Thursday night’s loss was a little more comforting than the previous one, wasn’t it?
The Vikings came up short against the Cardinals, dropping their second straight game when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked after a questionable third-down play call in the game’s final seconds. But given the circumstances, an argument can be made that this was one of their better performances of the season. It was certainly a lot more impressive than the win in Atlanta two weeks ago or the Week 6 victory against now-formidable Kansas City.
Their defense was badly banged-up heading into a matchup with the NFL’s top-ranked offense, so much that coach Mike Zimmer had to start four rookies and move one of his starting cornerbacks to safety. And the offense, specifically the aerial attack, appeared to be broken after Bridgewater threw for only 118 yards in the 38-7 loss to Seattle.
But had the Vikings not fumbled three times in Cardinals territory or had they not allowed the Cardinals to pop a couple of long passing touchdowns, they would have pulled off an upset of one of the league’s best teams in their house, in prime time and on a short week to boot.
“I really want to credit the players for the way that they attacked the situation and especially coming after the loss that we had the week before,” Zimmer said Friday. “I said I’m not into moral victories. We didn’t do enough things to win the football game.”
No doubt this was a moral victory, whether Zimmer is into them or not. Unfortunately, it will not count when it comes to playoff contention, which is why the Vikings will be feeling pressure over the next three weeks to pick up a couple more actual victories.
Since Green Bay’s miracle win against Detroit two Thursdays ago, the Vikings have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, putting the Packers alone in first.
An NFC North title is still possible, especially with a trip to Lambeau Field looming for their season finale. But below the Vikings in the conference standings, the Seahawks and the Buccaneers are on the rise and the Falcons are still in the picture, too, one supposes.
One win in their final three games should be good enough to get the Vikings into that final wild-card spot, at least. But they should probably win a couple of them just to make sure.
Despite the stomach-punch ending, the late-night loss to the Cardinals and its aftermath gave some glimpses of hope that it is not yet midnight for this potential Cinderella.
For starters, Bridgewater provided one of the best performances of the season against the Cardinals. Zimmer admitted this week that Bridgewater was aware of the building skepticism echoing off the walls of Winter Park. Bridgewater responded with a career-high 335 passing yards and rallied the Vikings from 10 points down against a top-10 defense.
“Teddy is phenomenal,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Not a lot of guys in this league can do what he does, be put in the situations that he is put in and have the success that he has. This guy is an absolute warrior — the shots he takes, the runs that he makes.”
No quarterback has been under pressure more frequently this season than Bridgewater, and his wide receivers are too often being covered up. But if he can continue to click on deeper throws like he did against the Cardinals, the Vikings can work with that.
Zimmer’s proud defense, meanwhile, performed pretty admirably against quarterback Carson Palmer, an MVP candidate, and the Cardinals. The Vikings were without three of their four best defenders in outside linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Harrison Smith and nose tackle Linval Joseph. So five rookies had to play significant roles on defense.
But with a third-quarter goal-line stand and a fourth-quarter three-and-out, the defense was able to keep the Vikings within striking distance, setting up the dramatic finish.
“It wasn’t, by any stretch, perfect,” Zimmer said. “But we played hard.”
And the good news is that reinforcements could soon be on the way. Zimmer said he “got a pretty good report” from the athletic training staff about Barr, Joseph and Smith, which suggests that they could return to the team in the coming weeks.
So the sky no longer feels like it is falling, as was the case Monday morning. They may be flawed, but these Vikings still have fight, and they may have a haymaker or two left to throw.
“It’s time for us to push,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “This is winning time. We have three more opportunities … and you feel like you have a chance to get in.”