Are the Minnesota Vikings Contenders or Pretenders?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IDecember 11, 2009

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Defensive tackle Pat Williams #94 of the Minnesota Vikings lines up for play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 16, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The measure of a real champion is not how they respond to success but how they respond to failure.

This weekend’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals will reveal whether the Minnesota Vikings are pretenders or contenders.

Last week the Vikings suffered their first definitive loss. Yes, Minnesota lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the year, but the loss to Arizona was different. 

The loss to the Cardinals was a beatdown.

Minnesota couldn’t run the ball. Adrian Peterson had his worst game as a professional, gaining only 19 yards on 13 carries. Percy Harvin led the team with a measly 22 yards.

Brett Favre looked confused and made bad decisions in the face of pressure by the Cardinals. Favre was fortunate to have thrown only two interceptions.

Excluding their last possession in the first half and end of the game, Arizona moved the ball at will against the Vikings, scoring on six of its ten possessions. Kurt Warner showed no ill effects from his concussion, picking apart the secondary in throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. 

Then, if things weren’t bad enough on the field, the injury occurred. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson broke his leg ending his season and possibly his career.

The Arizona Cardinals simply beat the Vikings in all phases of the game.

How will the Vikings respond?

The Cincinnati Bengals are a very worthy opponent standing at 9-3 and are likely on their way to the AFC North crown after the Pittsburgh Steelers' devastating 13-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Carson Palmer is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. Palmer has put up very respectable numbers again, and has an outside chance to throw for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns before the season ends.

Cedric Benson has been reborn in Cincinnati, rushing for 969 yards in just 10 games.  Benson, who had missed a couple of weeks, is expected to play.

Not surprisingly, Chad Ochocinco said he intends to put his stamp on the game.  Ochocinco said once he scores he intends to steal the horn of Minnesota’s mascot, Ragnar, and blow the horn in celebration.

A loss by the Vikings gives the Green Bay Packers hope that they could possibly steal the NFC North crown from the Vikings. The Arizona Cardinals could even begin to dream about hosting a playoff game if Minnesota loses this week.

Is this the beginning of the end for the Purple? 

As a starting quarterback, the fewest number of interceptions that Brett Favre has ever thrown in a season is 13. Favre is currently sitting at five interceptions. Will the wheels come off with Favre as interceptions come fast and furious in the last four weeks?

Favre’s comments after the Arizona game suggested that he wasn’t in a panic about his performance and that he knew he personally had to make better decisions. 

Favre was quoted as saying, “I mad some decisions that I haven’t made up to this point and I’m disappointed about it.”

“There were times when they were rushing three and dropping eight," he added. "The better decision would’ve been for me not to throw it in thee because you don’t want to give an offense like [Arizona’s] another advantage. But I made some decisions that I haven’t made in some time.”

Favre sounds like the wily veteran quarterback who understands the importance of not falling back into bad habits.

The Vikings' defense has not had a statement game against a playoff bound team such that all hope of a comeback was extinguished. Can the defense rise to the occasion and squash any and all hope that Cincinnati has of winning the game at the start of the fourth quarter?

If Pat Williams’ comments about Cedric Benson and the Bengals give any indication of the confidence of the Vikings defense, it appears that the team has lost none of its swagger.

“I’ve played against great backs and great players, and he [Benson] ain’t one of them,” Williams said to the media on Thursday. 

The Bengals' victory over the Detroit Lions didn’t impress Williams either.

“I ain’t scared of no man, trust me. This is not the Detroit Lions, a game they almost lost. So we ain’t worried about it.”

Williams added how he felt about the confidence of Vikings in playing the Bengals.

“That (expletive) ain’t going nowhere. Everybody loses games. We ain’t 2-10; we’re 10-2. We ain’t worried about the Bengals. Ain’t nobody losing no juice here.”

Williams sounds as if he is ready to take the Bengals offense behind the woodshed.

The Vikings have a chance this weekend to show the NFL that they are serious about winning the Super Bowl. 

A win against the Bengals on Sunday and the Vikings will likely be hosting a second round playoff game.  A loss to Cincinnati and questions will be raised asking whether Minnesota is on the verge of a collapse before crossing the regular season finish line.

Minnesota’s game this week against the Bengals following last week’s loss to the Cardinals will be a good measuring stick. The question is simple:

Are the Vikings contenders or pretenders?