Santa Claus wasn’t too kind to the Vikings this Christmas, as they looked completely out of sync in a 23-10 loss to the Packers at home on “Monday Night Football.”
The offense simply wasn’t the same without Dalvin Cook in the backfield as they managed only 139 total yards, the fewest yards by a Vikings team since December 2015, when they gained 125 yards in a 38-7 loss to the Seahawks. It was only the eighth time in franchise history that the club had totaled fewer than 140 yards in a single game.
There was no comparing what the Vikings had been accomplishing on offense this season to what happened Monday night other than to say that without Cook, their play-action game wasn’t the same and they were completely ineffective.
It was especially difficult because the Packers weren’t exactly great themselves, committing three turnovers and having Aaron Rodgers throw for only 216 yards.
So it’s easy to see what the Vikings could use for Christmas — a healthy Cook and Alexander Mattison to make sure their offense is on track for their wild-card playoff game in less than two weeks.
“I was definitely disappointed with how the offense played,” coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday. “They played really good almost every game all year. We get three turnovers to start the first half or end the first half and we come away with 10 points and two of the three turnovers were on their end of the field. We had way too many three-and-outs. Yeah, that part was very disappointing.
“Defensively, I thought for the most part we did a good job as far as eliminating the big plays. Played decent in coverage and at times we still had some mistakes. I thought we did a decent job on third downs, and then in the red zone, we were OK. It kind of got away with us there at the end.”
The Vikings had already clinched a playoff spot Saturday when the Rams lost, and the odds that they were going to win the NFC North were slim, as that required the Packers not only lose to the Vikings but at Detroit as well.
And it will be a completely different season finale this year with the Bears coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 17 for the second year in a row. Last season, Chicago defeated the Vikings to knock them out of the playoffs; this time, there is nothing on the line save for the teams’ final record.
Still you have to imagine the Vikings offense will be looking for a bounce-back game to at least get its footing before going into a road playoff game, seemingly most likely at New Orleans.
Twins gift of pitching
With all of the pro sports clubs in this town still trying to find a way to win a championship or make a deep playoff run, it felt like a good time to break down what each of them could use as a Christmas gift heading into the 2020 season.
For the Vikings, it’s the health of their roster as they enter the playoffs. For the Twins, it’s a way to improve their starting pitching after missing on several free agents.
Last year the Twins posted the greatest offensive season in franchise history and hit the most home runs in the history of baseball. With the bulk of their offense returning, including the fact that Byron Buxton should be back healthy, there’s no doubt this team will score a lot of runs.
But the pitching staff needs help. Staff ace Jose Berrios really struggled at the end of the year, posting a 5.83 ERA over his final 10 starts.
And while the staff’s 4.18 ERA ranked fifth in the American League last year, in three games against the Yankees the Twins had a 7.56 ERA over three games.
Just as important, the fact is that this club has a lot of money to spend and real momentum — it will get more fans than ever into Target Field if the Twins can bring on a star pitcher this offseason.
Wishing Wolves, Wild
For the Timberwolves, the biggest wish has to be for any kind of victory.
The team got off to such a promising start, going 10-8, but the Wolves have completely bottomed out, losing 11 consecutive games — including several in embarrassing fashion to bad teams such as New Orleans, Oklahoma City and most recently Golden State.
And while some will make an excuse of Karl-Anthony Towns being injured, the first seven of those losses came with Towns playing.
It might be that the team can make a deal to trade away Jeff Teague’s expiring contract. But the point guard has been one of their best players recently, averaging 18.0 points over his past nine games, and it’s hard to see who would replace his scoring.
For the Wild, which has climbed above .500 at 18-15-5 by losing only four games outright in the past 20, the biggest wish has to be to find a scoring threat who can help the club be more dominant on offense, as well as finally settling on who the No. 1 goalie is.
While the Wild has played better, its top point scorer is Eric Staal, with 31 points in 38 games. That figure is tied for 44th overall in the NHL.
On top of that, the team needs to find out who is really its best goaltender going forward. While Devan Dubnyk has been the No. 1 goalie, Alex Stalock has posted a better goals-against average (3.02 compared to 3.19) and a better save percentage (.901 to .897).
Of all the local clubs, the Gophers football team had already given the state the best gift, with a 10-2 record and a historic season.
But the Gophers could still use a present or two, starting with a victory over Auburn at the Outback Bowl on Wednesday — a game in which they are double-digit underdogs in Tampa, Fla.
Losing to one of the best teams in the SEC wouldn’t hurt in a major way, but a victory would be on par with the huge victory over Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium and would give them even more momentum heading into 2020.
One other gift they could use would be to have Antoine Winfield Jr. return to school for his junior season. But that might take more of a Christmas miracle, seeing as how the defensive back is looking like a certain NFL draft pick were he to leave school.
And the Gophers men’s basketball team could get a great gift in landing a big in-state recruit for 2020 — either Kerwin Walton of Hopkins or Jalen Suggs of Minnehaha Academy.
Coach Richard Pitino has already landed two great recruits for 2020 in Jamal Mashburn Jr., a four-star player out of New Hampshire, and Martice Mitchell of Illinois.
But for some fans and critics, the Gophers coach still needs to prove he can sign the big in-state players.