Let’s be honest: You thought the Vikings were going to find a way to win Sunday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We all did.
No matter how discombobulated the Vikings looked for prolonged stretches, the assumption was that they were going to get the ball back at some point in the final minutes, then promptly march down the field and win the game like they did last season a dozen or so times.
Everybody with the Vikings had the same feeling on the sideline.
“Even if we got it back on our own 1-yard line,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “The expectation was we were going to go down and try to win the game.”
Which made the 20-17 loss so jarring for the Vikings.
They were prepared to give the announced home crowd of 66,741 yet another miraculous finish. They ended up having to watch helplessly while Buccaneers journeyman quarterback Baker Mayfield took a knee several times to run out the game clock.
The state of shock was palpable across U.S. Bank Stadium as tens of thousands of fans headed toward the exits without really voicing their frustration.
It was almost as if they were so befuddled by the final score that they couldn’t even get themselves to boo.
“We have to find a way to do something there, whether its offense or defense,” safety Harrison Smith said. “We have too special of a group not to do something.”
The frustration was plastered on the face of quarterback Kirk Cousins as he stepped to the podium about 45 minutes after the loss. He looked like he had just gone the distance with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. He hung his head dejectedly as he started his postgame press conference.
“Tough to lose,” Cousins said. “We’ve got to play better.”
Indeed. No doubt the most frustrating part for the Vikings is they were better than Buccaneers all game, and if they would have simply limited their mistakes, they easily could have run away with a win. They failed to do that, and it came back to bite them.
Let that loss be a lesson to the Vikings. You don’t always win the close games.
It’s almost as if the Vikings slipped into a false sense of reality by consistently winning on the margins last season. They were the personification of a statistical anomaly while going a perfect 11-0 in games decided by a single possession.
Whether it was the touchdown in the final minute to beat the Detroit Lions, the incredible series of events to beat the Buffalo Bills, the impossible escape act to beat the Indianapolis Colts or any of the other improbable wins in between, the Vikings started to feel like a team of destiny with each passing week.
Not only did the Vikings seem to be bulletproof in battle, they seemed to believe they were, too, only for it to come crashing down in a disappointing first-round playoff loss to the New York Giants.
Ultimately, the Vikings learned what they should have known all along. That NFL teams are way too good to be playing with fire on a weekly basis. You’re eventually going to get burned.
That wasn’t a sustainable model of success last season, and it can’t be the standard operating procedure this season.
Feeling comfortable in close games is a good thing. Feeling invincible in close games is a bad thing.
The implications of Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers can’t be overstated. That game was so important for the Vikings largely because of what’s staring them in the face now. The murder’s row of the next month features games against the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Vikings would have simply taken care of business against the Buccaneers, they would be heading into Thursday’s primetime game against the Eagles with some with some confidence. Instead, the Vikings have created a mess for themselves, and it’s on them to clean it up before this thing starts to snowball.