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Monday Morning Mailbag: Jefferson for MVP, Joseph's Kick & Fans' Reactions to Vikings Win vs. Giants

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The Vikings didn't take a break from their dramatic ways for the holidays. Greg Joseph booted a 61-yard field goal from the Norseman's braid as time expired for a 27-24 win on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The kick shattered the franchise record, topping the 56-yard mark Joseph had tied back in Week 1, and allowed Joseph to finish December at 6-for-6 on field goals and 12-for-12 on extra points.

Justin Jefferson again thrived (more on him real soon), and tight end T.J. Hockenson joined him on a record-setting day as Minnesota held a Winter Whiteout game for the first time. That included the combination of white jerseys on white pants (and even white socks) for the first time in a regular-season home game.

Danielle Hunter led a defensive charge that frequently disrupted Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. Hunter totaled 2.0 sacks among his seven tackles, along with a team-high four quarterback hits on the day in earning a game ball from Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who won his 12th game in 15 contests, topping Vikings Ring of Honor Head Coach Dennis Green for the most wins by a Vikings coach in his first season. Green led Minnesota to an 11-5 mark in 1992.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, even if weather and driving conditions may have caused challenges wherever you may be or were trying to get.

On to the questions (as a reminder, we'll update with more Monday).

Why isn't Justin Jefferson a candidate for MVP? I'm confused. #SkolVikes

— Lingo Vetaw

Well, the fine folks who navigated some slick conditions to make it to U.S. Bank Stadium and helped Minnesota go 8-1 in hosting nine regular-season games for the first time ever were chanting "M-V-P!" for Jefferson a couple of times, and I'm not about to say they're wrong.

Every week, we spend some time trying to stay on top of records that Jefferson is nearing. Some of these have qualifiers on them like within the first three seasons or something else. I'm not saying conditionals make stats irrelevant; I'm just pointing out how much information has become available.

We had a great hunch that Jefferson would top the franchise record of 1,632 receiving yards set by Randy Moss in 2003 since he only needed 10 yards heading into the game. Sure enough, he did on his second catch, a 25-yarder in the first quarter.

What we didn't fully prep was Jefferson breaking Cris Carter's Vikings single-season record of 122 receptions (set in 1994 and matched in 1995), but Jefferson did so on his 12th reception of the game, a screen pass that gained 17 on third-and-11 to give Joseph the shot at the 61-yarder.

One of the underrated "wow" plays by Jefferson occurred on a third-and-5 in the third quarter. He lined up in the slot and ran an out route, securing the catch at the 23-yard line without much room before the sideline, but he positioned himself to slow his momentum, change direction and glide to the chains for a key play on the drive that answered the 13-10 Giants lead with the second touchdown by Hockenson.

Kirk Cousins mentioned the play after the game.

"There's many that were impressive. The one that's jumping out to me was we rolled out to our right and threw one in the flat to him versus man coverage," Cousins said. "He was two to three yards short of the sticks. He only had a yard or two from the sideline.

"His ability to get north and toe tap and get the first down, very subtle. I can't tell you how many guys would just run out of bounds there and we'd be kicking a field goal or punting," Cousins added. "I remember thinking, 'That's a pretty good play right there, to toe tap, get up and out before they get him out of bounds.' A subtle thing, but it's one of the many ways he shows up. Then just the continued catches in traffic. He did it on the touchdown. A lot of people there. Just his ability to hold on and finish, it's elite."

It won't be shown on a single highlight show for any voter to see, but that type of play is singular — to borrow a word I've heard 1971 NFL MVP Alan Page use on a couple of occasions — or nearly exclusive to Jefferson. Page and Lawrence Taylor (1986) are the only two defensive players to ever win the award. Taylor is the most recent non-QB/non-RB to win the award that a receiver has never claimed. Even a kicker — Washington's Mark Moseley (20-for-21 on field goals, 16-for-19 on extra points in 1982) — has claimed the award once.

