Skip to main content

Championship Sunday was a strange watch for Vikings fans

From Kyle Hamilton to the Lions collapse, Sunday was an odd day to watch from a Vikings perspective
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

There is nothing football onlookers enjoy more than saying “I told you so.” Just look at social media after the Detroit Lions’ fourth down attempt in the third quarter failed and San Francisco cut the Lions’ lead from 24-10 to 24-17 and then two minutes after that tied the game following a Detroit fumble.

Oh, silly Dan Campbell, not trusting his kicker, who may or may not have been historically mediocre on deep kicks. Typical Dan Gamble, not predicting that receiver Josh Reynolds would drop a wide open pass that hit him on both hands. Goodness gracious, MAN Campbell, were you too busy biting kneecaps to have failed to see the doink off your cornerback’s face and into the hands of Brandon Aiyuk for a 51-yard gain coming?

Why not take the points? Well, that’s actually what Campbell did all year by making aggressive choices — he added points. Per the analytics site SumerSports he actually added more win probability over the 2023 season than any of the four coaches on championship weekend with his decision making on fourth downs, two-point conversions, timeouts and field goals.

Hey, analytics blamers, how are ya? Couple things: 1) ESPN’s analytics had the decision as a coin flip, so it wasn’t exactly an “analytics” decision, it was more Campbell’s gut and the identity that got Detroit to this place 2) The Lions still had an 84% chance to win per ESPN’s Gamecast after the missed fourth down 3) The estimation completion percentage of the pass toward Reynolds was over 90%, much better than a long field goal by a mediocre kicker.

No matter the logic behind the decision or insanely improbable things that came afterward, the whole second-guessing world got to play the role of Nelson Muntz as the Lions tripped on their own tails chasing Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey around in the fourth quarter. Sometimes that 1-out-of-10 hits.

In the end Detroit gave away a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Vikings fans can relate to endings in the NFC Championship that leave you shocked and crestfallen. There were some Vikings followers who attempted to revel in Detroit losing this way but that’s like getting hit by a car and then laughing at the next person who gets mowed down. Green Bay, I understand. Detroit though? Don’t you want somebody who has been cursed to give you hope? Buffalo sure didn’t do it.

Anyway, Viking fans were playing different “I told you so” games. During the AFC portion of championship Sunday, Kyle Hamilton tackles turned into 2022 Vikings draft rehash sessions. Did you know they could have picked him? Well, apparently every person on Twitter would have taken him rather than trading down. They also would have picked Trent McDuffie, Chiefs star corner. And when Jameson Williams scored a long touchdown run for the Lions, well, he would have been their guy too.

Jameson Williams

Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams runs the ball past 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw in the first quarter of the NFC championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024.

The funny thing about the 2022 draft is that analysts were all over the place on it right afterward. Grades ranged from multiple As to an F. I guess the F guy got to say “I told you so” as he was taking in championship Sunday.

The Vikings also could have drafted Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson, Lynn Swann, Joe Montana and Justin Tucker too. We all knew they were going to be stars on draft night, right?

Coincidentally, there is a strong point about the 2022 draft to be made about where the Vikings stand in relation to the Lions but it’s not, “shoulda draftedz Hamulton.”

Since Brad Holmes took over as general manager of the Lions, who finished three points and a bonk off a cornerback’s head away from beating the NFC’s juggernaut of the last five years, Detroit has taken nine players in the top 50 of the NFL draft. The Vikings have taken four.

Certainly Detroit has found some gems like Amon-Ra St. Brown and hit on their top selections Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson but they have had a lot more bites at the apple with high picks.

Why? Because the Lions took a long-term approach to rebuilding their roster so the swings and misses would be made up by the hits.

The Vikings also weren’t Kyle Hamilton away. In fact, they found a very similar player on the roster in Josh Metellus. They weren’t Jameson Williams away either. While he had somewhat of a breakout game versus San Francisco, his early returns have been less than spectacular with just 24 receptions this year, one-third of what Jordan Addison brought in as a rookie.

What was on display Championship Sunday is the three ways to build a team that plays on Championship Sunday. The first is being a club with an all-time great quarterback. It doesn’t matter if Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes have big cap hits. They are MVPs. Figure everything else out, screw with your cap, do whatever it takes. Second, The Detroit Model of building around an expensive veteran QB by hitting on a ton of draft picks. Third, pay $880k to your quarterback, stack the supporting cast and then make moves like trading or Trent Williams and Christian McCaffrey to stack up your roster.

The Vikings do not have Option 1 at their disposal since it’s unlikely the Chiefs trade Mahomes to Minnesota any time soon. Maybe when he’s 40, as is tradition for QB legends. Option 2 seems pretty tricky should they bring back Kirk Cousins because the Vikings only own two top-100 draft picks this year. Option 3 is the clearest path if the Vikings pick a quarterback with the No. 11 selection or whatever QB route they choose i.e. trading up or down.

Whether you were teehee’ing at Campbell’s gaffe or not, you had to admit that the Lions have a bunch of players who won’t be making life easy going forward. Campbell said after the game that it might be Detroit’s one shot at reaching a Super Bowl but it’s certainly not the last run for them in the NFC North with a bevy young stars around a QB who consistently operates elite offenses and played well enough on Sunday to take his team to the Super Bowl (if they could catch). And the goal isn’t just to beat the NFC North, it’s to match up with the 49ers, who ranked No. 1 in offensive Expected Points Added this year.

By the way, do you think the 49ers’ No. 1 offense played into the comeback against Detroit or just Campbell’s fourth downs? At his year-end press conference Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said, paraphrased, he wants a team so good that they aren’t crushed by adversity. San Francisco’s offense wasn’t crushed by being down. The door cracked open and their playmaking QB and stars went to work.

If you were wondering there has only been one Super Bowl since 2012 without a top-five offense involved. The Vikings haven’t had one of those since ‘09.

Here’s the other lesson of the day: It’s unbelievably hard to win even when your team is amazing. Detroit had the fifth best offense, Baltimore was fourth. They are going home devastated. Do we really think the Vikings are a blown draft pick or two or couple free agent signings around Cousins away from being better than those clubs?

One interesting thing that all these teams did en route to Sunday’s games was make bold decisions. Whether it was trading away Matthew Stafford or Alex Smith or picking Lamar Jackson with Joe Flacco on the roster or picking Purdy over Trey Lance, they didn’t play it safe.

The Vikings can’t do that this offseason either. If they want to be in a position for the entire internet to be second guessing their coach someday on the biggest stage, it will probably take something bold to get there. If you were thinking about anything else through a Vikings lens on Sunday, you probably just want to say “I told you so” rather than focusing on how the Vikings can go from here to Championship Sunday in the future.