MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have made it difficult for anyone who wants to declare once and for all if they’re “real.”
The Vikings won seven games in a row and started the season 8-1.
But they were all one-score games. And they played three backup quarterbacks and only three teams currently winning records during the streak.
In Week 10, they beat Super Bowl favorites Buffalo Bills in a wild overtime signature game.
But would it have happened if quarterback Josh Allen hadn’t fumbled with his goal line with 49 seconds remaining, a Joe Pisarcik moment for modern times?
The debate could finally have ended on Sunday. If the Vikings had defeated the Dallas Cowboys at home, they would have undeniably pushed their way into the NFL’s major league.
Even a narrow defeat could have sustained their enthusiasm. Instead, the Vikings suffered the second-worst home loss in club history, a 40-3 Schel win that provided fuel for those who thought their record was a mirage.
Coach Kevin O’Connell later conceded that his team will have “lots of stories” to follow during a short week of preparation for Thursday’s matchup against the New England Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). The question, however, is whether these narratives will be fair.
“I don’t think we can take care of those things,” O’Connell said. “All I know is that every week in this league is another opportunity to really prove who you are. As a football team, I don’t think we’ve done that [Sunday]. I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance to keep up. We’ve got a lot of things to try and get right in a short week.”
But even after defeating the Bills, the Vikings were historically disparaged. They finished Sunday as a two-point home underdog against the Cowboys, the first time it has happened to an NFL team that was 8-1 or better since 1976.
A simple home loss to the Cowboys (7-3) would not have been a devastating or shocking result on its own. But the historical nature of the Sunday span is worth exploring further.
There has only been one game in NFL history in which a team that was at least seven games over .500 lost by more points at home. That happened in the final week of the 1961 season, a 41-0 loss by the San Diego Chargers to the Boston Patriots. It was also the second-biggest loss in the Super Bowl era — at home or away — by a team that had one loss or fewer past Week 10; Worst of all was 42 points (45-3) from the 1986 New York Jets for the Miami Dolphins.
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The margin of the loss didn’t bother quarterback Kirk Cousins, who called the game a “disappointing result” but added, “What I’ve learned in my years in this league is that they all count as one. The difference in points doesn’t end. It becomes a thing to hold on to, but losing or winning does. We have to find a way to move forward, to get wins and play a lot better than tonight.
Several players noted that the Vikings’ record remains 8-2. The truth is, they still have a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs thanks to a declining year in the NFC North, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
But they have two teams with winning records next on their schedule in Week 13 in the Patriots (6-4) and New York Jets (6-4). And any assessment of their competitiveness versus the league must include another historical fact: They’re the first team in NFL history to be 8-2 or better by a negative points difference (down two).
This startling revelation speaks to both the rarity of their winning streak and the solid nature of their two losses: by 17 points to the Philadelphia Eagles and 37 to the Cowboys.
Receiver Adam Thielen theorized that “sometimes these games are good to wake you up a little”. Thielen continued: “You have to bring it. And you have to find a way to bring your best football. It doesn’t matter if you’re sore or tired or injured.” . You have to find a way to mentally play your best football. Otherwise what happened tonight will happen.”
In fact, 37-point losses against 8-1 teams almost never happen in the NFL. More than anything, Sunday speaks to the particularly small margin of error that this team needs to make up for in order to win.
As has been noted many times this season, the Vikings have won when they dominate the small and undervalued parts of a game that add up to affect the outcome. If they didn’t, they were blown out – and in historic fashion on Sunday.