Most folks reading this will probably know that a Viking was the last non-quarterback to win MVP from The Associated Press. That was Adrian Peterson, who returned from an ACL injury and came within nine yards of the all-time single season rushing record to help the Vikings win the playoffs in 2012.

Since then, it's been all quarterbacks, and that was the case in the five years before Peterson's best season.

Jefferson's got a historic hurdle to clear, but those haven't seemed to stop him yet.

Voters should deeply consider him — not that there aren't other incredibly great players having impactful seasons — for MVP. Maybe if Jefferson tops Calvin Johnson's NFL record of 1,964 yards in 2012, he'll become the first receiver to garner the award. That Lions squad was 4-12. Jefferson keeps coming up big for Minnesota in meaningful games.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings Christmas Eve victory over the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Merry Christmas, Craig, to you and yours and of course the great staff at Viking headquarters. What a crazy game and yet another Christmas miracle. GREG JOSEPH for MVP.

For the most part, he's been "Mr. Clutch" all season long. We overcame another slow start, but the D stepped up when needed and the offense was there to help out.

What would it take for us to overtake the Eagles and have that first-round bye?

Cheers,

— Nicholas Balkou

Freaking awesome for our kicker!! They always take a beating when they miss. They are human and make mistakes like all the other players. Sometimes you just have to believe in them. Good job Joseph!!!!

— Toby in Alaska

Appreciate the well wishes and will reiterate those to everyone and as we prepare to turn the calendar with Vikings postseason football guaranteed.

I feel that goodwill toward all would be a heck of a concept if ever fully implemented.

There were plenty of folks in this space unhappy with Joseph as recently as October/November, although I pointed out two of his five misses from 50-plus yards had been blocked. The Vikings were not shaken in their belief in Joseph, who drilled a number of long kicks in training camp practices. As I just mentioned, one kicker has won MVP, but it's been great to see Joseph deliver on his part to help the team succeed with five game-winning kicks.

I thought the defense did a nice job of pressuring Jones while not letting the Giants run game rev for much of the day.

As for what it will take to overtake Philadelphia, the Vikings need to win out (at Green Bay and Chicago) and have the Eagles have two losses or a loss and a tie (home against New Orleans and the New York Giants). One more win by the Eagles, or even two ties, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC is on lock for Philly.

Minnesota (12-3) kept its one-game lead on San Francisco (11-4) for the No. 2 seed. The 49ers have won eight consecutive contests and close at Las Vegas and against the Cardinals, so it is likely they could close the regular season on a 10-game win streak since dropping two in mid-October.

The Packers (7-8) will be playing to keep alive their chances of rallying to the playoffs. According to fivethirtyeight.com's playoff predictions, after Sunday's win in Miami, Green Bay has a 26-percent chance of making the playoffs. That vaults to 56 if the Packers beat the Vikings and drops to 2 with a loss (not factoring in any other results around the NFL).

How many rabbits are left in the hat? It was a 61-yard field goal this week. Last week was a 33-0 deficit at halftime. You cannot give up on these Vikings. They find a way. How long can this last?

— Gerald Goblirsch

Wow! Another exciting game in a season full of great games. The team continues to show no quit and find ways to win. Kudos to Greg Joseph. When he struggled a bit mid-season there were calls for him to be released. He seems to have been in the groove lately, and then he drills a personal long and franchise long FG to win! No matter what the ultimate outcome of the year will be, this has been a memorable season!

SKOL

— Kevin Farrell, the Southern fried Viking fan

There's no guarantees about anything in the future, but I do think the Vikings have legitimately established an identity of being able to win games in different ways and to face and overcome challenging situations.

Having players who don't blink when times are tough, as well as coaches who have been able to solve things on the fly in their first year of working together, has been a great combo.

Love Kevin's perspective because so many of the games this season have been so incredible. I know the premium of winning it all, but only one team will on one day of the year, so I've been known to encourage others in this space to enjoy the journey.

