MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings have had one-game meltdowns worse than what took place on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, but that doesn’t mean the 2018 Vikings didn’t accomplish something significant by embarrassing themselves in a 24-10 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears.
This collection now holds the distinction of being perhaps the most disappointing team in franchise history and certainly the most disappointing in 46 years. The only challenger would be the 1972 Vikings, who coming off an 11-3 finish in 1971, brought back quarterback Fran Tarkenton from the New York Giants and then proceeded to go 7-7.
This was a greater choke than the 1999 team that, coming off a 15-1 season and run to the NFC title game, lost in its second-round playoff game at St. Louis. This was a greater choke than the 2010 team that, coming off a run to the NFC championship game and with basically everyone back, fell apart and got coach Brad Childress fired during the season.
These Vikings felt they had solved the issues that held them back in 2017, when a 13-3 season was followed by a loss at Philadelphia in the NFC title game. Kirk Cousins had been signed to a three-year, $84 million contract that made him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL and, combined with one of the league’s top defenses, made this a Super Bowl or bust type of season.
The bust ended up being bigger than almost anyone could have imagined.
In a season filled with missteps, the Vikings fell flat on their collective faces against the Bears and finished with an 8-7-1 record. That was good for second place in the NFC North, behind Chicago, only because the Packers (6-9-1) turned into a dumpster fire and the Lions (6-10) went back to being the Lions. The Vikings were dispatched from the playoffs, when the Eagles (9-7) beat Washington on Sunday. Honestly, the Eagles did the Vikings a favor by bouncing them.
“It’s disappointing,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t play good enough to win.”
Zimmer was talking about Sunday’s game, but he could have been talking about the entire season. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf made quick exits after the loss and didn’t stick around to discuss whether Zimmer or general manager Rick Spielman’s jobs are in jeopardy. Both reportedly have one season left on their contracts and one has to believe they will get another shot in 2019.
But both will start next season on the hot seat, one year after they earned accolades for their work with Case Keenum subbing at quarterback for the injured Sam Bradford. Say this for Zimmer, he has perfected the art of having a team that is consistently inconsistent.
The Vikings went 7-9 in Zimmer’s first season but followed that with an 11-5 finish and an NFC North title the next year. The Vikings then started 5-0 in 2016 before falling apart en route to an 8-8 finish. That was followed by the unexpected success of last season that saw the Vikings capture another division crown and then shock the Saints with the improbable Keenum to Stefon Diggs touchdown pass. That made some think the Vikings were going to become the first team to play host to a Super Bowl.
The magic of that win over the Saints was long forgotten Sunday as the Bears cruised to a victory over a Vikings team that looked uninterested in playing another game. Cousins, signed because Spielman thought he would be an upgrade on Keenum, instead looked lost playing on the big stage and provided his one highlight of the day when he got into a verbal sparring match with wide receiver Adam Thielen on the sideline late in the second quarter.
The Vikings’ playoff hopes never should have come down to this game — there were Daniel Carlson’s missed kicks in Week 2 in Green Bay, the brutal loss to Buffalo in Week 3 at home, the missed opportunities to win late-season games in New England and Seattle — but all Minnesota needed was a win on Sunday and it would have been in the playoffs.
The theory among some was that Bears coach Matt Nagy would rest his starters early if the Rams took a big lead on the 49ers — and they did en route to a 48-32 victory that secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC — but Nagy spent the entire game making sure his team delivered haymakers to the Vikings.
Zimmer has broached the topic before this season of having asked his players if they had quit on him during difficult times. Each time, Zimmer said he had been assured that wasn’t the case. After Sunday, you had to wonder if Zimmer would ask the question again and, if he did, what the answer might be this time.
Nearly four months ago, it would have been next to impossible to believe the Vikings would end the season like this. With Cousins looking inept and completely overmatched, Thielen chastising his quarterback, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (of all people) making big plays and Zimmer looking helpless on the sideline.
But that’s how the Vikings season came to an end.
As for the 1973 Vikings, they rebounded to go 12-2 and make the Vikings’ second Super Bowl appearance. Having expectations even close to that for the 2019 Vikings would seem foolish. Right now, it appears that 2017 was nothing more than fool’s gold.