The human brain has been called the most powerful computer in the world, one that performs millions of tasks every second.
This power has a function of seeking out patterns in order to make sense of and simplify complex issues. These patterns take the form of stories — and once our brains latch onto a good narrative, identifying facts and evidence to support it becomes key to the pattern and the story.
The brain of an average Vikings fan is likely very similar to that of the average overall citizen, albeit with more wear and tear.
Like any good sports fan, and any person in general, Vikings fans desperately seek out patterns and stories in order to make sense of their team. On a macro level: every failure in a big game becomes part of a larger story about how the franchise is “cursed,” which may or may not be a real thing (and may or may not be a self-fulfilling prophecy).
On a more fine-tuned recent level, Vikings fans have latched hard onto the narrative that quarterback Kirk Cousins performs poorly in big games — specifically those against high-quality opponents in prime time.
But after a 37-30 loss Monday in Seattle, dropping Cousins to 0-8 on Monday Night Football, there were two big takeaways when thinking about the game and absorbing reactions:
1 It was one of those strange games where a linear story was hard to assemble, at least in terms of what went wrong.
Cousins could have been more decisive in the third quarter as the game was getting out of hand, and his 4th-and-3 pass late was probably not his best read. But he also led two fourth-quarter TD drives that at least put the Vikings in position to win a game that looked to be getting out of hand. He did so while key offensive players were injured, and if you are looking to dole out blame he falls pretty far down the list.
Stefon Diggs caught just four of his nine targets and had some key drops — including a bobble that was intercepted. But that play easily could have been flagged for pass interference.
The special teams were atrocious — a missed extra point, a fake punt allowed and a last-ditch fumbled kickoff, contributing to an abysmal minus-10.5 expected points — but nobody would have remembered that if the offense or defense had made a couple more plays.
The defense was a major concern (again), but it did score a touchdown of its own and made decisive fourth quarter stops to get the Vikings back in the game. Xavier Rhodes was burned in coverage and committed a dumb penalty, but he also forced a fourth quarter fumble that might have led to the ultimate redemption story had Cousins led one more TD drive.
It was a full team effort, with positive and negative swings.
2 But we need patterns and stories. And the one that has fully emerged after Monday is this: the shifting of the ultimate scapegoat from Cousins to Rhodes.
It’s not wholly wrong, though it’s probably largely symbolic of a bigger overall shift whereby the Vikings offense continues to outplay the defense for the first time in the Mike Zimmer era.
The Vikings offense has put up positive expected points — its “contributions … made to the margin of victory” — in each of the last eight games. The defense has been on the negative side in six of the last seven games. In each of those six games, the defense has allowed at least 20 points and at least 377 yards. The Vikings managed to go 4-2 in those games largely because of the offense.
As Jim Souhan wrote, Rhodes is one of the most visible parts of a defense in decline — a one-time shutdown corner who is now routinely faltering.
Just as Cousins’ mistakes were magnified by our story-seeking brains late last season and early this season even though he was hardly the only one to blame, Rhodes is wearing the ire of fans now as the simplified symbol of defensive struggles.
One fan tweeted: “Yeah Kirk really phoned that game in. He was just on the sidelines and should have been helping Xavier Rhodes provide coverage.”
Pro Football Talk was even more harsh: “Why is Xavier Rhodes even on the field?”
Seattle ran 43 times for 218 yards, completely dominating the Vikings’ front seven. But it’s harder to blame a bunch of moving parts in a game with plenty of overall ups and downs.
The brain wants a clean narrative, and Vikings fans have shifted from Cousins to Rhodes.