Happily abandoned by their draft-obsessed fan base at 1-5, the Vikings are now tied with the Raiders for the NFL’s fifth-longest winning streak.
Only the Steelers (nine), Saints (six), Dolphins (five) and Chiefs (four) have longer winning streaks going than the three-game surges being orchestrated by Mike Zimmer and Jon Gruden.
What’s up with that?
Simple. So simple that even a rookie halfway into his first NFL season nailed the answer twice in the first two words of his answer.
“Energy,” Vikings rookie receiver Justin Jefferson said. “Energy.”
Though fans may treat them as gods, NFL players are humans. Look no further than last week’s 17 COVID-19 positive tests to understand that these fellas are just bigger, faster, stronger versions of the rest of us.
Pro Football Focus gives all of us — especially the young folks — every tangible stat imaginable. And yet all of us — especially the young folks — forget the human element for which there is no stat.
Sometimes, a guy just plays awful against Atlanta and great against Green Bay.
“I would say the intangible is literally just the energy that we decide to bring, we choose to bring before we show up to whatever stadium it is,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said after Monday night’s 19-13 victory over the Bears in Chicago. “I think it’s a goofy year for everybody, and we’re starting to have a little bit of a feeling about how to make our own energy and our own confidence. So I think we’re starting to figure it out a little bit.”
The timing couldn’t be better.
Late last week, the Vikings announced that the rest of their home schedule would remain fan-free. Zimmer groaned when asked about it, saying, “We didn’t get any help from the governor” in terms of lifting the mandate of allowing crowds of no more than 250 people.
Sunday, the Vikings took advantage of fan-free Soldier Field, their own personal house of horrible blunders.
And now, despite a short week, one of the hottest teams in the league gets a rare three-game homestand against three of coldest teams in the league.
No airports, airplanes and draining road rituals for a month.
Just the Cowboys (2-7), Panthers (3-7) and Jaguars (1-8) coming to U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Vikings are 1-3 after using the Lions to bolster some confidence in an eerily quiet, lifeless and basically depressing home field.
“Not having fans in the stadium the first three games, we were lacking a lot of energy,” Jefferson said. “But we found that energy, we found that swagger that we’ve been having, and we came out ready to play football. We’re looking to continue to do it.”
It helps that Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville have three of the league’s four longest losing streaks.
Jacksonville’s streak of eight games trails only the winless Jets (nine). Carolina (five) ranks third while Dallas (four) is tied with the Bears for the fourth-longest losing streak.
Of course, everything could go the other direction Sunday. If the Vikings can lose to a winless Falcons team six days after it fired its coach, it can lose to a Cowboys team that seems to have little faith in the coach it hired only 10 months ago.
But let’s say the Vikings do win their next three games and head into Week 14 with a six-game winning streak. Would they have the league’s longest winning streak?
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin rejected the notion of his team facing a “trap game” against Jacksonville this week. But even if he’s right, Pittsburgh still faces a much more desperate Ravens team on Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has lost Drew Brees to busted ribs for the next few weeks. The Dolphins face back-to-back road games. And the Chiefs travel to Las Vegas this week to play the only team that has beaten them this year.
“As the season goes on, you start to figure out who you are … you find an identity,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Just like I said at the bye week when we had 10 games left, these 10 games are going to tell the story.
“Even after three wins, I’d still say the same going forward. It feels like the next one or the next three are really going to tell the story.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org