Dalvin Cook is hopeful the Minnesota Vikings have overcome the “shenanigans” of the early part of the season. Adam Thielen said recent frustration they experienced has been turned into a “rallying point.”
Don’t look now, but the Vikings, 4-5 after breaking a two-game losing streak, are very much in the NFC playoff race heading into Sunday’s key game against NFC North rival Green Bay (8-2) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Winning the division remains a long shot for Minnesota, and a loss to the Packers on Sunday would all but wrap it up for Green Bay, but the race for a wild-card spot is wide open. The Vikings are just a half game behind Carolina (5-5) for the seventh and final spot in the NFC. And they beat the Panthers 34-28 in overtime on the road in Week 6, so they would win a possible tiebreaker.
“The confidence for this team (comes from) just knowing we’re right there in the mix after all the mistakes and all the last-minute shenanigans we’ve had all year,” Cook, a running back, said Wednesday on the heels of last Sunday’s 27-20 win at the Los Angeles Chargers. “We’re right here in the mix of what we’re trying to get done.”
Each of the Vikings’ five losses has been by seven or fewer points, and a combined 18 points in all. The four that really stung were a 27-24 loss at Cincinnati in Week 1 after Cook lost a fumble in overtime, a 34-33 loss at Arizona in Week 2 that ended when Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal, a 20-16 home loss to Dallas and backup quarterback Cooper Rush in Week 8, and a 34-31 overtime setback at Baltimore after Minnesota blew a 14-point third-quarter lead in Week 9.
After the loss to the Ravens, Thielen talked about how frustrated the Vikings were after so many closs losses. But the wide receiver said the team was able to turn that into a positive before upsetting the Chargers on the road.
“As frustrated as we all were, that was kind of a rallying point., to say for how frustrated we all are, for how disappointed in where we are, we’re right there,” he said. “It is what it is. Let’s go to work. Let’s find a way. Let’s find a way to get it turned around.”
The Vikings need to win at least one of their next two games to still feel good about their playoff prospects, but that won’t be easy. The Packers are a 2½–point favorite and quarterback Aaron Rodgers might not be as rusty as he was in last Sunday’s 17-0 win over Seattle. Rodgers missed one game while on the COVID-19 reserve list and was activated until the day before the game against the Seahawks.
Next up for the Vikings will be the 49ers (4-5) in San Francisco on Nov. 28, a game with major playoff implications. The 49ers are coming off a resounding 31-10 upset of the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night and might be finding their stride.
Head coach Mike Zimmer hopes the Vikings also are finding their groove.
“We’ve played well enough to win some games that we haven’t won, and so we’re trying to catch up to where we hope to be,” he said. “There is still a lot of time left.”
For the Vikings to make a playoff run, they likely will need to have success on offense while being as aggressive as they were against the Chargers. After facing criticism for conservative play in some of their losses, they opened it up more last Sunday.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw downfield more, completing 25 of 37 passes for 294 yards. Justin Jefferson caught nine passes for a season-high 143 yards, and Thielen had five grabs for 65 yards, including a key 18-yard catch when the Vikings ran out the final 4:36 of the game to stop a two-game losing streak.
“I think it was a good showing of what the formula kind of has to be to win games,’’ Thielen said. “It’s a little bit different league nowadays. You have to be able to be aggressive, and you have to be able to convert in aggressive situations to win games.’’