Vikings 37, Detroit 35
by Patrick P. Marek
Minnesota’s season ending finale against the woeful Detroit Lions had all of the entertainment value of watching two little kids duke it out in a school yard fight. It was kind of fun to see them throw haymakers at each other with no regard for defensive consequences, but it was hard to take it seriously. It’s a miracle that play wasn’t stopped and both defenses sent to the principal’s office for imitating professional NFL defensive units.
In fantasy football, they call meaningless, late-season matchups like the Vikings-Lions the “Toilet Bowl.” Two exquisitely bad teams battled for pride, or paychecks, or for next year’s contracts … and some of us watched. We were cheated out of Dalvin Cook getting a chance to shred Detroit’s defense in search of a rushing title, but that is just one of a thousand things that everyone has had stolen from them in 2020.
However, like a delicious escape across the border to a Wisconsin restaurant, the game did have some simple pleasures to digest. Classy rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson made history Sunday by first surpassing his idol Randy Moss’ rookie yardage record, and then ultimately claiming the all-time rookie receiving record (formerly held by Anquan Boldin) in the post-Super Bowl era with an even 1,400 yards. The fact that Jefferson gave Moss his homage and respect by wearing special cleats for the game tells you all you need to know about this rookie. He has an appreciation for the past, but has a keen awareness of his own goals and abilities. That Jefferson was able to achieve this milestone with no training camp and with a limited role in the first two games is astonishing. He is a bright spot in a season filled with dark clouds of incompetence and dashed hopes.
Think about it. If Minnesota could have managed to beat Chicago at home, they would have qualified for the playoffs. Who would have played defense? Would they have had to bring back Alan Page and Keith Millard? Bobby Bryant, Paul Krause, and Antoine Winfield would be an improvement on the current cast of characters in the secondary. Nate Wright? The “Hail Mary” is forgiven. Get out there and be our last line of defense.
No, it’s probably best that the Vikings slunk off into the night with a well deserved 7-9 record and the 14th pick in the 2021 draft. Minnesota could have launched into the top 10 with a loss, but Detroit’s incompetence and some particularly inept calls by the officiating crew made that impossible. There are some people (you know who you are) who claim that all NFL games are fixed (many of these people also wear aluminum foil hats when they mow their lawns), and this game certainly must have fueled their conspiracy theories. A phantom roughing-the-passer call on fourth down in the fourth quarter threw cold water on the Lions comeback hopes and enabled Kirk “Crazy Legs” Cousins to score on a quarterback sneak. Cousins attempt to lead the offense in the “Griddy” permanently disqualified him from ever competing on “Dancing with the Stars.” Herman Munster could have done it better, and looked better doing it.
After last week’s humiliating loss to the Saints, Zimmer called this defense “the worst one I ever had.” That is before he witnessed this week’s debacle. Matthew Stafford had so much time to throw that he could have lounged in his favorite rocking chair, enjoyed a cup of tea, and still completed over 50 percent of his passes. The Minnesota defense continued their tradition of making opposing playmakers look like Hall of Famers by allowing Marvin Jones to amass eight catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and that doesn’t account for the officials stealing a sure touchdown reception from Jones in the fourth quarter. Hercules Mata’afa had Minnesota’s lone sack against the Lions Sunday, and the entire defensive units total of 23 sacks for the season is dead last in team history.
The offense offered the false luster of fool’s gold to Sunday’s performance. Kirk Cousins continued his knack of piling up impressive stats in meaningless games, completing 28 of 40 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday was Cousins 47th start with the Vikings, and moves him ahead of Brad Johnson for fifth place for career starts with Minnesota. His record with the Vikings is 25-21-1. Alexander Mattison had a great day, collecting 145 yards from the line of scrimmage, and scoring one touchdown on the ground, and another on a pass play that featured a world class juke move for the score. However, you couldn’t watch the success that all the Minnesota backs had against Detroit and not imagine what Dalvin Cook would have accomplished.
As we mercifully close the 2020 chapter of the Vikings’ history, it’s probably best to look forward to the 2021 season with optimism. Minnesota has one of the best offenses in the league, and if they (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) bolster their offensive line, the unit could become elite. The defense will hopefully get Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, and Eric Kendricks back in the fold, and bid a fond farewell to Anthony Barr and Anthony Harris. Harris had a terrible year after being given the franchise tag, and had a particularly bad game on Sunday.
So, let’s look forward to great things in 2021. After all, what’s the alternative? Schlumping around for a whole year? For Viking fans … never! Stay purple, my friends.