Apparently, the Vikings were just testing the waters in 2016, starting 5-0 the first year of U.S. Bank Stadium. The team went through a lot losing both Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson to injury and Mike Zimmer having several eye surgeries; the team missed the playoffs.
After going 11-5 in 2015 and losing that heartbreaker 10-9 to Seattle in the playoffs, General Manager Rick Spielman stayed the course, throwing huge contracts at defensive stars, Pro Bowlers Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Xaxier Rhodes — over $100 million in guaranteed money.
Joseph has locked down the middle of the Vikings defense. Griffen leads the NFL in sacks and has been defensive player of the month. Rhode’s is a physical shut-down cornerback. To contain Atlanta’s Julio Jones to two catches and 24 yards after he went for 253 yards and two TDs last week is impressive.
This organization has scars from a history of close calls. Head Coach Mike Zimmer has made the tough decisions, shaking up his coaching staff while guiding the Vikings through his theme.
In 2016 it was no excuses, then the 8-8 season after the injuries and Norv Turner’s abrupt exit mid-season. This team came back in 2017 refocused on getting back after the chase for a title.
After beating defending NFC Champion Atlanta 14-9 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Vikings, with four weeks remaining in the regular season, have the NFC’s ticket to Super Bowl LII in their grasp with eight wins in a row, now the longest in the NFL and tied with Philadelphia 10-2 for the best record in the NFC.
Quarterback Case Keenum, the NFC offensive player of the month, was 20-25 for 227 yards and two touchdowns, out-dueling Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP. The Vikings win streak is the longest since 1998 when Dennis Green led the team to 15-1 and eight straight wins. The last time a Vikings team was 10-2 was 2009 when Brad Childress was head coach. They started 10-1. That team had Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, eventually losing the NFC title game at New Orleans in overtime.
This Vikings team has won five straight road games for the first time since 1974. This week the Vikings travel to Carolina to play the 8-4 Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton in pursuit of their ninth straight win. To think this team has lost starters Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook and not blinked is remarkable. It speaks to leadership, mental toughness, and a unit committed to each other.
With so many teams winning consistently in 2017, there’s no time to look back: New England 10-2, Vikings 10-2, Pittsburgh 10-2, New Orleans 9-3, Los Angeles 9-3, Carolina 8-4 and Seattle 8-4. It’s December — winning is paramount. This is a true team strong in all areas.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.