MINNEAPOLIS – There’s no more questioning whether the Minnesota Vikings are better than their 1-5 record.
The Vikings’ 40-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons is reflective of a team that does not have it together. A team that looked like it wasn’t ready to play on Sunday -– at all. A team whose season is in the tank as it heads into their bye week.
If Minnesota wanted to keep its playoff hopes alive, a win against the hapless Falcons, who this week went through coaching and general manager changes and COVID-19 scare that closed down its facility after losing their first five games of the season, was the place to start.
Instead, the Vikings head into their bye with a lot of self-reflecting on their to-do list. A team that went half-in with a rebuild this offseason while executing moves that would suggest they bought into their own win now philosophy was met with a reality check in the first half of the season.
Minnesota figured out it has to be all or nothing. Committing to a rebuild was the path that made the most sense, and the Vikings found out quickly in their first six games of the season that they can’t have their cake and eat it, too.
Now there could be consequences as the Vikings try to overcome their own hubris.
QB Breakdown: Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions in the first half, the only time he’s ever done that in his career, and finished 24-of-36 passing for 343 yards and three late touchdowns when the game was already out of reach.
The optics that come with benching the quarterback you just handed a two-year, $66 million extension in March are really bad. But what did the Vikings stand to lose, especially if they wanted to actually stage a legitimate comeback in the second half? The offense wasn’t responding every time they took the field after a drive ended in despair following an interception, a quick three-and-out or a turnover on downs. Minnesota had one statement drive the entire game that ended with Justin Jefferson stretching for an 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter. This was Jefferson’s third game with 100 receiving yards this season. The last Vikings rookie to record three or more of those? Randy Moss in 1998. Jefferson is a star and gives this team hope that they nailed their search for their next stud playmaker.
But no one should feel good about the play at quarterback and how inconsistent it has been this season. How could Cousins look so good in Seattle (aside from a terrible third quarter) and so dreadful against the Falcons?
Cousins does not look comfortable behind his offensive line, even with the change the Vikings made in Week 6 with second-round rookie Ezra Cleveland starting for Dru Samia (wrist) at right guard. Would Sean Mannion have been a better fit? Who knows. But again, what did the Vikings have to lose? And better yet, if the decision-makers who brought Mannion in to back up Cousins don’t trust him to do that, get a better back-up QB. If Mannion is in Minnesota simply to help Cousins prepare for games and not be a viable option should things go so awry on offense, like they did on Sunday, changes need to be made.
The potential fall out: How busy this bye week will be for the Vikings depends on ownership’s thought process.
Will Mike Zimmer survive the worst start of his career as a head coach? The Vikings haven’t opened a season with a 1-5 record since 2013. After that season, the Wilf’s cut ties with former head coach Leslie Frazier and ushered in a new era under Zimmer.
Sure, Zimmer’s defense has been crushed by injuries, but how long does that continue to be the excuse for poor play? While Julio Jones is one of the best receivers of the last decade, the Vikings allowed him eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns and a pair of touchdowns to Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst. Minnesota has to ask itself: Is this simply a personnel problem? Or are there other areas that deserve heavier criticism?
It’s hard to see Zygi and Mark Wilf wanting to cut bait with Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman after giving both three-year contract extensions this offseason, but the question needs to be asked. How can they possibly be OK with the way this season has played out after they bestowed so many resources into the belief that they needed to keep this thing going in order to reach their ultimate goal? When the Wilf’s locked themselves into both Zimmer and Spielman through the 2023 season, they locked this franchise into more of the same from the past few seasons, which resulted in getting as close as they’ve been in decades to a Super Bowl in 2017 but not being able to match that since.
A firing for one or both admits failure and the wrong decision, but it’s possible the Wilf’s want to make changes to the leadership of this team after the way this season started, even with as many financial resources tied into Zimmer, Spielman, Cousins and Dalvin Cook. This could end up being a very active bye week in Minnesota.