Observations Leading to the Identity Game
So, here we are: week 17, playing at home against the division-champion Chicago Bears, needing a win or a Philly loss to get to the postseason. The team has been inconsistent, injured, astounding, maddening, and now holds their fate in their own hands with the regular season drawing to a close. The season hangs in the balance of one last Sunday game, and the fans have very little idea of which version of their vaunted Minnesota Vikings will show up.
If you like drama, you fuggin’ LOVE this year’s team….
This NFL season has had more baffling plot twists than a season of SOAP, and many of them have been found in our own team’s story:
Releasing both Teddy and Case,
Pat Shurmur taking the HC job in New York,
Hiring Flip as our OC,
Breaking the bank for Kirk Cousins,
Salary cap insanity with extensions and additions,
Tony Sparano’s death just before the season,
and complete Jekyll/Hyde team personality shifts all season long.
We dominated the 49ers, we tied the Packers despite our terrible kicker, Griffen lost his grip and the team lost its footing, Cook missed much of the season again, Waynes is injured as much as not, Rhodes can’t seem to “close” like last season, our best o-lineman is the “undersized, raw” rookie, and the team can look completely brilliant or completely lost on either side of the ball, on any given drive. The same Kirk Cousins that can drop a 40+ yard bomb into the hands of his receivers can’t hit an open target at 10 yards, while the same defense that was the best in the league last season has been completely routed by the Rams, the Bears, and the Patriots…as well as the Bills.
Honestly, I kinda wonder if our team gets kickbacks from the bartenders that we’re enriching each week.
That all said…this game is definitely exciting days before it even occurs. This is the Vikings’ Identity Game, the defining moment, the thrilling conclusion to a maddening season. Will Trubisky embarrass us again, or will the same defense that’s held most QBs under 200 yards for several weeks shut down the Bears? Will Captain Kirk and his crew of Cook, Thielen, Diggs, Rudolph, and the collection of embattled o-linemen actually produce against the Midway Maulers, or regress into the tragic mess we saw in Seattle?
The oddsmakers like the Vikings, but the terrible truth is that our game, the Philly game, and the Seattle game will all be happening at the same time…so the seeding for the last 2 NFC playoff spots is up in the air until Sunday evening. Maybe the Rams dominate in their game, leading Chicago to rest their starters. Maybe the Fore, er, Redskins take out their frustrations on Foles and co. Maybe Arizona pulls out another Green Bay performance and ruins the Russell Wilson show on Sunday.
The Vikings could end up as the 5 seed, the 6 seed, or having their (and our) January weekends totally free. It seems impossible after last year’s run and after some dominant games this season…but the NFC playoff situation is a complete mess with the exception of New Orleans.
So, yeah: drama, excitement, and mind-bending stress heading into this weekend. I’m in that state of combined mad anticipation, chilling dread, and complete impatience. I’ve had a helluva year and a brutally hard Autumn, but all I can think about this week is the game on Sunday.
Funny thing…I think this game will go a LONG way toward defining our team that has been so undefinable all season long. Flip’s gone, the running game is stepping up, Kirk’s getting less pressure, and the defense is starting to look like itself again. In fact, I want to state how great it’s been to see guys like Hill and Alexander make plays, just like it was great to (briefly) see the potential Hughes offers going forward. Zimmer can still coach up secondary players, no doubt about it.
Similarly, our embattled field general Cousins can really define himself on Sunday. If he steps up, if he makes the reads and the throws that got him the job/paycheck…he can silence many of his critics and shake off some stigma that has followed him all through his career. The way I see it, his career has led to this game-and he either leads the team into the postseason, or confirms his shortcomings to his naysayers. Is he cursed to flounder in big games, or is he going to be “THE GUY” when needed most?
I kinda think he’s gonna step up, and that our new OC will keep Chicago’s defense guessing a bit. I think Thielen will want to re-emerge after being blanketed lately, and I think Diggs will want to show the world why he’s worth his contract (something that must burrow around in his mind while his teammate outperforms him for less money). I think Rudolph made a statement last Sunday: GIMME THE DAMNED BALL. I think Zimmer/Edwards will have something new for the very young Trubisky to figure out, and I expect Anthony Barr to be called on for blitzing purposes regularly.
To me, the funny thing is…if the team steps up this Sunday, steps up when they really have to, I’m at least as cocky about our chances as I was all offseason. If we get to the postseason, I think we can hang with whomever, because the Vikings figured themselves out in the nick of time. Far better late than never.
Because…you see…we know how much skill this team has, and we know how much they want to prove themselves. If they can bring the focus that’s been so scattered all season and really get it together on Sunday, they’ll have the recipe for playing anyone all offseason long.
We know we have the guys, we just need Zimmer and co. to find that special, unifying quality that’s been lacking at times this season.
It’s all about this Sunday.
SKOL, my brothers and sisters!!