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Zulgad: Can we call the Vikings a Super Bowl contender? Monday night game in Seattle will tell us

The Vikings had fallen short after nearly rallying from a 21-point deficit in Week 2 at Green Bay when the expectations for this team were redefined by a Twin Cities sports pundit.

After entering the previous season with Super Bowl hopes before missing the playoffs, the feeling that the 2019 Vikings could make a championship run seemed silly. Kirk Cousins hadn’t proven to be the quarterback many expected when he signed his rich free agent deal in March 2018, and now his horrible interception late in the game against the Packers on a pass intended for Stefon Diggs had assured defeat.

The opinion expressed on that September day in the Lambeau Field press box was this: Be happy if this team makes the playoffs and don’t expect anything more. Following a Week 3 victory over Oakland at U.S. Bank Stadium, that feeling became even stronger when the Vikings and Cousins put together a miserable Week 4 performance in a 16-6 loss at Chicago.

Three months later, much has changed. The Vikings (8-3) began a four-game winning streak on Oct. 6 against the woeful Giants in New Jersey and have now won six of their past seven. This includes prime-time victories over Washington at U.S. Bank Stadium and in Dallas — a significant achievement for a Cousins-led team.

That victory over the Cowboys is the Vikings’ best win during their hot streak, but it also has become clear that Dallas’ Jason Garrett is coaching on borrowed time.

The Vikings’ only loss since Oct. 6 was a significant one, a 26-23 setback on Nov. 3 in Kansas City. Matt Moore started in place of Patrick Mahomes but Arrowhead Stadium remains a tough place to play and the Chiefs are a quality franchise. A victory would have told us that the Vikings belonged in the conversation with the NFC’s elite but they fell short.

The Vikings’ next opportunity to make their case that they are prepared to make a Super Bowl run and not simply be a playoff team — and to make that sports pundit look dumb (not hard to do) — will come Monday night in Seattle against the Seahawks (9-2). A year ago, the Vikings went into CenturyLink Field on a Monday night and came away with a 21-7 loss.

The importance of this rematch can’t be emphasized enough. Cousins has checked a number of boxes in going from disappointment to being in the MVP discussion this season and Monday night provides another opportunity to do so. A victory would be his first in eight Monday night games during his career.

The Vikings, meanwhile, would be mentioned in the same breath with San Francisco (10-2) and New Orleans (10-2) if they win this game coming out of their bye week. Minnesota went into its off week with a 27-23 victory over the Denver Broncos but that only came after it rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit. The Cousins-led comeback was impressive, but the first half was atrocious and only a bottom-feeder like Denver would have blown the lead.

What many don’t remember about the Seahawks’ win over the Vikings last Dec. 10 was that Wilson was held to a career-low 37.9 passer rating and threw for only 72 yards. That was the game in which Cousins threw a backward pass to Latavius Murray and Adam Thielen (who won’t play on Monday) was picked up by on-field microphones announcing how open he was at times. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo ended up being the fall guy and was fired the next day.

The Vikings can’t count on the same formula on Monday night when it comes to containing Wilson. Minnesota’s pass defense has taken a significant step backward this season (20th in the NFL). Remarkably, coach Mike Zimmer’s team is now known for its offense and is seventh in the NFL in scoring at 26.3 points per game. Seattle’s defense is 21st, giving up 23.9 points per game.

The Vikings and Cousins will need to play one of their best games of the season if they are going to knock off a Seattle team that is a surprisingly mediocre 3-2 at home this season. A victory would put the Vikings in a position to win out (vs. Detroit, at Chargers, vs. Green Bay and vs. Chicago to end the season) and overtake the Packers (9-3) for the NFC North title. A win also would put the Vikings in a spot to pursue home field in the playoffs.

That would mean a Super Bowl run would be back on the table, and all the criticism directed at Cousins and his teammates months ago would be long forgotten.


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