View game action photos from the Vikings Week 16 Winter Whiteout game vs. the Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Everybody chattin' this week — why so many holiday games? How am I supposed to be ready for the holidays?

Friends, relatives & Vikes fans, I said, "Go get your last-minute shopping done. This game will be a seesaw for four quarters. Lose your game-watching anxiety this week. Go spread holiday cheer! Tip the doorman, plink the red kettle. Sashay into Christmas peacefully & joyous. Return in time for the fourth quarter, 2-minute warning." Because :08 & the ball in hand will win this thing with a long field goal.

Amazingly, for once, the Vikings are answering my clarion call! At 0:08, & 8 (Kirk Cousins) lines up to spike the ball after yet another perfect drive … he is Kirko Clutch.

Is there a question in this you ask?

Why yes. Just how record related is, ELEVEN WINS & ZERO LOSSES in one-score games? What is the record distribution? Consecutive one-score wins? One-score wins in a season? By one team? By one QB? By the Vikings?

Amazing year. Keep on "Kirken," Capt'n Clutch!

— Vic King in Idaho

The Vikings have now set an NFL record for most one-score wins in a regular season. The 11 victories top 10 by the 1978 Oilers, who went 10-3 in such games, and the 2019 Seahawks, who were 10-2.

Minnesota tied Kansas City's 2020 record of seven consecutive wins in one-score games earlier this year before the Dallas debacle.

A record that Cousins tied Saturday was matching the most fourth-quarter comeback wins in an NFL season (Matthew Stafford's eight for Detroit in 2016).

I've watched every play this season. Many of them more than once. I look at the stats and the scores through a traditional NFL lens where defense wins championships, and seeing a defense that is nowhere near the top in many of those traditional categories, perspective can lose focus.

But here's where it makes sense regardless of traditional, nouveau, analytic or most basic views. When it has mattered and counted most, the Vikings have been able to make that key play to secure victory.

I've known since the summer this team has the talent to win. Through the season, we've seen they have the will and heart to win as well.

And with that combination of head, heart and sinew, whether with a kick, a pick or toe tap stick, this team has made THAT play. So when the clock read triple zeroes, the score reads Vikings win.

Let's keep it rolling.

— Jeff in Sacramento, California

The fortitude has been met with some good fortunes for sure, but the defense has continued to generate turnovers, and special teams notched another couple of major plays to go along with an offense that hit another stride.

I definitely understand that defensive dominance has done quite a bit during the history of this franchise, but the way this team plays together is really starting to take shape. The pressure up front was encouraging to see, and it fed Patrick Peterson's nifty 33rd career interception deep in Minnesota territory to help the Vikings protect a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

I am a Vikings fan since the Fran Tarkenton days. I am really enjoying this season, and all of its craziness.

I have noticed in interviews with Cousins, he reveals what I think to be his biggest nemesis. His own mind and confidence.

When (Patrick Peterson) told the team, "all we need is five touchdowns," he thought "he was being sarcastic." When Joseph was taking the field for the 61-yarder, he was "preparing for overtime." He talks about all the mistakes every week, and how lucky they were to win. I think he is so scared to make mistakes early in games, he overthinks before he throws. Late in the second half, when he has no choice, he seems to throw caution to the wind, and delivers the ball quicker. I hope he takes time to enjoy these wins and relax. I think the mistakes are a driving force in his preparation, but he also needs to see the great in his play. He reminds me of people that are awesome at certain things, but the slightest mistakes, and the hold their head down. Hold your head up Cousins, you are awesome!!!

I am a Cousins fan and love him playing for this team. I think he is better than most give him credit. I hope that the marriage between him and O'Connell, the results of the team, and chemistry and atmosphere are enough to make him consider a fair-market value on an extension.

— Steve in Goldsboro, North Carolina

Some interesting observations from Steve here, and I appreciate the attention to detail of going back to the pressers.

