MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings had aspirations of making a run in the NFC Playoffs, but the season came to an end Sunday in a 31-24 loss to the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings won 13 games and the franchise’s first division title in five years in Kevin O’Connell’s inaugural season. They won 11 games by one score, and Kirk Cousins led an NFL record eight fourth quarter comebacks. But was 2022 a success? Vikings’ players said Monday the goal is the Super Bowl, but they’ll be watching the rest of the playoffs from home.
Here are takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
KIRK COUSINS 4TH-AND-8 CHECK DOWN
The last play of Sunday’s game has faced plenty of scrutiny the last two days. Facing a 4th-and-8 with the season on the line, Cousins threw a three-yard check down to T.J. Hockenson. He was immediately tackled for a turnover on downs, and the Giants went into victory formation. Justin Jefferson was in double coverage, Adam Thielen ran a deep out. K.J. Osborn broke open late over the middle, but Cousins was trying avoid pressure. His hope was to get the ball out, and hope Hockenson could make a defender miss.
Should he have taken a shot to Jefferson? Probably. But Cousins should never have been in that spot to begin with. He was because the Vikings’ defense gave up 431 yards and 31 points.
WHERE’S THE DEFENSE?
The Vikings lost Sunday because a defense filled with veterans was too slow to several plays and didn’t make any adjustments while the Giants went up and down the field without resistance. Daniel Jones became the first quarterback in playoff history to throw for 300-plus yards, two touchdowns and run for 70-plus yards. The Vikings gave up at least 400 total yards for the 10th time this season, and the Giants ran for nearly five yards per carry.
The 3-4 defense did not work, and it’s up to O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to figure out why. It’s also fueling speculation about Ed Donatell’s future in Minnesota.
CHRISTIAN DARRISAW’S FALSE START
What’s not being talked about enough between an awful defensive effort and Cousins’ check down is a crucial penalty by Christian Darrisaw. On 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Cousins took a sneak for a first down. That is, until it was wiped away by a Darrisaw false start. It forced the Vikings to settle for a game-tying field goal. There’s a very good chance the Vikings get a go-ahead touchdown there late in regulation, and they might be heading west to face the 49ers if that penalty doesn’t happen. Darrisaw had a good year despite missing time with two concussions, but that penalty came at a costly time.
TRICK PLAY EARLY DOESN’T WORK
O’Connell went deep in his playbook on the second drive of the day, and it didn’t work. On 3rd-and-1, Cousins threw a backwards pass to Jefferson, who threw it back to Cousins and the Giants weren’t fooled. The play went for a 2-yard loss, and the Vikings had to punt. Osborn was open for Jefferson in the middle of the field, but the play was designed to go back to Cousins. Regardless, it’s a little early in the game to go to the bag of tricks. It’s one of a few plays the Vikings want back.
SEASON ENDS FOR CLOSE-KNIT GROUP
Since O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah arrived, they preached communication, collaboration and culture. Several players spoke Sunday and Monday about how close the 2022 Vikings’ locker room was. That’s what makes the sudden ending to the season raw, and leaving many players still processing it. They truly believed they would go further in the postseason, but they didn’t take advantage of a home playoff game. The last thing they wanted was to be cleaning out lockers on Monday at TCO Performance Center, but that’s life.
The 2023 Vikings will likely look a lot different, with 15 players entering free agency.