The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday in need of a victory to keep pace with their competition in the NFC North. Facing a 4-6 Jacksonville team that had lost three of its previous four games and that had only one home victory on the season, the Vikings were not exactly facing the toughest of tasks. Still, with a 1-4 road record of their own, the Vikings at least suggested a possible cure for the Jaguars' home ills.
Less than one minute into the game, however, the Vikings were the beneficiaries of two turnovers which they converted into immediate touchdowns. With a 14-0 lead and a solid rushing attack, even another horrible performance by quarterback Gus Frerotte could not stop the Vikings from keeping the Jaguars down.
While the victory over the Jaguars in a sometimes sloppy, sometimes boring, sometimes going-through-the-motions performance ensured that the Vikings would remain at least tied for the NFC North division lead heading into next weekend's games, it is difficult to view this game as necessarily portending a turning point in the Vikings' season. The Vikings still had difficulty covering kicks and punts, the coaching staff made at least two decisions that suggested, yet again, that it is collectively uncomfortable making decisions in game situations, the pass defense remained troublesome since the loss of E.J. Henderson, and the quarterback play continued its downward slide, approaching the territory once occupied solely by Tarvaris Jackson.
In sum, the Vikings won, despite exhibiting some of the same tendencies that have undermined the team since the beginning of the season. To take away from the victory any solid conviction that the Vikings have turned the corner, therefore, would be to put far too much weight on the quality of the Vikings' victory on Sunday.
With Sunday's victory, the Vikings are 6-5. Of the six victories, only one, pending the outcome of tonight's Green Bay-New Orleans game, came against a team with a winning record with the Vikings' opponents in those six games going 26-38 for a .406 winning percentage. Of the Vikings' five losses, none, again pending the results of Monday night's game, have come against a team with a losing record with those five opponents going 36-18 for a .667 winning percentage.
More telling than Sunday's result and the Vikings' record against winning and losing teams, however, is the team's overall scoring differential. With 253 points scored and 246 allowed, the Vikings are what they have been coached to be. They are a team that will play mostly close games, winning more against weaker teams and less against better teams. And all of the stats bear this out.
For Vikings' fans at least partially familiar with the Minnesota Gophers' tenure of Glen Mason, what came before and what has come after the Mason era, there certainly is plentiful evidence that things could be far worse than a coach who wins winnable games and loses losable games. But rarely are those who finish in the middle of the pack crowned with glory.
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