One of the things I've learned about Cousins over the years is how much he appreciates football history. He also spoke after the comeback against the Colts about watching multiple documentaries on the previous record (Bills over Oilers in January 1993). While he might not have known the exact statistics of teams' records when facing that kind of deficit, he just locked in and played it one play at a time. I think multiple Vikings players tried to make too much happen with one play back in Week 2 when things didn't go well at Philadelphia.

Cousins had seen Joseph make similar kicks in training camp, but that was without the level of pressure that can't be simulated in practice. I think his mind went to overtime just because he feels that a little bit of mental preparation can help in those moments.

There might be a little bit of a philosophy of figuring out the kind of game the Vikings are in each week and whether or not the opponent is defending Minnesota the way that was expected when the game plan was built.

O'Connell's background as a former NFL backup QB, as well as other assistant coaches who have played the position at various levels, has to help other players better understand everything on a QB's plate. Teammates and Cousins have been able to build some strong relationships that have been further strengthened by O'Connell and the staff.

I thought a somewhat under-noticed aspect of his play Saturday was how locked in he was after nearly throwing the interception that was reviewed and determined to be an incompletion. He wasn't rattled by that one at all.

Merry Christmas, Craig – wow, yet another must-watch game on Saturday. I figured it would be tough to top last week's win over Indy, but this win against the Giants is a strong contender. A couple thoughts on the game while hunkered down in the cold of Houston. Earlier close games seemed to show either a lack of adjustments by the coaching staff or lack of execution on the field. At times we were exciting to watch, and other times cringeworthy. After watching the past two semi-miracle wins, perhaps the reality is that we are well prepared to the point of being really good but not dominant. The NFL has been striving for parity for years; maybe this is what that parity looks like. If we can continue to step up in the big moments, I'll take it. Clearly the coach is setting a great tone for the team and the players are responding to his leadership. It'll be interesting to see where he fits in the Coach of the Year results.

Now, let's handle business the next two weeks and hopefully get that No. 1 slot in the NFC. SKOL!!!

— Brian in Houston, Texas

Thanks, Brian, for the Christmas wishes and for "cozying up" to the keyboard.

There were a few instances earlier this season of coaches expressing during media sessions that opponents were not doing what the Vikings most expected they'd do based off their film study/advance scouting.

Donatell has often said every game is different in the second half. All the prep work in the world can help, but there will come a time when adjustments are necessary within a game.

The 11 wins in one-score games is a sign of coaches finding just enough correct adjustments and players being able to implement them within a game.

It seems like O'Connell isn't mentioned as frequently as some others during Coach of the Year discussions, but it's hard to argue the résumé he's put together by taking a non-playoff team to a division title. The final couple of weeks of the regular season could impact votes, too. Minnesota is tied for the second-best record in the NFL behind only Philadelphia.

Dear Vikings Team & Community,

As a German fan bleeding purple for about 35 years, I am just thrilled with this season. No matter where it ends this year, I am deeply thankful for being part of this journey, being witness to all the ups and downs. I follow all of your content with joy, but want to express my special appreciation for Gabe [Henderson] and Ben [Leber], who do such a cool job in the post-game analysis. With all the worldwide turbulences nowadays, I feel more Minnesotan than German in the meantime, and I wish I could once attend a home game of my beloved team. Especially after epic wins over the Bills, Colts and now Giants, I am deeply connected with this great team, great camaraderie and great leadership. And such cool guys like Kirk, J.J. or Patrick Peterson, just to name a few of them. Although eyebrow-raising and head-scratching week in week out, too, I am grateful what this team has accomplished this year.

Purple season's greetings and all the best for the playoffs for every member of this, of my, organization.

— Wolfie from Germany

Thanks for the shoutouts to Gabe and Ben. They're great and a wonderful part of the Vikings Entertainment Network that includes so many talented people, including those in roles that are less fan-facing.

