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Bleacher Report – Vikings

In a way, Vikings’ matchup with Washington is a must win

By Matthew Coller

When the Minnesota Vikings walked onto the field at US Bank Stadium to face the Detroit Lions, there was a far different feel from when they had last been there.

The first three home games prominently featured opposing quarterbacks looking around helplessly as they tried to battle Minnesota’s No. 1 ranked defense amidst a tilde wave of sound. The crowd was so jacked up for the opener that annoyed Vikings guard Alex Boone told them to, “shut the [bleep] up,” when the Vikings had the ball.

But back-to-back losses pushed the crowd into a more of an anxious tenner against than zealousness. The Lions did their best to suck the wind out of Sunday’s game with a drive that lasted nearly the entire second quarter, but even as the Vikings came back and scored to go ahead late, the Earth-shaking effect of the previous weeks was not there. In the first five games of the year, the Vikings trailed against Tennessee, Carolina and Green Bay, yet it always felt like they were about to come back – and they did. Against Detroit, the here-we-go-again in the air was pretty thick.

The Vikings’ two losses – and eventually three thanks to the Lions freak show of a kicker – brought back familiar doubt. The type of hesitancy that goes along with perpetually having a middle-of-the-pack-at-best team.

A convincing win against Washington can scrub off some of the doubt that has come along with the losing streak but not an entire team’s history worth of doubt which rests on Vikings fans’ shoulders. A win this week can it put a spark into a season that suddenly became all kinds of meh, but it will take much more from Minnesota’s offense to reach the fever pitch of the first five weeks.

When offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned after an ugly performance against the Chicago Bears, the assumption was that Sam Bradford and the Vikings offense would snap right back into place against a poor Lions defense – especially since they were coming home. While there were significant strides – Bradford had his third highest quarterback rating of the year, Stefon Diggs caught 13 passes and the offense drove down the field in the final minutes to take the lead – the fact that they only put up 16 points wasn’t enough to inspire anyone to buy 2017 playoff tickets.

The Vikings still rank fifth worst in points, last in yards per play (4.7), last in rush yards per attempt (2.7) and 31st in first downs. Their defense is No. 1 in the league, but it isn’t as good as Denver’s was last year.

“We’re not the ’85 Bears,” Zimmer said, rightly.

It all screams above average, but not elite. The same place the Vikings were last year. The same place they have been many times.

But there are signs they can be more than just above average.

Had the Vikings not gone 2-for-5 in the red zone against the Lions, we might be talking about a team that went through a blip on the radar in Philly and Chicago. Had Blair Walsh made an extra point, we might be saying the defense is back to No. 1 form, rather than appearing a little leaky. And had Pat Shurmur called a pass play or QB sneak instead of being stuffed up the middle on 4th-and-1, we might be saying Sam Bradford for MVP again.

If we accept that quarterback performance and defense are the most important things toward winning, the Vikings’ outlook is much better. Despite the two down games, Bradford ranks seventh in the NFL in quarterback rating, fourth in completion percentage and Tom Brady is the only quarterback with fewer interceptions.

While Laquon Treadwell’s status is up in the air, the fact that he finally made a grab in an NFL game may point to Bradford having another weapon. And how long until Jerick McKinnon breaks a big touchdown run? He averaged nearly five yards per carry in his first two years but has been hindered by the sputtering offensive line and an ankle tweak. He is likely to come through at some point.

So there is a good argument to be made that the Vikings are so-so and there’s another case that says they can still be the NFC’s best team. If they beat Washington on Sunday, we won’t be sure they are a legit Super Bowl contender, but if they lose we can guarantee they aren’t one.

The post In a way, Vikings’ matchup with Washington is a must win appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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