There was a time in the 2023 season that the Minnesota Vikings were writing one of the most original stories in the NFL. After starting the season by digging a 1-4 hole, the Vikings won 5 games in a row to put themselves in a strong position to make the playoffs.
Not only were they winning games, but they were also showing incredible resiliency, as they managed to keep their winning streak going even though starting quarterback Kirk Cousins went down and out for the season with a torn Achilles in a Week 8 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
They acquired an emergency quarterback in Josh Dobbs who led the Vikings to back-to-back victories over the Falcons and the Saints even though he barely had time to learn the names of his teammates. It seemed the Vikings had their own Miracle Man under center as the team started to climb in the NFL standings.
But as quickly as Dobbs’ mojo arrived, it disappeared at the same pace. The winning streak came to an abrupt halt as the Vikings lost back-to-back games to the Broncos and Bears by 1 and 2 points, respectively. They had the lead in the 4th quarter of both games, but they were unable to finish either game.
Reality hit the Vikings hard. If the impact of the Cousins’ injury was delayed at first, it ended up costing the team in a big way. Some NFL teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns had high-quality backup quarterbacks like Gardner Minshew and Joe Flacco to keep the team afloat after injuries to their starting quarterbacks. The Vikings were not in a similar position.
Cousins had been among the most durable NFL quarterbacks in memory, as he had avoided major injuries throughout his previous 11 years in the NFL. The Vikings did not have an adequate backup. Dobbs lost his magic touch, rookie Jaren Hall was not ready and veteran Nick Mullens simply turned the ball over too often.
Kevin O’Connell had been hired because of his offensive know how, but instead of coming up with winning plays, he backed off when several games were on the line. In the Week 12 loss to the Bears, the Vikings had taken the lead in the 4th quarter and then forced a turnover in the late stages that should have allowed them to put the game away.
However, instead of gaining 1 or 2 first downs that would have allowed them to run out the clock, O’Connell decided to avoid risk by running the ball and punting. Bears quarterback Justin Fields took advantage and led the Bears on a drive that led to the game-winning field goal.
The most painful loss during the season may have been the Week 15 27-24 overtime defeat at the hands of the Bengals. The Vikings had a 17-3 lead after 3 quarters with Mullens at quarterback and the defense punishing Cincinnati.
Defensive coordinator Brian Flores had apparently worked a miracle with a defense that had been among the worst in the league for 3 consecutive seasons. He had a brilliant pass rusher in Danielle Hunter who was leading the league in sacks. The Vikings defense had allowed just 1 touchdown in its previous 3 games. Holding onto a 2-TD lead did not seem like a huge task.
However, the clock must have hit midnight in that fourth quarter, as the Vikings gave up 3 touchdowns but still had a chance to win in overtime. Timid play calling when the Vikings were nearing field goal territory allowed the Bengals to take the game and break the hearts of the Vikings.
Minnesota still had control of its own destiny in Week 16 at home against the Lions. The Vikings had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute when Justin Jefferson broke into the open on a pattern near the Detroit end zone. However, Mullens’ pass was of the wounded duck variety and it was intercepted, and the Lions clinched the NFC North with a 30-24 victory.
That loss took the air out of the Vikings sails. They had nothing left for the Packers the following week and dropped a 33-10 decision,
The Lions and Packers are going to the playoffs while the Vikings are left to figure out what went wrong. The original story that seemed destined to be a best seller ended up falling flat – and so did the Vikings.