I'm lucky to work with a team of people who takes sincere pride in our opportunities to connect our players and coaches with our fans through content.

Hopefully you can make it over to U.S. Bank Stadium. I'm biased, but the venue is truly special, and that's a credit to our fans, who have shared successes and struggles with the franchise for so long.

This year's squad is an incredibly fun team to cover because of the playmaking and personalities. None of the latter undermine the team-focused approach. Instead, the personalities are enriching the collective identity of this squad. Thanks for all the support from afar.

The following questions/comments were sent after the Dec. 26 Mailbag initially published.

I figured leading off this week with MVP talk regarding Jefferson would lead to more conversation, and it did. We'll restart there.

Viking fan for over 45 years — stayed true during all the heartbreaks and huge victories.

Justin is a special young player who is going to break all kinds of records at this pace — why not MVP? Does it always have to be a quarterback? He deserves to be on the ballot no, question.

Side note: Amazing the relationship created between Justin and all the receivers with Kirk this season; love the direction of the team. Need to improve defensive scheme — giving up too many yards and points. This scheme won't go far in playoffs.

SKOL to my Viking brothers,

— John Lombardo (A.K.A. Johnny L.) from Jersey

If Jefferson averages 120 the next two games, he is MVP. Feed him.

— Eddie Braswell

We all know the ability of J.J., but I don't believe enough is said about Kirk on his accuracy to get the ball to him. We need to give Kirk more credit.

— Barb in Somerset Wisconsin — Once a Vikings fan, always a Vikings fan.

I'm sorry I need to disagree for Jefferson being MVP. If we look at the game, Kirk Cousins stands in there, takes the hits put this team in position to win game after game. He was excellent and getting the ball to his receivers. Although taking nothing from Jefferson, it's still has to be a perfect throw with a subpar offensive line. Kirk Cousins does not get the respect that he deserves from Vikings fans or the national media. Flash drive gave us an opportunity with Joseph's field goal. Cousins should be the MVP. SKOL.

— David Reichel

OK, wanted to combine these thoughts about Jefferson (and Cousins).

I think the number of plays that a quarterback touches the football, plus the extremely difficult nature of the position (I believe it's the hardest in sports and have made that case when fans have criticized Cousins) are probably underlying factors for it being a quarterback-driven league and award.

Kirk's accuracy is one of the things that O'Connell mentioned way back in February when he took the job, still beaming from the Rams win in Super Bowl LVI, which was won because of Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford making completions when everyone watching knew that Kupp was where Stafford wanted to go with the football.

And while Cousins has a long history of being accurate, he self-criticized his throw at Buffalo that Jefferson one-handed on fourth-and-18, as well as his second touchdown pass Saturday to Hockenson, that was kind of a reverse David Tyree grab against the Giants of all people. Teammates on the receiving end helped Cousins out, which is part of the equation for any QB.

Jefferson leads the NFL with 174 targets, as well as 123 receptions for 1,756 yards. He's tied for fifth with eight touchdown catches (and would have had another 32 yards and one more score if he hadn't been incorrectly ruled out of bounds in Detroit).

For comparison's sake, Davante Adams ranks second in targets with 160 in his first season with Las Vegas. He has 88 receptions for 1,290 yards and is tied with tight end Travis Kelce for the NFL lead with 12 touchdown catches.

That means Jefferson's catch percentage is at 70.69 this season, which is fifth among players who have at least 86 receptions on the year and more than 15 points higher than Adams' 55.0.

Jefferson ranks second in terms of a player's percentage of his team's targeted air yards (41.9 percent), which trails only Carolina's DJ Moore, who has been targeted 104 times and has 56 receptions with 765 yards and six touchdowns. Those aren't shabby, especially considering the Panthers have had a change in head coach and injuries at QB.

