MINNEAPOLIS —The Minnesota Vikings are who we thought they were, which is to say a mediocre team that'll break your heart every day of the week and twice on Sundays for that matter.
Yeah, Kirk Cousins is probably overpaid as a quarterback and he was part of the problem for this edition of the Vikings. But Cousins wasn't the only issue, and while fans will fixate on him, they best look at the head coach, the front office, the offensive line and a defense that comes up small in the biggest moments.
The Vikings lost 24-10 to the Chicago Bears in front of a revved-up crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium that showed up leather-lunged and ready to rock for a team that's broken hearts since 1961. The story-line was as simple as it gets, as emphasized by head coach Mike Zimmer: Win and in. The playoffs, that is.
They didn't, and they're not. Instead the Vikings Blair Walshed an entire game, missing wide left on what was supposed to be a Super Bowl season.
Linebacker Anthony Barr summed it thusly: "We don't deserve to be in the playoffs the way we played this season."
And ... scene.
"Nobody ever looks too far ahead. Everybody is just focused on one game at a time, but we had a good opportunity," Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. "You win and you're in. You couldn't ask for a better opportunity. But we didn't capitalize and now we're going to be at home next weekend."
The Vikings finished 8-7-1, which was perfect. This was a slightly above-average team, which at various times saw its rookie kicker, $84 million quarterback, former first-round wide receiver and hot-shot offensive coordinator get disemboweled for helping lose (or tie) games. A team with that much blame to go around has too much blame to go around.
"You put in the work this team does, you have the guys in the locker room we have and to miss the playoffs, it's obviously extremely disappointing," Thielen said. "We have to learn from it and come back to work. That's the only thing we know how to do."
If it's any consolation, and it's probably not if you've lived through all the disappointment of the past 58 seasons, this team wasn't going anywhere in the playoffs anyway. It's becoming clear the Minneapolis Miracle only covered up the inevitable crushing of purple souls by a week before the Vikings returned to normal.
How does this happen? How does a team with everything to gain by winning against a team with nothing to gain not get a first down until there are but 6 minutes left in the second quarter? How does a team allegedly built around defense give up a 9-minute scoring drive to the Bears after the Vikings pulled within 13-10 with a third-quarter touchdown?
"We didn't do a good enough job to win today. It is as simple as that," Barr said. "The big plays, the penalties and third downs hurt us on defense. Everything that we were pretty good at all year, we didn't do a good enough job today."
At some point the head coach has to shoulder some of the blame. Zimmer was quick to hold others accountable -- see fired offensive coordinator John Defilippo as Example A -- but he is the defensive mastermind who put together a unit that was torched in the NFC Championship game a year ago and was inconsistent this season. And when the Vikings really needed a stop, with the season riding on it, Zimmer's defense allowed the Bears to convert five third downs on the mammoth drive that was the dagger to Minnesota's year.
By the time Tarik Cohen plunged 3 yards for a touchdown and the Bears had a 21-10 lead with 7:46 left in the game, Chicago had moved the ball 75 yards in 16 plays and burned 9 minutes, 5 seconds. A kick in the teeth, and another more southerly region, to virtually end Minnesota's disappointing season.
True to form, Zimmer left tire tracks on a player. When asked why the Bears had such good success on third down in the game, Zimmer mentioned a couple of penalties before tossing rookie cornerback Holton Hill under the wheels.
"They threw a long ball on Holton Hill one time. Threw another completion on him, I believe," Zimmer said. "And then, honestly, we kind of ran out of defensive backs today."
Zimmer's players were more forthright. Few wanted to talk big picture about how a supposed Super Bowl-ready team couldn't even muster a wild-card berth, but Barr and others took the blame for what happened against the Bears.
"The game we played today is not a playoff performance. You can't go out there and play the way we did and expect to make the playoffs," Barr said. "The way we played, we don't deserve to be in the playoffs."
Vikings fans, disappointed for nearly six decades, should appreciate that honesty more than the drivel coming from the head coach's mouth.