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After two wins over two really good teams, I am beginning to think this Vikings team is for real. Still a lot of games to play, but standing tall against the Packers makes one think that more wins could be coming up the road. This team has shown it can play with the best, and nobody out there now is looking forward to playing us. Are we talking playoffs yet??
— Curt in Valdosta, Georgia
I led with a question from Curt because his email actually started us off a few weeks ago after the loss in Baltimore.
Back then, he noted things were "starting to get depressing" as the Vikings had come out of the bye with back-to-back close losses.
What a difference a few weeks make, huh?
Now, the Vikings have won back-to-back close games and have gotten to .500 with seven games to go. And, like I mentioned in last week's Mailbag, to close out a tough four-game stretch with consecutive wins over the Chargers and Packers has this team feeling good right now.
To me, the biggest reason for optimism of late is the play of Justin Jefferson. We hit on his 143-yard game against Los Angeles last week, but he was even better with 169 yards and two scores in Sunday's Border Battle.
The dude is a superstar, plain and simple, and needs to get the ball as often as possible when he's on the field. It's not a coincidence that the two losses referenced above featured nine combined targets to Jefferson.
In the past two games, Jefferson has been targeted 21 times. He has 17 catches for 321 yards and two scores in back-to-back wins. That yardage total is the fifth-most in a two-game stretch in team history.
His 169 yards is the fourth-most by a Viking against the Packers, and his 104 first-quarter tally is also the fourth-most in Vikings lore.
All of that is to say Jefferson is incredible. For my money, he is the best and most important player on offense, and should be utilized as such.
And it should be noted that despite a strong offensive performance Sunday, the Vikings still found themselves in yet another close game (just as they have all season).
At this point, it should just be expected that every game the rest of the way is going to be decided by seven or fewer points.
Just ask Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer:
"I guess every one of these games is going to come down to the last play of the game, like they have all year," Zimmer quipped postgame.
But he does like how his team has responded after falling to 3-5 earlier this month.
"I know we've lost a couple of these close games, but we've got a lot of heart and a lot of fight," Zimmer said. "Hopefully we'll keep winning these types of games as opposed to when we were losing them earlier."
As for the playoffs, as Curt wondered above, the Vikings are very much in play as we approach Thanksgiving. According to the website FiveThirtyEight.com, Minnesota currently has a 59 percent chance to get into the dance.
While so much talk has been made of Minnesota competing for the No. 7 seed, the Vikings actually hold the No. 6 spot after Week 11.
In my mind, there are seven NFC teams fighting for two Wild Card spots at the moment. That's as of today, by the way, as some teams (such as the Vikings) could get back into their respective division races over time.
To me, that group of seven includes: Minnesota and New Orleans (both of whom are 5-5 and currently hold playoff spots), plus San Francisco (5-5), along with Philadelphia and Carolina (both 5-6), and Washington and Atlanta, both of whom are 4-6.
There's a lot to be figured out down the stretch, but the Vikings already hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers … and can get another one Sunday if they beat the 49ers.
Once again, next week's game feels like it has so much riding on it.
Win, and the Vikings are officially rolling and finally above .500.
Lose, and the Vikings will continue their seesaw season in 2021.
But there's no doubt the Vikings will enter Week 12 with perhaps the most confidence they have had all season.
Hi Eric … there is a lot to critique in this game, but what is noteworthy to me was Kirk Cousins' mental and physical toughness to stand in collapsing pockets and deliver! SKOL!
— Randy in Las Vegas
Randy makes a great point, and plenty of credit needs to be shown toward Cousins, whose play has mirrored that of his team rece.
The quarterback was fine but not spectacular after the bye, and the Vikings lost two straight games.
But he's been red-hot the past two weeks, throwing for 635 yards with five touchdowns and no picks.
And, he's seemingly shown a bit more aggressiveness, too, in terms of deep shots. That was evident against Los Angeles and again Sunday vs. the Packers.
Against Green Bay, he averaged 13.64 yards per completion (341 yards on 25 completions). It's just one game, but that number would lead all quarterbacks if played out over a full season.
Is Cousins going to suddenly start chucking the ball downfield every play? No, as he admitted as much Sunday. Here part of his answer when asked about measuring risk against playing it safe:
"I could kind of point to a half-dozen throws there that were too aggressive … I don't think you want to live doing that," Cousins said. "I think that we got away with it a couple times.
He later added: "You don't want to live in a world throwing the ball into a covered player and crossing your fingers. You don't want to live in that world. There's a time and a place for it but you also want to be a smart football player."
Cousins routinely uses the word "methodical" in his press conferences, and oftentimes says that his throws go where his reads take him.
But there has certainly been an effort to get him to unleash it a bit more of late, with Zimmer saying last weekend that he's OK with an interception or two if it means a more aggressive mindset.
Perhaps the Vikings offensive mindset is shifting a bit from a run-first attack to a preferred passing scheme?
Time will tell, as we'd likely need to see a larger sample size than just a few games.
But one thing is clear, when Cousins plays well and fires the ball around, it gives the Vikings a strong chance to win.
That was the case again Sunday against the Packers.
Why do we have such a hard time containing on third-and long? In this game against the Packers, we had third-and-12 and gave up a -yard pass. Had third-and-8 and gave up another first down. Our defense has to be on the bottom of the league or close on giving up first downs on these plays.
Bud's email came through during the game, and I don't blame his frustration.
Early on, the Vikings third-down defense seemed to be clicking against Green Bay.
Armon Watts had a strip-sack on Rodgers (even if the QB did recover), and the Packers were stifled on two of their first three third-down attempts.
And even though the 39-yard completion on third-and-12 that was a bit deflating, the Vikings stopped the Packers on the next two third-down attempts. At this point, Green Bay was 2-for-6 on third downs.
After that? Nothing went right for Minnesota's defense on the down as Green Bay converted its final five attempts.
The plays had the following results:
Third-and-8: 15-yard completion
Third-and-5: 25-yard touchdown pass
Third-and-6: 13-yard completion
Third-and-1: 7-yard run
Third-and-6: 18-yard touchdown pass
Not great, and Zimmer emphasized that point after the game.
"We really couldn't get them stopped in the second half," Zimmer said.
Zimmer is right, and he also made sure to note the opposing quarterback is one of the game's greats and pulls in a hefty salary because of his great skill set.
Overall, the Vikings will always be relatively strong on third downs as long as Zimmer is scheming up creative ways to succeed.
But the performance in the final 35 minutes or so of Sunday's game wasn't anything to write home about.
View game action photos of the Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers during the Week 11 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Way to go, kid!! This is in reference to Greg Joseph.
— Joe from Pennsylvania
We'll end on a positive note, as Joseph's game-winning, 29-yard field goal sent everybody home happy Sunday afternoon.
That might be one of the shortest field goals of his career, but the Vikings will take it.
And Minnesota will also take the general steadiness Joseph has brought to the team this season. He's made 21 of 25 field goals, and is 21-for-23 on extra points, including Sunday's miss.
No kicker will ever be perfect, but Joseph has fared well in his first season in Purple.
And, what a thrill for the kicker, who was playing in his first Border Battle showdown. We'll let the guy who played hero on the game's final play have the final word of this Mailbag.
"A memory I'll have for a lifetime," Joseph said. "Like I said, credit to the Packers for an awesome game. But I'm ecstatic to put a win in the column for the Vikings at home against a division rival, you can't beat it."