To Eddie's point, Jefferson needs to average 122.0 yards in Minnesota's final two games to become the first receiver to ever post 2,000 in one season. Assuming Jefferson plays in Week 18 (I don't have a clue what the situations will be), that would be with one more game than Johnson had to set the record at 1,964. He's shown incredible focus on contested catches, even when he knows he's going to be hit and often finishes plays with more than what analytics calculates he should. According to Next Gen Stats, he's averaging 5.1 yards after catches, which is 1.1 higher than what he's been expected to average. All that extra juice adds up.

How much? That's more than 625 yards after the catch and almost 125 above what he should have. Those advanced metrics are newer to the consideration, but they should be factors in my opinion.

Cousins has absorbed more hits than anyone would like, and I think people are noticing his toughness and durability a bit more. What they should also appreciate is that he's not strictly dependent on Jefferson. There's a massive volume of targets for Jefferson, and there should be, but Cousins really did a great job of getting the ball where it needed to go during the Colts comeback and again this past week.

Good Morning Football's Kyle Brandt verbalized an MVP case for Cousins on Monday, but stats that voters often look at are not going to be equal to some other quarterbacks.

Do you think we should send the Packers to Valhalla so they are not a factor [in the playoffs]?

— Anthony Smith

Happy Holidays Craig and crew,

Two more seasonal games and then let the playoff fight begin. As the Vikes have succeeded at retaining the second seed spot, I bet now a bigger decision is brewing with the coach and staff. Strike me down for saying this, but would it benefit the team as a whole to play the last two games a bit more conservatively?

There is much to happen before any chance that the Vikes would be even close to getting the No. 1 spot, so by playing more conservatively and keeping players healthy could lead to a better playoff picture for the Vikes. Let's keep the team strong and healthy for the big picture.

Skol

— Jerry in Ohio

It's kind of amazing that if the Vikings win out with a 14-3 mark, it still might not be enough to overtake Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

With the Vikings and Packers scheduled for 3:25 p.m. (CT) Sunday, there's an almost certain chance that the Saints vs. Eagles game with a noon (CT) kickoff will be over before the coin toss at Lambeau Field. And, before that one in Philadelphia, we'll all know whether Dallas handles its business against Tennessee on Thursday. The Cowboys can't lose another game and catch the Eagles for the NFC East. A loss by Dallas would secure the division title for Philly by Friday.

I think the Vikings are well advised to do whatever they can to win to try to win the game — while remembering there's playoff football to be played — because of the benefits it can provide Minnesota and because San Francisco would hold a tiebreaker (record in conference games) over the Vikings if the 49ers win out and Minnesota drops one of its final two. I also expect the Packers to put everything on the line a week after going for it on five fourth downs in Miami and converting three.

I've often pondered whether it's better to be completely refreshed for the first playoff game or if it's good to continue to face pressure and compete week after week. I personally think it was great that the Vikings knew during their comeback against the Colts that the 49ers had already won that week's Thursday Night Football game, meaning Minnesota would go from No. 2 to No. 3. My colleague Sam Thiel detailed O'Connell's mindset and approach to balancing out this equation down the stretch.

Perhaps there is no answer to this, but why does the NFL schedule the NFC North division's outdoor stadium games in December and January? In the early fall (Sept. and Oct.), the Vikes played the Packers and the Bears indoor in great fall football weather. And now, the Vikes will be up against those two teams in the teeth of winter. The Lions (another indoor team) will be in Green Bay for game 17. All that money spent for indoor stadiums here and elsewhere, and the league decides they shouldn't be used when they are most needed! Makes no sense. Unless it's a bias for the Packers being built into the schedule.

— Pat Lamey

I think deep down, the NFL and broadcast network partners love opportunities for snow games. I don't think there's a bias for a team, but they know that snow games have been popular for TV audiences over the years.

The forecast for Green Bay at the time of this writing is a low of 29 and high of 34 with a 50-percent chance of snow. The temperature is much more tolerable than in some late season trips there.

