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Vikings Sliding Back To The Pack

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A season ago, the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North for the first time in six years. Prior to Minnesota reclaiming the division crown, rival Green Bay had been the NFC North champions for four consecutive years. Despite choking against the Seattle Seahawks in the wildcard round, many expected Minnesota to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year. Their defense is as good as any, but with being Teddy Bridgewater’s third season, the expectation was for him to take the next step and of course Adrian Peterson was supposed to make life easier for him.

Unfortunately, Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL when he went down during a non-contact drill at practice. At the time, the feeling around the league was that Minnesota’s season was over before it even started. However, general manager Rick Spielman pulled off a season-saving trade, by dishing out the team’s 2017 first round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018 for veteran quarterback Sam Bradford.

“Mortgaging the future, to me, was asking for some of our younger players — current Pro Bowlers or significant players on this roster,” Spielman stressed. “That’s where I said I would not mortgage the future, giving any of the young players that are currently on our roster up. I think everybody knows how we feel about Teddy, but to me, it was just too unique of an opportunity to bring in a caliber of player like Sam Bradford. Going into next year, we have two very talented quarterbacks.”

Not only did Bridgewater go down, Minnesota lost the face of their franchise, Adrian Peterson to a torn meniscus against the Green Bay Packers. With Bridgewater and Peterson both out, the Vikings went from a team looked at as a contender to a team who will most likely be fighting to finish .500. Surprisingly behind their stout defense, Minnesota rushed out the gates to a 5-0 record, which included wins over Green Bay, Houston, and the New York Giants.

The bottom has seemingly fallen out for the offense over the last three games, all losses.

It’s not as if Bradford is elite or anything near it, but he’s someone that’s capable of demanding respect in the huddle due to his experience as a starting quarterback. Most importantly, Bradford has shown the ability to play mistake free football. Through eight games, he has a touchdown to interception ratio of 9 to 1. By the same token, Minnesota still ranks near the bottom in offensive production. At the midway point, the Vikings average 19.4 points per game, which ranks them 24th.

In the same breath, Minnesota averaged 23.8 points per game during their undefeated streak compared to just 12 points per game throughout this current three-game losing streak. Big picture, considering the injuries, a record of (5-3) would’ve been deemed as a success thus far, but when you get off to such a quick start, expectations begin to change and every little thing tends to get critiqued a bit harder.

The fact Minnesota has lost three straight isn’t the problem, the issue comes in when you look at the NFC North. After appearing to run away with the division, Minnesota is now in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.  Yes, there’s still plenty of football to be played, but Detroit and Green Bay are closely in the side view mirror. The Lions are half a game behind Minnesota, while Green Bay is just one game back.

Everyone knows Minnesota isn’t built to blow opponents out, so playing in close games is something they’re accustomed to. The ball just hasn’t bounced their week over the last few weeks.

“I think everyone is going to overreact, just like usual,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. “It’s another loss, three in a row. Obviously, we’re struggling and need to find a way out. We’re not devastated. We’re not panicking.”

Before losing to division foe Detroit at home in overtime, the previous two losses were both by double-digits. 

“For the first time in three weeks this team fought like how I expect them to fight,” Zimmer said after the team’s first loss at their new stadium. “If we continue to do these kinds of things, then we’ll win football games.”

While all of that sounds fine and dandy, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Over the next four weeks, Minnesota will face the likes of Washington, Arizona, Detroit, and Dallas. In order for this team to turn things around, they’re going to do a better job of establishing control at the line of scrimmage. They’ve been unable to develop a legitimate rushing attack, which allows defenses to unleash pressure on Bradford without thinking twice about it.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.