Don’t Panic After The Vikings’ Week 1 Loss To The Buccaneers
Fans do a funny thing when the NFL schedule gets released. They break it down game-by-game and predict their team’s final win total. Any fan who gets too emotionally involved will get way too optimistic. Essentially, beat any team that wasn’t in the playoffs, split games against playoff teams, and add an upset or two. Soon after, your favorite team is 11-6 and you’re dreaming of a Super Bowl berth.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Minnesota Vikings fans were ready to forfeit the 2023 NFL season after their 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Untimely turnovers doomed the Vikings and allowed the Bucs to stay in a game that could have been put away by halftime. Instead, Tampa Bay would control the clock during the second half and adjust to what the Brian Flores-led Vikings defense threw at him.
The Week 1 dud to start Kevin O’Connell’s second season as head coach brings back memories of other early-season duds in recent Vikings history. To finish off opening weekend of the 2015 season, the Vikings traveled to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that had just parted ways with Jim Harbaugh. Players were abruptly retiring, and it appeared as if the Vikings would have a cake walk to a 1-0 start.
Instead, the 49ers would waltz to a 20-3 victory, upsetting the Vikings and giving then-head coach Mike Zimmer his first public bashing. Zimmer was entering his second season as head coach and had improved the Vikings defense in 2014. But that didn’t carry over to begin the 2015 season as San Francisco ran for 230 yards and amassed 395 total yards of offense. The Vikings only accumulated 248 total yards of offense.
As bleak as opening night was, the season ultimately played out how most expected. The 49ers finished 5-11 in their one and only season with head coach Jim Tomsula and he was fired after the season. Meanwhile, the Vikings would bounce back the following week, winning seven of their next eight games. By season’s end, Minnesota would win the NFC North and come within a 27-yard field goal of winning their Wild Card matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
2015 isn’t the only season the Vikings got off to a rough start with a coach young into his tenure. In 2008, the Vikings were entering Year 3 with head coach Brad Childress and expectations were high. Minnesota had made marketed improvement between Childress’ first and second seasons, going from 6-10 in 2006 to 8-8 in 2007. The Green Bay Packers had just traded Brett Favre to the New York Jets, and the NFC North crown was up for grabs.
Unfortunately, with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, the Vikings offense would struggle and the team would drop their first two games. The first was at Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers played in his first start as the Packers’ quarterback. One week later, the Vikings would squander a 15-point lead to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Childress made the decision to bench Jackson for longtime veteran Gus Frerotte, and the Vikings began to roll. Although Frerotte was unspectacular, he gave the Vikings stability at quarterback. The Vikings would go 10-4 the rest of the way, winning their first division title in eight years. Although the Packers were victorious opening night, they would finish the season 6-10. The Colts faced the same fate as the Vikings, dropping their Wild Card matchup against the San Diego Chargers.
This isn’t to say that the 2023 Vikings are destined to make a playoff run or even defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night. But it does show that these individual games are what they are: individual games and not season-deciding showdowns. O’Connell and Co. didn’t have their best showing on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t get back on track.
And although losing to Baker Mayfield may not be the best look ever, the Buccaneers aren’t an NFC North foe. The loss doesn’t carry as much weight as a loss to the Packers, Bears, or Lions would be. Sure, the Eagles game looms on the schedule this Thursday. But even then, is the NFC North so tough that there is no room for error? The Lions needed the Chiefs to be down two of their best players last Thursday night to eek out a one-point victory.
So be disappointed. Criticize who needs to be criticized on Sunday. But don’t let it blind your season outlook. There are still 16 games left, and players across the league will improve, regress, and get injured, always altering the who will and will not succeed. As a wise man once said, “R-E-L-A-X”.