The best player for the Vikings today was their punter, Brad Colquitt, which says pretty much what you need to know about their 27-10 playoff loss to the 49ers. Their ground game was literally nonexistent, their trademark screen passes often lost yardage, and Kirk Cousins didn’t have the time to mount a downfield passing attack. The defense fought but simply wore down: not only were they only six days and two plane rides away from an overtime game in New Orleans, but the Vikings’ offense, with seven three-and-outs, gave them no rest. The game actually wasn’t as close as the score. The Vikings touchdown came on an underthrown pass to Stefon Diggs that was almost as freaky as the Minnesota Miracle of two years ago, and their field goal resulted from a sparkling interception by Erin Hendricks, not any movement by the offense. Meanwhile, the 49ers were content to milk the clock by running on every play in the second half. No doubt they could have easily scored 40+ points if there had been any need.
In recent years and maybe more, the Vikings offensive line has been unable to protect the quarterback. The need is obvious, and every year the pundits plead for the Vikings to use a top draft pick to get a left tackle. Maybe it’s not as easy to find offensive linemen in college as the more glamorous, and visible, skill position players. The Vikings have also traded for offensive tackles, without notable success. For whatever reason, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Vikings quarterback drop back in the pocket, calmly survey the field and pick out his target the way the other three quarterbacks on TV today were able to do. If Cousins doesn’t release the ball as soon as he gets set, he will be in trouble, and he is not very good at eluding rushers. In the penultimate regular season game against the Packers and against San Francisco today, the defense seemed to swarm Cousins at will whenever they needed to.
Nevertheless, we can be grateful for the Vikings’ season, when you consider that ten other NFC teams didn’t make the playoffs at all. There wasn’t, however, a signature win: none of the Vikings’ 10 wins came against a team that ended the season over .500. When they beat the Cowboys in Dallas it seemed like a big deal, until we realized how bad the Cowboys were. I would’ve like a win over Chicago in the season finale – an 11-5 record sounds better than 10-6 – and the Vikings’ second-stringers came within a blown 4th-down coverage of doing that. The end-of-season losses, though, made the wild-card playoff win over the Saints even more preposterous, and that win, by itself, made the season worthwhile.