Asked Monday about the brutal schedule the Minnesota Vikings have ahead of them, offensive tackle Brian O’Neill claimed ignorance.
“To be honest, I had no idea who we play after the Cowboys until you just told me,” he said.
Sorry, Brian. Now you know.
Minnesota’s next four opponents — the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers — boast a combined record of 20-6. It could be a little intimidating for a team that won three of four to crawl back to .500 before their bye.
Yet here we are in Week 8, and reports of the Minnesota Vikings’ death have proved to be premature. The Vikings can still reach all of their goals. But as it’s been since a 14-7 loss to Cleveland dropped them to 1-3, it’s going to be week to week.
“It’s important that we focus all of our attention on Dallas this week, and then we’ll worry about Baltimore next week and the Chargers, and so forth,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “But yeah, we’re getting ready to play some really good football teams, and for us to prove where we are, this stretch will be important.”
That’s what’s important, that the Vikings have an important stretch in a season that appeared to have died aborning. It might not last long; a couple of losses out of the gate here will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Minnesota to overcome Green Bay to win the NFC North and gain a sure path to the postseason.
But for now, they control their own destiny. Back from the dead, just in time for a big Halloween night game against the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (5-1) and their top-ranked offense. Had the Vikings won either of the two games they probably should have won — as much as any losing team should have won any game — they’d have a wider berth for error. Instead, they’re playing without a net.
The good news is there are reasons to believe the Vikings have a shot. They’re 3-1 in the NFC, for instance. Most prominently, the Vikings appear to be shoring up both their offensive and defensive lines, where football games tend to be won and lost.
After the bye week, Minnesota is tied with Chicago for the NFL lead with 21 sacks, and alone at the top in quarterback hurries (32.1 percent) and second in third-down defense (29.17 percent). On offense, they’re fifth in total yards (414.2 per game) after putting up 571 yards and 31 points at Carolina on Oct. 17, the first game with first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw starting at left tackle.
“I think that we’ve kind of worked our way (back) winning three of the last four,” Zimmer said. “Not always pretty, but the things that I’ve noticed is when you go back and self-scout the things that we’re doing good and really on all sides of the ball … I see a lot of good things there and I see a lot of areas that we need to clean up.”
Among them, the coach mentioned, three-and-outs — the Vikings convert on only 40 percent of their third downs — and they’re tied for fourth for the NFL lead in false starts (nine), and tied for first in offensive holding (13) calls.
“If we can correct those things and start clicking on all cylinders, I do feel good about this team,” he said.
Like most ifs, it’s a big one, but the Vikings are alive, with a big game that matters on tap against America’s Team on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. They will be without shut-down cornerback Patrick Peterson for at least three games — second-year player Cameron Dantzler will step in against the NFL’s best total offense (460.8 yards per game) and scoring offense (34.2 points) — but they should get veteran defensive tackle Michael Pierce (elbow) back.
The bottom line is, by winning three of the past four games, the Vikings have resurrected their season, even if it’s week to week from here on out.