The Vikings close out their regular season Sunday in Chicago against a feeble Bears team. Purple worry warts (as usual) have much to fret about including a Vikings hangover from their dismal showing against the Packers, the health of key players, a possible loss to the Bears Sunday, and potential injuries on a slippery grass field at Soldier Field, seeding for the upcoming playoffs and whether their favorites can march all the way to the Super Bowl.
I know I missed somethings (uh, leaky defense) but take a deep breath, Purple Nation. “Doctor Shama” offers the following advice:
Be grateful for what the 2022-2023 Vikings have already put in place. And consider that even if they fail Sunday in Chicago against the Bears and flop in the playoffs, the Vikings have gone far beyond expectations and probably delivered the most theatric season since the franchise started in 1961.
Remember the 2022 offseason last winter and a new decision-making group taking over in the front office and on the field? Were the Vikings going to clear out their roster and rebuild? Dump Kirk Cousins and start over at quarterback? Say adios to other veterans, too?
Instead, new GM Kwesi Adopho-Mensah and new head coach Kevin O’Connell committed to tweaking instead of tearing down. They retained the veteran corps and added a few key contributors like tight end T.J. Hockenson, while changing schemes and culture.
Want to see what a rebuild looks like? Read up on the Bears, who under their new general manager, Ryan Poles, are 3-13 this season. That’s the worst record in the NFC.
Last summer Purple Nation thought an optimistic outlook for the Vikings would be a 10-7 finish while perhaps backing into the playoffs, and likely with no home field advantage in the postseason. Instead, the playoff-bound Vikings will finish the regular season with no worse than a 12-5 record and probably 13-4. They could also host multiple playoff games at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Either 12-5, or 13-4 is a franchise best number of wins since 2017’s 13-3 record (when NFL teams played 16 games). The Vikings are NFC North Division champions for the first time since the 2017 season. Minnesota last qualified for the playoffs in 2019.
The Vikings have outdone themselves and all the other NFL teams in playing dramatic and entertaining football. They have won 11 games by eight points or fewer. Five times the victory margin has been three points. “Comeback” Cousins has led eight fourth quarter rallies and in the process changed his image from loser to winner.
The 2022 Vikings have triumphed in games worthy of best-selling fiction, and this club belongs on a short list of the most memorable teams in franchise history. Two memories for the ages:
The overtime win in Buffalo was improbable for several reasons including that the Bills were positioned to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter but fumbled at their own goal line. Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-27 lead. In one of the NFL’s wildest games in the new millenium, the Bills managed a field goal with time expiring in the fourth quarter. The Vikings broke a 30-30 tie with a Greg Joseph field goal in overtime.
The Bills are among the NFL elites. Not so the Colts who a few weekends ago in Minneapolis held a 33-0 halftime lead over the Vikings. Even during a season of good fortune unlike any in Vikings’ history, few observers in U.S. Bank Stadium that day expected the Purple to rally and win. The 39-36 win was the biggest comeback in NFL history. In disbelief, the Purple worry warts switched from lusty boos to triumphant cheers.
Cousins has prompted whispers of being NFL MVP worthy. Not so with wide receiver Justin Jefferson whose name has been shouted out with the thunder of a Gjallarhorn. No NFL wide receiver has ever won the award so Jefferson’s candidacy says something special about his 2022 season that has him setting franchise and league records.
Neither Cousins nor Jefferson would be experiencing special seasons without the presence of O’Connell. He is an offensive whiz with schemes, adjustments and play calls. His leadership style has minimized fear among players and created a player-friendly culture without sacrificing discipline.
O’Connell is a good dude, a human being who is welcome in any “Minnesota nice” neighborhood. I’ll guarantee his competitive spirit wants to drive the Viking bus all the way to a franchise first Super Bowl victory. I strongly suspect at this moment he is also grateful for the success of his first season as an NFL head coach and all that he, his staff and players have accomplished.
Vikings fans should say amen to that, while still rooting for more success.