Nobody can survive solely with great defense. Not in this offense-oriented, pass-happy era.
That's why a second straight double-digit defeat has many wondering if the Minnesota Vikings sold us fool's gold to start the 2016 season.
Was Minnesota's 5-0 start a mirage? Following their Week 6 bye, the Vikings have been outscored 41-20 in consecutive road losses to teams that have a combined record of just 4-9 against their other opponents.
In a 21-10 Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL's least balanced offense couldn't run or throw consistently, couldn't protect quarterback Sam Bradford and didn't score a touchdown until it was garbage time.
In a 20-10 Week 8 loss to the previously 1-6 Chicago Bears, it again couldn't run or throw consistently, it again couldn't protect Bradford and it again didn't score a touchdown until it was garbage time.
|What Happened to the Vikings?|
|Category||Before Week 6 Bye||Since Week 6 Bye|
It was one thing when a running game lacking Adrian Peterson was ineffective during those first five weeks of the season. Bradford and Week 1 starting quarterback Shaun Hill were sacked only eight times and committed zero turnovers during that remarkable stretch. Steady quarterback play combined with superb defense will win you a lot of games. Sometimes all of them.
But it's been another thing the last two weeks, with Bradford taking 11 sacks and turning the ball over three times. After completing 70.4 percent of his passes and posting a 109.7 passer rating during that hot early stretch, the 28-year-old former No. 1 overall pick has fallen back to earth with a completion percentage of 60.3 and a 79.6 passer rating against the Eagles and Bears.
I don't know why we're surprised. This is kind of what you'd expect from a team missing its superstar running back and both its regular starting offensive tackles. And this is exactly what you'd expect from a team relying on a quarterback who has lacked consistency for the entirety of his seven-year NFL career.
Of course, the season isn't unsalvageable. After all, the Vikings remain in first place in the NFC North. If the season ended today, they'd have a first-round bye. But because Bradford looked as though he was turning a corner and the defense was so damn stout during the first five weeks, some—yours truly included—had wondered if this team was an exception to recent football rules.
Minnesota lost franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Peterson and those tackles, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. And yet it somehow looked even better than it did with those guys healthy in 2015. I'll acknowledge wondering if head coach Mike Zimmer was simply that good, wondering if Bradford was finally putting it together, wondering if Zimmer, Bradford and that greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts defense could carry this team to the playoffs.
That could still be the case, and this could merely be a speed bump. But even the defense had trouble Monday night against a Chicago offense that entered Monday ranked dead last in the NFL in scoring. Against that vaunted Minnesota D, the Bears had their second-best offensive game of the season. No turnovers for only the third time in eight games. A ridiculous 202 yards from scrimmage for rookie running back Jordan Howard. A triple-digit passer rating for quarterback Jay Cutler, who had by default become captain of a sinking ship.
Earlier this month, this Bears team lost back-to-back games to the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, who are 3-10 against the rest of their opponents. Chicago's only pre-Halloween win was practically handed to it by the Detroit Lions. And sure, bad games happen. But Philadelphia's one-sided Week 7 victory over the Vikings is that team's only win since Week 3.
It's enough to cause you to look back and wonder if Minnesota's start wasn't as impressive as it looked.
- The Vikings had to rely on a second-half comeback in order to beat the sluggish Tennessee Titans to start the season.
- They edged the Green Bay Packers at home in Week 2, but Green Bay hasn't been right all season. The Packers nearly lost to the Jags and have dropped two of three as we speak.
- They beat the Carolina Panthers quite handily on the road in Week 3, but the Panthers lost five of their first six games—a stretch that included defeats at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.
- Their next win came at home against a New York Giants team that was in the middle of a three-game losing streak.
- And then they won at home again versus a Houston Texans team that has a bad quarterback and isn't remotely as good as its 5-3 record.
Starting 5-0 is never a fluke, but not every 5-0 start is created equal. And when you consider the state of the personnel in Minnesota, it becomes plainly obvious that this poor post-bye stretch isn't an aberration.
The Vikings might not be as bad as they were Monday in Chicago or last Sunday in Philadelphia, but if there's one thing we can take away from those performances, it's that they aren't close to being as good as the team we were fooled by in September and early October.
They have far too many holes on offense. It's far too easy for Bradford, the line and the backs to be exposed, and it'll only become easier as defensive coordinators watch tape from the last two weeks.
It might be too early to read a 5-2 team its last rites, but don't be surprised when you see more results like the last two. And don't be surprised if we wind up giving a eulogy for the 2016 Vikings much earlier than many had expected.
When we do that, we'll be eulogizing a team that had a scary-good defense but little else. And we'll reflect on that five-week stretch during which many of us thought that would be enough.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.