Temperature conditions are supposed to be similar Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Minnesota, and O'Connell said the Vikings plan to spend some time practicing outdoors. Snow and rain can impact games, but so can wind, so we'll see what things are looking like later this week and next.

You could almost count on the Vikings closing a regular season by hosting the Bears since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016 (five times in the first six seasons), so it's only fair to rotate from time to time.

Minnesota was able to build its lead in the division by taking advantage of the home games against Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago in Weeks 1, 3 and 5. Now it needs to prove itself in some elements to try to get as many home playoff games as possible.

This was just the second time since the NFL created its current division alignment in 2002 for the Vikings to host all three NFC North foes before visiting at least one of the teams.

The previous occurrence was 2006 when Minnesota fell to Chicago in Week 3, topped Detroit in Week 5 and lost to Green Bay in Week 10 before spending three-fifths of December on the road (loss at Chicago, win at Detroit, loss at Green Bay).

I'll definitely be thinking about my VEN teammates who have on-field assignments in those games. Please send them warm thoughts.

View the Vikings in big head mode from the Week 16 victory over the Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Since [James] Lynch was injured, what do you think about maybe moving Hunter to DE and D.J. Wonnum and Pat Jones II playing the edge?

— Kenneth Beroid

Lynch has done a good bit of dirty work for the Vikings on the interior defensive line. Harrison Phillips compared his role to a fire hydrant when he first signed with Minnesota.

We haven't put out much content on Khyiris Tonga, but he's been filling in nicely while Jonathan Bullard (Injured Reserve) and Ross Blacklock (last played on Thanksgiving). I thought Hunter and Tonga had their best games of 2022 this past week.

Instead of moving Hunter to an interior spot, except when a matchup is particularly schemed to get him on an interior lineman, I think he might be best served to continue advancing within the new scheme. If a play gets to the edge, Hunter has a bit more speed than Wonnum or Jones to chase things down.

Rookie Esezi Otomewo first debuted in Detroit and has made some nice plays quickly, but the Vikings are looking a little thin on the interior of the defense. If the Vikings are worried about depth on the interior, they might consider elevating veteran Sheldon Day, who joined the Vikings practice squad recently.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

What is being done internally to correct these continued lapses in our 2-minute defensive plans. We must start putting these teams away and not continue to put the pressure back on our offense after continued blown late fourth-quarter leads. This can't continue against playoff teams. You are making this one of the best watched, heart stopping seasons in a long time. Go Vikings!!

— Jim Gehner

The only good thing that can be said about allowing two of New York's four longest plays (a 32-yard reception on third-and-2 and the 27-yard untouched Saquon Barkley touchdown run on fourth-and-2) on the Giants final drive of the game was that it left 2:01 on the clock for a Vikings team that only had one timeout remaining.

The fourth-and-2 play was Giants Head Coach Brian Daboll essentially saying, 'Barkley is my best. Try to stop him.' Daniel Jones' ability to scramble for 8 on third-and-10 made a run possible.

Other teams make plays, too, but there were probably a few times the defense or the offense could have put that one away earlier.

Like every week, the Vikings take a critical look at all aspects of the game and teach from the film.

I grew up in Minnesota and have been a fan since the 1961 inaugural season.

*Championship defense comes down to keeping the opponent out of the end zone at critical moments in big games. Defensive statistics between the 20s are often inconsequential. Bend but don't break teams win championships. *

Check out the 2017-18 Patriots 2017-18 Super Bowl [runner-up] season. The Pats gave up the fourth most total yards and the third most passing yards that season. The Vikings had the top defense but gave up 38 points to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

This season, the Vikings are eighth in total takeaways, which is arguably the key defensive stat in close games. They've also got the ninth best third down defensive percentage, and they're 15th in red zone touchdowns allowed.

They rise to the occasion! With the seventh highest scoring offense (fifth in the last three games) and opportunistic defensive and special teams play, I'll take this team in the playoffs any season.

