No one who is employed by the Minnesota Vikings, or a fan of the team, should put any stock in the team’s two victories this season. Atlanta and Oakland are bad football teams that fell apart in the din of U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings’ two losses? Those have been very instructive when it comes to judging this team and right now the judgment of Mike Zimmer’s collection is not kind.
Two weeks after blowing a road game that the Green Bay Packers begged them to take, the Vikings traveled to Soldier Field on Sunday for another NFC North game with a chance to make a statement about themselves. They departed with a 16-6 defeat that came with Chicago missing three key players on defense and quarterback Mitch Tribusky having left on the sixth play of the day because of an injury to his left shoulder.
It was both an underwhelming and sorry-looking performance that will leave many wondering if general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer will be allowed to stick around after this season and also might call for Zimmer to do some of his best work since he took over as the Vikings coach in 2014.
We aren’t talking about the on-the-field stuff either. If it hasn’t started to happen already, Zimmer is about to be faced with a room full of very competitive guys wondering why the Vikings aren’t winning very-winnable games and why they aren’t being used in a more constructive fashion.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who had many of his seven catches for 108 yards Sunday after all hope was lost, did not talk to the media during the week and left the locker room in Chicago before reporters could quiz him on why he didn’t get the ball when it mattered. Diggs also avoided adressing his own crucial lost fumble on the Vikings’ second and final possession (that’s correct) of the first half.
Adam Thielen did talk after catching two passes for 6 yards on six targets. One of those targets included Kirk Cousins’ deep pass that missed Thielen on third-and-10 from the Bears’ 47-yard line in the first quarter. That could have tied the score at 7 and changed the game completely.
Given the shortcomings of this Vikings’ offense, that’s the exact type of pass that Cousins simply can’t overthrow and yet he did. Cousins also fumbled twice, losing one (he now has lost two of his six fumbles this season), and was sacked six times. Chicago’s Khalil Mack had 1.5 of those sacks with a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as the Vikings’ overmatched offensive line spent much of the afternoon looking completely lost.
One has to wonder how the Vikings could watch Mack dominate left tackle Riley Reiff in the Bears’ 25-20 victory in Week 12 last season (one sack, a tackle for a loss, two quarterback hurries, one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery) and decide that everything would be fine with Reiff at the same position less than a year later.
You know who has a right to wonder about this? A defense that held the Bears to 16 points on one touchdown and three field goals and still lost. Yet, the defense had to know it failed to do its job when it was unable to stop Tribusky’s backup, Chase Daniel, from continuing an opening drive that went 75 yards in 14 plays before ending with running back Tarik Cohen scoring on a 10-yard reception from Daniel.
“I’m just a little frustrated, a little mad,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen told reporters. “We could probably start faster on defense, but we did. We started fast. Just penalties. Offense couldn’t really get nothing going. Bears defense played really well. They probably sacked Kirk, what, six times? Seven? Hats off to them. They were the better team today and we’ve just got to revisit and go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to score points and for defense get off on third down. We played good, though. They didn’t have over 100 yards rushing. We stopped the run very well. When he was holding the ball he was getting hit every time, and then in the second half he was getting the ball out of his hands quick, and they’ve got a lead now.”
The margin for error with the Vikings — any type of error — is zero because this team isn’t good enough to overcome miscues against quality opponents. Zimmer’s biggest concern likely isn’t highly paid receivers voicing the displeasure — as Diggs reportedly did on the sideline during the second half Sunday — but it’s his defense beginning to publicly wonder when the offense is going to begin to pull its weight. That’s happened before, it will happen again and when it does it can fracture a locker room in quick fashion.
“I think we’re just as frustrated as every fan in the state of Minnesota, every Minnesota Vikings fan,” Thielen told reporters. “We are more frustrated; we put everything we have into the offseason. We grind every single day, and then to put a performance like that, it’s so frustrating, it’s unbelievable. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror. You’ve got to be better yourself, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to come back to work on Monday.”
The Vikings’ record puts them at the bottom of the NFC North, but this team isn’t going to be bad enough to count on getting a high pick in next spring’s draft. There is a good chance the Vikings could go into New York next week and beat the Giants. Dalvin Cook certainly will have an opportunity to get his running game back on track after Chicago’s standout defense held him to 35 yards on 14 carries (a 2.5-yard average) with a long run of 9 yards. This came after Cook went for more than 100 yards rushing in each of the Vikings’ first three games.
But if the Vikings do bounce back against the Giants don’t be fooled. Everything won’t be fixed and this still remains a team that will be lucky to make the playoffs. Gary Kubiak’s offense system might be able to prop up Cousins against bad teams, but this offensive line and quarterback aren’t going to get you anywhere against quality foes. Both are too far below average.
Vikings fans know this and deep down so do the players. Fans have the luxury to tune out when they lose hope. Players can’t do the same but what they can do is question why more wasn’t done to improve the situation. That can lead to a toxic locker room and infighting and after what we saw Sunday in Chicago there’s a good chance that’s where this is headed.