This was a fitting way for it to end.
By losing to the Bears at home on Sunday, the Vikings' chances of making the playoffs dropped to virtually nothing. What's so fitting is that the reasons why they lost were all of the same things that kept this team from ever becoming consistently good in a weird 2020 season.
On Minnesota's final meaningful offensive snap of the season – not counting their desperation drive down by six with no timeouts left – Gary Kubiak called up a play-action pass that left a free rusher with a clear path towards Kirk Cousins. The veteran quarterback could only run backwards to escape, and wound up heaving a harmless prayer that fell incomplete.
That was an example of the play-calling being an issue, which it was at times all year long. Despite possessing two of the game's most talented receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Kubiak and the Vikings were often far too content to run the ball over and over with Dalvin Cook. Cook is a special player and one of the best running backs in the league, but the nature of his position means he'll never be as efficient of an option as either Jefferson or Thielen.
Thielen, by the way, caught two passes for 11 yards in this game. That can't happen in a must-win game.
Other problems included the offensive line's inability to protect Kirk Cousins and the young, depleted defense's inability to consistently get stops. All in all, it added up to a 33-27 loss that drops the Vikings to 6-8 and all but ensures they won't be playing in the postseason this year.
On paper, the Vikings' offensive numbers look fine. Cook racked up 159 yards from scrimmage and his 16th touchdown, Jefferson went over 100 yards for the sixth time in a spectacular rookie season, and Cousins' 98.6 passer rating was neither great nor horrible. But the consistency wasn't there. Two drives ended in punts, two ended in turnovers on downs, and two ended with Minnesota settling for field goals inside the Bears' ten-yard-line. Cousins was sacked three times and faced plenty of pressure, including on the fateful fourth and one that essentially sealed the Vikings' fate.
A big part of the issue was that the Vikings fell behind by ten-plus points for the fourth consecutive game. It's hard enough to win games in the NFL, but routinely getting off to a slow start and having to try to storm back makes it significantly harder.
Priority number one heading into 2021 has to be addressing the offensive line (again), specifically the guard position. Dakota Dozier was a liability at LG all season long, and that was as true as ever on Sunday. He was beaten easily on multiple plays and has proven to not be a starting-caliber NFL guard despite not being challenged for that job at any point.
Priority number two needs to be fixing the defense. David Montgomery rumbled for 162 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, leading the way in a 199-yard rushing effort for the Bears as a team. Mitch Trubisky rarely faced any kind of pressure and was able to complete 15 of his 21 pass attempts.
Part of fixing the defense will happen just by getting a number of key players back. The Vikings were without Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, and Anthony Barr all season, and they spent the past three games without Eric Kendricks. That led to a significant number of snaps for backup-caliber players like Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, Troy Dye, and many more. In this loss to the Bears and for much of the season, the Vikings looked like a defense full of backups. Mike Zimmer was able to overcome that at times with excellent defensive gameplans, but the lack of talent also caught up with the Vikings on that side of the ball many times.
Simply getting those players back won't be enough, though. The Vikings have decisions to make on Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson this offseason, among others. They also need to add more talent on the defensive line, specifically a three-technique defensive tackle who can get after the quarterback.
There are countless other questions and unknowns for the Vikings as they head towards 2021, and there will be endless time to analyze those after these final two games of the year. With pieces like Cook and Jefferson in place on offense and a lot of talent coming back on defense, there's a chance that the Vikings could take major strides next season.
But for now, this isn't a very good football team. That was made clear on many occasions throughout an up-and-down 2020 season, and the Vikings offered one final resounding reminder against the Bears.
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