1. Zimmer's defense: Vikings' third-worst ever
A week after the news media coerced coach Mike Zimmer into eating crow for his preseason proclamation that he's never had a bad defense, his painful pummeling on that side of the ball came to a merciful end in Sunday's 37-35 win over the Lions at Ford Field.
The final tally: 475 points allowed – nine short of the team's worst ever — for an average of 29.7. Only six other times in Vikings history has a team allowed 400 points. Three of them – 1961 (407), '62 (410) and '65 (403) – were achieved in 14 games during the team's first six seasons. One of them was the infamous Les Steckel season of 1984 (484). And the other two – 2011 (449) and 2013 (480) — got Leslie Frazier fired.
At least Zimmer didn't unseat Steckel's dubious records for points and average allowed (30.3). Frazier's 30.0 average allowed remains second worst in franchise history.
2. Jefferson, Moss and 'attacking the ball in the air'
There's never been a player who truly compares to Randy Moss as an NFL receiver. And there probably never will be. But a few weeks ago, in a conversation with the Star Tribune, Vikings rookie receiver Justin Jefferson was asked to name one skill he believes he has in common with the guy whose rookie records for catches and yards receiving Jefferson broke this season.
"The way he attacks the ball in the air," Jefferson said. "He does not let the ball come down. He attacks the ball at the highest point. And he makes the big plays for the team."
Like every other receiver who's played the game, Jefferson doesn't have the combination of size and speed that Moss had. "He," Jefferson said, "is just a freak of nature."
Jefferson had nine catches for 133 yards against the Lions to finish with 88 catches for 1,400, the most yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era.
3. Cousins' 47th start reaches top 5 for Vikings QB
Quick, name the top five Vikings quarterbacks in career games started. Fran Tarkenton, of course. He had 170. Tommy Kramer (110). Daunte Culpepper (80). Wade Wilson? Yep. He had 48. Then who? Kirk Cousins.
His 47th regular-season start for the Vikings on Sunday moved him ahead of Brad Johnson into fifth place. Cousins has done this in three years, missing only one game when Zimmer rested his starters in Week 17 last season.
With the win Sunday, Cousins' record as a Viking is 25-21-1 (.543). The win total ranks sixth behind Tarkenton (91-73-6, .553), Kramer (54-56, .491), Culpepper (38-42, .475), Johnson (28-18, .609) and Wilson (27-21, .563). Cousins reached a career-high 35 touchdown passes this season. But he heads into next season perfectly average record-wise at 51-51-2.
"You trust that if you stay at it, keep playing the way you play … the wins will come," Cousins said last week.
4. Bye-bye, Bailey: Kicker's freefall continues
Two years ago, Dan Bailey arrived in Minnesota as the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history. He had made 88.2% with the Cowboys. He's likely done as a Viking after missing five of his last 12 field-goal attempts, including one of two Sunday as he played through a back injury. His 58.3% finish to the season dropped him to 12th on the career accuracy list at 85.862 (249 of 290). Bailey also has missed five of his past 15 PATs, including one on Sunday.
Ten of the NFL's top 12 most accurate kickers are active this season, including No. 1 Justin Tucker (90.625). Only four of the 12 most accurate kickers have played for only one team. Former Viking Kai Forbath, who kicked in two games for the Rams this season, has played for seven teams. Bailey could be on his third team come 2021.
5. Sack totals worse than even Steckel's '84 debacle
The Vikings' entire decimated defense entered Week 17 tied with Jared Allen's 2011 sack total of 22. But the deadlock was broken! Hercules Mata'afa had the Vikings' lone sack Sunday, but the season total of 23 still checked in dead last in team history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Even in 1982 – the nine-game strike-shortened season – the Vikings had 30 sacks. This year's sack yardage of 126 yards also ranks last.
The previous lows for sacks (25) and sack yardage (175) came during Steckel's 1984 season. Every other Vikings team since 1982 has had at least 30 sacks. Twenty of those teams had 40 or more sacks. Four had 50 or more, including the team record of 71 for 502 yards in 1989. That year, Chris Doleman had 21 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Keith Millard had 18.