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Brian Murphy: It's time to starting putting teams away, Vikings

The Vikings are having a season for the ages but letting opponents hang around is a trend they must end before January

Giddy, conflicted, and skeptical is no way to start a work week, not with inflation raging, winter baring its teeth, and the holidays goosing familial stressors.

But here we are again, crawling out of the emotional wreckage of another Vikings victory. Bruised, coughing and disoriented, with sirens blaring and an angel from the Red Cross wrapping the bewildered in blankets.

Wondering how to endure more of this self-destructive entertainment while racing to the front of the line for another weekly ride.

This unlikeliest of NFL seasons should be celebrated for Minnesota’s 10 wins, the coronation of rookie coach Kevin O’Connell, the durable playmaking of quarterback Kirk Cousins, clutch defensive stands, and an NFC North title in layaway.

So simple to appreciate.

So damn hard to experience.

The Vikings’ 27-22 victory over the New York Jets Sunday at US Bank Stadium was another log on the fire of confounding expectations that has been burning since a Week 1 blowout of Green Bay.

Who are these guys? What can they really accomplish? How much should I invest spiritually? Why so much handwringing?

Offensively, the Vikings inexplicably disappear for disturbingly long stretches that severely taxes the defense, only to pull out a timely touchdown or scoring drive.

Minnesota allowed another suspect quarterback to pad his resume and nearly pull off an upset. This time it was Mike White, maître d’ at the House of Bland, who threw for 369 yards and had not one but two chances in the waning minutes to deliver New York a comeback win.

Two goal-line stands powered by crucial pass pressure and a game-saving interception by Camryn Bynum averted disaster. Again.

The statistical anomalies stalking the Vikings force analysts to examine everything in a house of mirrors.

They responded so decisively in all three phases to defeat New England on Thanksgiving, just four days after being de-pantsed by Dallas.

Cousins’ accuracy was off all afternoon against the Jets. He spent more time peeling himself off the turf after brutal hits than extending drives. And yet he deftly delivered the winning touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson with 6-plus minutes remaining.

None of which should have been necessary after building a 20-6 halftime lead. But the Vikings treat daggers as though they were dipped in Kryptonite.

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How many more times will Cousins make that throw, Jefferson make that catch or a defensive back jump that route at the right time? There is a weariness to circling the wagons and relying on scar tissue and fourth-quarter mettle to protect tenuous wins.

“Honestly, if we can win, I don’t give a damn,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks. “Even though we want to bury them and close it out when we can, these teams are really good.”

OK, fair enough. But the scheduling minefield has been thoroughly swept.

Minnesota has five games remaining. All totally winnable. The bar has been set high, but it is not unreasonable.

Running the table and finishing 15-2 gives the Vikings the best chance to secure more than one home game in the postseason and challenge Philadelphia for a first-round bye.

Don’t pine away for a favorable matchup. Build a case for a once-in-a-decade playoff run.

The Eagles (11-1) and Cowboys (9-3) humbled the Vikings. They still are living a charmed life but there is growing recognition that the glitter on their glass slipper is fading.

A definitive victory can salvage everyone’s mental exhaustion. The Lions (5-7) are surging and they always seem to give Minnesota trouble.

But now is the time to steal their souls. On their home field. Secure that division championship and hunt bigger game.

Every fourth quarter this season has felt like a playoff atmosphere. The Vikings should treat the task at Ford Field with the urgency of an elimination game.

“We’re going to continue to be tested, and we're going to have to earn the right to go into these games with confidence,” said O’Connell. “This 10-2 record means absolutely nothing. We’ve got to go prepare, get better, and play our best here towards the end of the season.”

I thought last season was as emotionally taxing as any NFL season could be. With how the Vikings melted in the one-score pressure cooker week after week. How they crumbled in real time under misguided expectations and the weight of an inevitable regime change.

The script has completely flipped. They are 9-0 this year in one-score games. And the tension is still relentless.

Five more weeks before the real pressure starts. A decisive win in Motown would allow the Vikings to break out the division champs T-shirts and hats while taking the edge off, if only for a moment.

Is that asking too much?