MINNEAPOLIS -- For a week, nobody on the Minnesota Vikings seemed able to come up with an especially compelling reason why the team got destroyed in Arizona. But there was a good reason for this: Nobody on the Minnesota Vikings TRIED to come up with reasons why they got destroyed in Arizona.
"We got our butts kicked," defensive lineman
"Butts kicked," quarterback
"They just handed it to us," linebacker
And that was that. It was a loss. They got outplayed. And ... it doesn't mean anything important. This is the way teams used to feel about regular season losses. And this, it seems to me, is still the healthiest way for teams to feel about losses.
Of course, it's hard to be that way in the NFL now. There is a perfection obsession going on now. Sure, the concept of reaching for perfection in football has been around since the game's beginning, but now it seems teams have a hard time accepting less. I think it became this way two years ago, when the New England Patriots actually pulled off a 16-0 regular season. Suddenly, it was made clear that 16-0 was possible, even in today's hyper-competitive NFL world.*
And if perfection is possible -- well, why not go for it? Makes sense. This year, Indianapolis and New Orleans are both perfect through 13 games, an amazing achievement -- first time two teams have started 13-0 in NFL history. They both have terrific teams with great quarterbacks and many other talents. They each have a real shot at pulling off the perfect NFL regular season. Then you throw in the half dozen or so undefeated college football teams running around trying to impress the computers, well, perfection is in the air.
So, yeah, it's easy to get caught up in it. And it's easy to forget -- perfection ain't the point. Winning the Super Bowl is the point. And it's possible that even with two undefeated seasons, the BEST team in the NFL is right here -- the imperfect Minnesota Vikings, who last week took that 30-17 beatdown in Arizona.
Sunday, the Vikings played the Cincinnati Bengals in what was supposed to be a nice matchup of two surprisingly excellent football teams. It didn't turn out nice. The Vikings crushed the Bengals. It wasn't just the score (30-10 Minnesota) or the stifling defense Minnesota played (the Bengals managed only 91 net passing yards), or the efficiency of the Vikings' offense (a touchdown pass for Favre, two touchdown runs for
Still, it can be jarring to break down the Vikings to see just how many game changers they have all over the field. They have the dominant running back in Peterson, one of the league best third-down backs in
On defense, they have the unblockable
But here's the thing people seem to notice about the Vikings: They lost twice. They got beat up in Pittsburgh, back when the Steelers still thought they were good. And they got manhandled in Arizona on a day when the Cardinals played like defending NFC champions. So they lost to the two teams in last year's Super Bowl, and in a year when two teams are testing perfection, the Vikings might seem to be not quite good enough.
But I think this is danger of putting too much stock in the regular season, and taking too much pride in perfect records, and putting too much in losses.
The point is ... a regular season loss doesn't mean much of anything. And it's a point that the Vikings players and staff seem to understand. None of them were happy to get stomped in Arizona, of course, but they just figured it was a day when Arizona was awfully good and they were not and so what? "The important thing is to not let it affect you or start making excuses," Favre said. "And I don't see anybody doing that."
No, they came out Sunday and strangled a really good Bengals team. They clinched a playoff spot with the victory, and they are close to clinching a first-round bye. The Saints with their perfect record seem likely to clinch homefield advantage ... a nice thing to have (the Vikings ARE a perfect 7-0 at home this year).
But homefield advantage doesn't guarantee anything. A perfect record doesn't guarantee anything either. Sure, it's fun to watch the Colts and Saints battle for the perfect seasons -- and they will be everyone's favorites come playoff time. But in Minnesota -- where the Vikings through the years have lost four Super Bowls and fallen short of the Super Bowl the year they went 15-1 -- there really is only one thing that matters. That trophy. If they can hold that up, yeah, it will be a perfect season.