For the first time in two months, the Vikings will spend their week preparing to get back into the win column following a disappointing 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The loss snaps an eight game win streak and drops the Vikings to 10-3, the second seed in the NFC.
The Panthers didn’t play particularly well in an effort that put up over 30 points against a top defense and turned surging Case Keenum over three times. The Vikings failed to come through on about a half dozen plays which is what ended up costing them the ball game, even after a quick 11 point comeback late in fourth quarter.
The defense started week, as has been the trend for the past 4-5 games. Jonathan Stewart found a hole and scored on a 60 yard run, putting the Panthers up seven early. The Vikings’ response was just as bad. Case Keenum threw a real ugly deep ball early in the drive and got picked off for his first of three turnovers (season high). Later in the half, the defense blew two third-and-longs with personal fouls and the Panthers made them pay, using the drive to take a 14-7 lead. Twice the Vikings had a chance to score and tie or lead the game going into the half but twice the Vikings found themselves deep in the red zone and settled for field goals. Adam Thielen dropped two balls in the end zone (although one was questionable) inside the ten, costing the Vikings and my fantasy team much needed points. Rudolph also had a huge drop, his first of the season, minutes after Tony Romo commended him on 51 catches without a drop this season. The Panthers also scored on busted play int the red zone. Cam slipped like 3 tackles and heaved the ball into the air to a wide open Devin Funchess. The Panthers only have one receiving threat and he’s left wide open. I don’t know if it was Waynes who was covering Funchess but that was just bad. Can’t afford to make plays like that in the playoffs.
The Vikings couldn’t turn it around in the second half despite the one-point deficit. The third quarter was uneventful and halfway through the fourth, the Vikes found themselves down 11. I’ll give the team credit; after the weird spiral fumble and the pick off of Diggs’ hands, I thought they would just keel over and they didn’t. Adam Thielen came up huge with a 52 yard score and Andrew Sendejo picked off Newton right after, returning the ball inside the ten with three plus minutes to play. He really should have taken it all the way, if ‘Dejo knew how to follow a damn block, the Vikes would have taken the lead. Bad day for him; the next drive he looked like a matador on Cam Newtons 62 yard game-sealing run.
The purple played an all-around mediocre game, made some mistakes and things didn’t break their way. By staying in it until the very end, this team showed some resilience especially considering the injuries to lineman Elflein and Rieff, whose presence will be crucial come January.
You never want to lose a game in the NFL but I think this loss will help the Vikings going forward. A lot of lessons can be learned from Sunday’s loss and those lessons are better not learned in the playoffs. 11-2 is better than 10-3 but Minnesota is still in great shape to finish strong and secure a first round bye with the last three games coming against Cincinnati, at Green bay and at home vs Chicago on New Year’s Day. I expect this team to finish put 13-3, another loss would be extremely concerning coming into the postseason, especially considering the sloppy effort in Carolina. The confidence in the locker room hasn’t diminished, the team is taking the loss as a learning experience. Maybe this loss was the spark the Vikings need to elevate their play come January.
Injuries to key lineman – Pat Elflein didn’t start on Sunday and Riley Reiff left the game on a cart and was seen later in a walking boot. The hope at WInter Park is that they suffered minor ankle injuries that should heal before playoffs. In my opinion, the Vikings should rest these players and hope you can win out without them. Coach Zimmer disagrees, he snapped at a reporter who suggested Reiff and Elflein sit. “If a player can play, they will play.” It should be noted tight end Kyle Rudolph was also spotted in a walking boot.
NFC opens up – The Eagles may have won Sunday in LA but their season is DONE. MVP candidate Carson Wentz has torn his ACL, leaving Nick Foles in command of the 11-2 NFC-leading Eagles. Philly was a team I was scared to see in the postseason, if they get the other bye, the Vikings chances to host the NFC title game increase tremendously. Las Vegas’ updated Super Bowl odds give the Vikings the best chance to win at 8-1. The Patriots (9-5) and Steelers (7-2) are the only teams with better odds. In addition, the Seahawks, who I always fear in the playoffs, lost and fell out of the playoff race. Impending suspensions will make it very difficult for Seattle to reach the postseason. The Rams lost to Philly and fell to 9-4, a game behind the Vikes. At this point, there is no team in the NFC that I would favor over the Vikings in Minneapolis.
Elephant in the room – Yes the Packers are just 7-6 but they still have a pulse and now Aaron Rodgers is coming back. The Vikings need just one win to secure the NFC north but the Packers could win out and sneak into the dance at 10-6. I know Vikings fans have a lot of pride and never want to give credit to Green Bay but playing a healthy, pissed-off Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs is a nightmare scenario. The Sunday night game in Green Bay will be the Vikings’ last chance to make a statement before the postseason.
Disappearing Diggs – Stefon Diggs started the season hot with five touchdowns in six games but has just one touchdown since the bye week. He’s not making the big plays downfield like he used to and his targets and catches have dropped substantially. Pat Shurmur would be wise to get Diggs more involved as he’s arguably the team’s best offensive weapon.
My Week 14 NFC Power Rankings:
Irrelevant: Cardinals, 49ers, Redskins, Bears, Buccaneers, Giants
Related: Week 15 NFL Picks