To paraphrase Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, life — and Minnesota Vikings seasons — can only be understood backward but must be lived forward.
Within this notion of hindsight and the present is the human tendency to look back on past events and declare resulting chains of events to be obvious. This is, of course, too easy when you already know what happened.
True prescience is about seeing things before they happen and living them in the moment.
In life — and with the Minnesota Vikings — this is much harder.
Sometimes a sign of what is going to happen next is clear. And sometimes we just want to think it’s clear in order to fit a narrative.
This all brings us to the 27-6 Vikings’ loss to the Bills on Sunday and what, exactly, it means in the grand scheme of things.
Was it a warning sign that everything is about to crumble and the Vikings aren’t what we thought they were? Or was it closer to a fluky bump in the road for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations?
To gauge such things, looking at history — understanding backward — can be helpful. But in the case of the Vikings, it really only muddies the waters. The four most interesting Vikings season in recent memory — for better or worse — came in 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2017. You could argue that 2012 was compelling, but really it was because Adrian Peterson willed the Vikings into the playoffs by rushing for 2,097 yards, and he somehow did so while carrying Christian Ponder in addition to a football.
In each of those other four seasons, there was an exceedingly negative moment — one that, at the time, might have seemed like a sign that more bad things were on the horizon.
• The 2010 Vikings lost their opener, a rematch with the Saints, but the real uh-oh moment came when they lost at home to a mediocre Dolphins team 14-10 in Week 2. Peterson was stuffed on fourth and goal from the 1 in the closing minutes.
That was the first signal that 2010 was not a continuation of the magic from the previous season. Early losses led to desperate moves such as the second go-round of Randy Moss. And the firing of Brad Childress. The roof literally caved in.
• In 2015, the Vikings lost 20-3 to San Francisco in their opener Monday Night. It was a thoroughly disappointing game in all facets. The Vikings looked like they were sleepwalking through a total failure. And then … the bad vibes suddenly vanished. They won seven of their next eight games and finished 11-5, winning the division and setting up the Blair Walsh playoff game.
• In 2016, the Vikings started 5-0 before a clunky performance in a loss to the Eagles. Sam Bradford was sacked six times, but the game seemed like it turned mostly on strange turnovers. But then … it happened again in a 20-10 Halloween loss to the Bears. The Vikings were still 5-2, but it felt like the season was on the brink of collapse. Turns out it was, as they finished 8-8.
• And the 2017 Vikings lost 14-7 at home to Detroit, falling to 2-2. Bradford was already out and Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in the loss. It felt like the Vikings would be lucky to finish .500. Instead, they went 13-3.
That’s four seasons: Two in which the warning sign foretold bad times ahead and twice when things seemingly turned around just like that. To anyone who says the Vikings’ 2018 season is 100 percent dead after one loss, I’d say it’s probably more like a coin flip how it moves forward.
And of all these comparisons to the Buffalo loss, the 2015 opener seems like the most apt one. The Vikings had better hope that is the case.