The Vikings' hard-fought loss in Seattle on Monday night was a painful one, as they no longer control their own destiny in the NFC North and missed an opportunity to further tighten their hold on the final wild-card spot. It was especially difficult to stomach because of the way it transpired, with the Vikings giving up a lead and then storming all the way back, only to watch the potential game-winning drive stall out near midfield.
However, it's not all that difficult to find silver linings from the loss. Playing a truly intense game in a playoff-like atmosphere and going toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league is something that should give the Vikings confidence heading forwards, if they choose to view it that way. They learned a lot about themselves, both in terms of their strengths and the shortcomings that they need to address. Most importantly, they got a taste of what it will take to win a game like that. For a team that is likely going to have to win several games on the road to make a playoff run, that's valuable experience.
As the Vikings head into the final four games of the regular season, let's look back one last time at Monday night's game. Here are three final takeaways from the loss, with an eye on what they mean for the future.
1. Forget the narratives – Kirk Cousins can win big games
On the surface, Kirk Cousins lived up to his reputation in this game. He threw an interception during the third-quarter collapse and couldn't get the job done on the final drive with an opportunity to be the hero. National outlets capitalized on the moment by pointing out his historically bad 0-8 record on Monday Night Football. And in their defense, Cousins could've absolutely been better.
But those who watched the game attentively know this loss wasn't his fault. This loss falls squarely on the shoulders of the Vikings' defense (more on that in a second). Cousins was a big reason why the Vikings had the lead in the first place, and he was an even bigger reason why they mounted and nearly completed a furious, improbable comeback. He was outstanding for two straight drives following the interception, making a few great throws to Kyle Rudolph and getting his team back in it.
Would he like to have those two passes back with just three yards to get on the final drive? Of course. But the first was tipped, and no one was open on fourth down. If anything, the play-calling from Kevin Stefanski should've been better in that situation. Monday wasn't Cousins' best game, but he has proven this season that he is better than the narratives suggest. If a similar opportunity comes up against the Packers or in the playoffs, there's reason to be confident Cousins will take advantage.
2. This team desperately needs Adam Thielen to get healthy
One thing that would make Cousins' job exponentially easier would be the return of Adam Thielen. Over the bye week, the prevailing thought was that Thielen would be good to go in Seattle. Cousins declared as much on his podcast. The Vikings then waived Josh Doctson, clearly signaling that they too thought Thielen would be available. And yet, his hamstring never got to 100 percent, and Thielen missed essentially his seventh straight game. On Monday night, it was more obvious than ever that this offense isn't the same without him.
Since he hasn't played in a couple months, it's possible people have forgotten just how good Thielen is. His route-running and elite hands make him an incredible weapon on third downs, an area where the Vikings have struggled at times without him. Specifically, it's easy to imagine Cousins looking his way and being successful on one of those two crucial pass attempts. Thielen's speed and YAC ability also gives the offense another big play threat that defenses must account for.
Thielen should continue to rest and make sure his hamstring is at 100 percent. If he has to sit out against the Lions and Chargers, that's fine. But when the Packers come to town – and when the playoffs get going – the Vikings are going to need him. Let's hope his season isn't over just yet.
3. Mike Zimmer is running out of time to fix his defense
If the Vikings' defense continues playing at the same level it has played at for the past month and change, they won't win a game in the playoffs. Heck, they might not even make the playoffs. The secondary remains a clear weakness, and time is running out for that to change. It would help if Xavier Rhodes could flip the switch, but that seems less and less likely each week. And after Monday night, the run defense is now a concern as well. The Seahawks encountered no resistance whatsoever in that area. Getting Linval Joseph back to full health and inserting Armon Watts for Shamar Stephen more frequently could help, but that was a concerning performance in Seattle.
There's still time for Zimmer and his prized defense to turn things around. His top-notch defensive mind hasn't gone anywhere, and players like Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, and Anthony Harris are having great seasons. If the defense as a whole can get some of its mojo from the last three years back, the Vikings could still prove to be a dangerous team in January.