— Greg Borchert in Lafayette, Colorado

I lean more toward Greg's line of thinking, particularly when a team has been as clutch as the Vikings at creating turnovers, but I also believe there's nothing wrong with getting teams off the field with a three-and-out. The Vikings have 23 takeaways on the season, which does rank eighth. Dallas has 30, and Philadelphia has 26, followed by New England with 25, and four teams with 24 (Baltimore, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Buffalo).

Three of those teams (Vikings, 49ers and Bills) have clinched their divisions, and three more (Ravens, Eagles and Cowboys) have secured playoff berths. Jacksonville can secure its division with a win over Tennessee in Week 18, and New England is in striking distance as well.

That's a strong correlation between taking the ball away and making the playoffs.

There's also usually quite a bit of overlap between winning teams having success on third down.

I'll admit I haven't thought too deeply about cumulative red zone touchdowns allowed over the course of the season, but I always pay attention to that during games.

The numbers I've seen have Minnesota tied with Tennessee for 14th in red zone touchdowns allowed (25) out of 134 plays. The Vikings are tied for second in the NFL with 16 sacks on plays in the red zone and are tied for 12th with six turnovers.

There are usually a handful of plays that sway a close game, and the Vikings have been consistently winning more of those plays.

I think the offense is awesome, but still needs to protect Kirk Cousins with more offensive lineman.

Vikings should've kept Linval Joseph on the defense and need two more players on defense!

— Mr. Jackie Jackson

We have the talent at QB, WR, TE and RB. The weakness is the offensive line. How they go depends how the offense goes. They say Cousins is the most hit QB in the league. You see Cousins getting up off the turf a lot. Watch the opposing teams pass protection compared to ours. The rookie right guard is not cutting it along with a center who should be a lot better by this time after this many years in the league. I am tired of hearing the excuse he is holding on to the ball too long.

— Gene Draper in Clear Lake, Iowa

The Vikings offensive line has done some good things this season. Starting tackles Christian Darrisaw and Brian O'Neill have delivered on their preseason potential.

The interior o-line was a question mark on the way into the season. Gene is referencing Ed Ingram at right guard and center Garrett Bradbury, the latter of whom was often asked about before the season started. Bradbury has actually been inactive for the past three weeks because of a back injury, but I think he was playing well prior to the injury. Veteran offseason signee Austin Schlottmann has filled in for him at the spot that handles so much communication for protections.

Sometimes the Vikings are calling multiple plays in the huddle, which might be adding to the challenge for Ingram. Everyone is expected to be able to handle their tasks for sure, but there's usually a couple of years of developing a lineman, unless they hit the ground running the way Darrisaw and O'Neill have.

Cousins had to throw a bunch against Indianapolis (he attempted 54 passes and was sacked seven times), and the Vikings needed to send eligible receivers out on patterns instead of max protection, chipping/picking up pressure.

The Vikings opted to have him attempt 48 passes (he was sacked four times) against the Giants in a game they trailed (by three) for just 5:19.

The success the Vikings have found on quick screens to the outside in the past two weeks is encouraging because it's led to some key plays like Cook's 64-yard touchdown and Jefferson's critical 17-yard gain on a third-and-11 before Greg Joseph's 61-yarder. A few more quality runs would help, too, but the Vikings were also trying to be aggressive by throwing on early downs while trying to neutralize/stay away from Giants blitzes and had been bitten by negative runs at Detroit.

I've continued to wish Linval Joseph well, personally. He was with the Chargers for two seasons before signing with the Eagles in mid-November.

Great game! Stop making them so close! Many of us diehards could have a heart attack. Seriously keep up the good work! I'm calling you the Cinderella team of the North!

Sincerely,

— Cindy R. Malm

As long as midnight doesn't strike until Feb. 13, I think most are A-OK with that moniker. Any perception of bias aside, I do think it's a very compelling team to pay attention to and root for if fans are neutral or if their hometown team doesn't make the grand ball.

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