The Vikings didn’t do enough to beat the Broncos on Sunday, but they sure did do enough to further regret whatever the heck happened to them in that 20-3 season-opening debacle at San Francisco.
Oops. Sorry about that. Those words — “San Francisco” — aren’t welcome when spoken out loud around large, purple-clad professional players in Minnesota. It conjures a look you might get when expressing the pain of hitting your thumb with a hammer in church.
“That’s going back a ways,” defensive end Brian Robison said in the locker room after Sunday’s 23-20 loss at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High. “I mean I really don’t even want to go back to that loss.”
Few do. But heading into the bye week, one gets the feeling we’ll still be revisiting that loss come Jan. 3 if the Vikings fall narrowly short of the playoffs.
Since that game, the 49ers aren’t only 0-3. They’ve been outscored 107-28. On Sunday, the Packers beat them 17-3 in San Francisco as the 27th-ranked run defense held 49ers running back Carlos Hyde to 20 yards on eight carries (2.5 yard per carry).
That’s the same Carlos Hyde who ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries (6.5) against the Vikings. The same Carlos Hyde who has 114 yards on 36 carries (3.2) since playing the Vikings.
The pain and embarrassment of that Week 1 loss grows by the week. Sunday, the Vikings made it more puzzling by how they competed with an undefeated and much better team in a more hostile environment.
The Vikings are encouraged by Sunday’s game. But Mike Zimmer is leery of the line between encouraged and satisfied. So he has tread carefully since Sunday’s final gun.
“We’re never going to have moral victories around here,” the Vikings coach said Monday.
But it’s clear from the Vikings’ two losses that a loss isn’t just a loss without additional context. Even Robison, who turned away from the 49ers discussion, admitted the feeling was much different Sunday than it was in San Fran … well, you know where.
“Absolutely,” Robison said. “This was a good football game. I thought we played physical. I thought we got after them in the pass game when it’s really hard to get after a guy like Peyton Manning, who gets the ball out so fast.
“Obviously, we know how hard it is to win in Denver. We played a team that has been a perennial playoff team. They’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, possibly of all time. And we played hard, fought hard and came up a bit short.”
The Broncos are 24-2 at home in the regular season since Manning arrived. On Sunday, the Vikings made Manning look beatable right up until he beat them with a game-winning drive in the closing minutes.
The Vikings scored 10 points off Manning’s two interceptions. They won the turnover battle against the league’s leader in turnover differential. They converted six third downs, matching the combined total of Denver’s first three opponents. They capped a 97-yard touchdown drive with Adrian Peterson’s 48-yard run on fourth-and-inches.
“We made plays,” Robison said.
But the Vikings also gave up seven sacks, lost a fumble with 29 seconds left, failed to run the ball consistently well, gave up a 72-yard touchdown run and missed a 38-yard field goal.
“But they made more plays,” Robison added.
The Vikings are one of eight NFC teams with a record of 2-2 or better. Another victory and they would be one of five teams at 3-1 or better. The Packers lead the NFC North as one of the conference’s three undefeated teams.
Zimmer was asked to assess the .500 record at the bye.
“Well, I like this football team,” he said. “I think they work real hard. We have to get better, there’s no question. I think the teams that we’ve played, three out of the four were playoff teams last year. The last team we played was 23-2 or something at home over the last four years. But I’m not happy with where we are at, no.
“I think we have a chance to be a good football team. And if we ever do put it all together, we can be a really good football team. But that’s a lot of ifs, and injuries and there are all kinds of things. But there’s a lot of football left to be played.”