In a 16-game season, it may seem unreasonable to whittle down a team’s essence to five games. However, each game represents a piece of an over-arching story, and each piece spells out a pattern that leads to the final product. The Vikings were the ultimate roller coaster of NFL teams this year. The highs were high, the lows impossibly low. These five games represented what made the 2018 Vikings the disappointment they ultimately proved to be.
Week 2 at Green Bay Packers
This was the first indication that the Vikings may have an elite passing attack on their hands, while also serving as unsubtle foreshadowing as to how the season would ultimately fare. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense were hit-and-miss throughout the first half in Green Bay, scoring only seven points before the break. However, Cousins, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen exploded in the fourth quarter with 22 points, including two of the best throws Cousins would make all year. Minnesota stormed back to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Then the typical Vikings kicking curse re-emerged. Rookie Daniel Carlson missed a 49-yard field goal in overtime, giving the Packers good field position. However, the defense held and the Vikings got the ball back. Cousins drove them down to the Green Bay 17 for a chip-shot game-winning field goal attempt with four seconds left. But Carlson pushed it wide right as time expired and the game ended in a tie. Carlson was cut the next day.
Week 4 at Los Angeles Rams
The second indication that the Vikings had the potential for an elite passing offense, yet a struggling defense cost them a big win against the future NFC champs. Cousins played his best game of the season with a passer rating of 117.3, 422 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. He was sharp from whistle to whistle, spreading the ball around, avoiding pressure well and keeping the train on the tracks, even as the running game disappeared into nothing. The problem was that his counterpart, Jared Goff, played just that much better.
In fact, Goff played probably the best single quarterbacking game of the entire NFL season in this game. Against the supposed vaunted defense of the Vikings, Goff turned in a perfect passing performance. Literally, he finished with a perfect passer rating on 33 attempts. 465 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions, and a sixth touchdown was dropped in the end zone by Cooper Kupp in the fourth. Maybe it was Sean McVay’s masterful scheming, maybe Goff channeled something he never quite had before or since. But on this day, the Vikings defense was exposed, and Vikings fans slipped into panic mode for a brief stretch.
Week 8 vs New Orleans Saints
In week eight, fans were still leaning strong positive on Cousins’ Vikings tenure. Despite a few lackluster games here and there, he was maintaining solid performances fairly consistently. And this game at home against the Saints was no exception. It was another game in which John DeFilippo went away from the running game early and put everything on Cousins. For the most part, Cousins was up to the task. His final line was good: 31 for 41, 359 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However, it was two plays, two freak mistakes by the Vikings two best offensive players, that completely swung the game towards the NFC’s top team.
The first happened late in the first half. Up 13-10, Minnesota was driving into the red zone, preparing to take a potential two-score lead into the break. But then Thielen, the Vikings’ record-setting receiver, fumbled at the New Orleans 14. Marshon Lattimore scooped it up and carried it all the way to the Vikings’ 33. After a Laquon Treadwell unsportsmanlike penalty, the Saints scored an easy touchdown two plays later, a potential 14-point swing just before halftime.
The second mistake happened in the third quarter. The Vikings now down 20-13, they had moved the ball just shy of midfield. Cousins dropped back to pass, rolled to his right and looked to Diggs on a drag route. However, in hopes of finding more space on the scramble drill, Diggs broke off his route just as Cousins released the ball. The pass went right into the hands of P.J. Williams, who ran it back for the pick-six and the Saints’ 14-point lead. The Vikings battled back a bit, but they never recovered after those two turnovers, and missed on another chance to seat themselves among the NFC elites.
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Week 14 at Seattle Seahawks
Up until this game, the Vikings’ lackluster offensive performances were aberrations. Most weeks, the offense put points on the board, and often in bunches. The Bills game was a blip on a radar of solid outings week after week. The New England game could be explained away by the defensive genius of Bill Belichick. But this game against Seattle, well, it was a whole other ballpark of offensive ineptitude.
This game opened the floodgates of doubts, demonstrated trends of inconsistency and flat out stagnancy and ultimately cost DeFilippo his job. Cousins was bad. The line was bad. The play-calling was bad. And the defense was excellent. Yet, the final score says blowout, even though it was a one-score game almost the whole way. This game was the beginning of the end for the Vikings season, and the signature performance for a quarterback continually devoid of big game excellence.
Week 17 vs Chicago Bears
The big game blues hit the Vikings hard in the game that mattered most. For two weeks prior, it appeared that the offense had turned around under Kevin Stefanski. More importantly, it seemed they had righted the ship just in time for a win-or-go-home game in week 17 against the division champ Bears. Minnesota needed to win, or at least a Philadelphia loss against Washington to clinch the final Wild Card spot. Alas, in what was the final opportunity for the Vikings to reveal their true All-Pro-talented, NFC Championship Game participant selves, they laid yet another egg en route to a lost season.
Kirk Cousins played arguably his worst game of the season, throwing for only 132 yards on 33 attempts while getting sacked four times. To say the offense never got off the bus would be an understatement, as they punted on each of their first five series, and did not record a first down until the 1:30 mark of the second quarter. Even though the Bears’ offense hardly achieved greatness, they looked like the ’84 Dolphins compared to the Vikings. Ultimately, the Bears won handily inside U.S Bank Stadium, and an Eagles win sent the Vikings home far earlier than planned.
You may notice that each of these game results were disappointing ones: four losses and a tie. No signature wins, no exciting, dramatic moments in the Vikings favor populate this list. That may seem unfair for a team that finished above .500. However, the fact of the matter is that the Vikings did not have a signature win this year. The closest thing to it would be a week five defeat of the hosting Eagles, but the team was reeling at the time at 2-2, resembling nothing of the playoff team they would eventually become. Aside from that, the Vikings feasted on bottom-feeders and lost every opportunity to prove themselves against strong opponents.
The theme of the season was that nothing ever fell perfectly into place. When the defense was on, Cousins and the offense floundered. Sometimes Cousins was clicking, but his trusted weapons made key errors. When the offense on the whole was on fire, the defense and special teams could not come through. These five games reveal what the Vikings were this season: deeply talented, exceedingly capable, yet fatally flawed.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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