra points in the first two games.
While the NFL has been inconsistent with fan rules, Major League Baseball has been steady from the first game, not allowing fans into home ballparks throughout the season.
The Twins might not have liked that rule and may have wanted to allow fans into Target Field for this playoff run, but at least the league has been consistent.
You cannot say the same thing for the NFL, and you have to wonder if the Vikings will test having more fans in U.S. Bank Stadium when the Falcons come to town for Week 6 on Oct. 18.