Murphy: Vikings' Week 1 loss sets up for wild ride ahead

Brian Murphy breaks down a chaotic Vikings loss in his first Purple Insider column

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Editor’s Note: We’re excited to have former Pioneer Press columnist Brian Murphy contributing columns to Purple Insider following Vikings games this season. Enjoy Brian’s creative writing and grizzled view of Vikings football…

By Brian Murphy, special to Purple Insider

Baby, if you’ve ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me. I’m living in despair in Cincinnati … Cincinnati, Vikings RIP? 

OK, so debuting a column on a second-year startup by co-opting the theme song to a 40-year-old sitcom is not exactly cutting edge. Whatever. The Vikings have been gutting their fans for a hell of a lot longer, so indulge me in a little creative license after witnessing Sunday what could only be described as crimes against humanity. 

Turns out, fastidious newsman Less Nessman had one more dead-weight turkey to describe slamming into the pavement in the Queen City: the fiasco that was Minnesota’s eye-gouging 27-24 loss to the bungling Bengals at sweltering Paul Brown Stadium. 

The Vikings christened the 2021 season by shooting themselves in the feet, chest and finally their face before surrendering to Evan McPherson’s 33-yard winning field goal in the waning seconds of overtime.

It wasn’t that the Vikings lost their opener to a supposedly inferior opponent. Starting 0-1 on the road hardly is a death knell, not with a 17th game this season to repent for a multitude of sins. It was the way they lost.  

Dysfunctional at best, inexcusable at worst. And nary a Kirk Cousins fingerprint to be lifted. 

This veteran (and supposedly disciplined) team was flagged 15 times for 12 accepted penalties that cost them 166 yards. The first of six – SIX! -- false starts occurred on the inaugural snap of the season when fullback C.J. Ham jumped. 

The relentless backpedaling via the flag exposed an already suspect and overmatched offensive line that may put their panicked quarterback in the hospital and coach Mike Zimmer in an early grave.  

A dozen penalties by halftime practically forced referee Adrian Hill to guzzle tea and honey and chomp a fistful of throat lozenges. Every offensive lineman was dinged at least once as the unit accounted for 70 negative yards. 

And do not dare wrap this in overzealous officiating or replay controversy. Minnesota was 0-2 on reviews, including a crucial fumble by running back Dalvin Cook late in overtime that essentially teed up the winning kick. 

Both were borderline calls. The first one cost Justin Jefferson a touchdown and the Vikings a key second-half timeout, while the last one cost them everything. Bury them in the back of a damning evidence file that should sentence Minnesota to a week of penance before traveling to Arizona for a suddenly critical Week 2 matchup against the resurgent Cardinals. 

Two losses are more than possible before the Vikings open up at US Bank Stadium against Seattle and longtime nemesis Russell Wilson, who torched the Colts with four touchdown passes Sunday.  

The Vikings are staring at an 0-3 start that may put Zimmer, Cousins and general manager Rick Spielman on death row. All while the Delta variant surges and stalks the unvaccinated star trio of Cousins, Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith with a black hood and sickle. 

Having fun yet? 

“I think when you have a chance to win a game in this league, because they’re so hard-fought, anytime you get close and don’t get it done, it hurts,” said Cousins. “And it always will.” 

The haters will always find a way to tar and feather the blithely oblivious Cousins for every loss. No quarterback is better at scrambling into a sack than the 10-year veteran, whose feet are either too happy in the pocket or encased in cement. 

Zimmer seized another opportunity to passive aggressively slam his signal caller when he told a FOX sideline reporter at halftime that Cousins was holding on to the ball too long. The tension between the shotgun-married couple is thicker than a seven-layer wedding cake after Cousins was sidelined during the preseason when contract tracing banished him into quarantine.

Nonetheless, Cousins has plenty of scapegoats to blame for this Sunday shortcoming. Every one of his pass protectors needs their creaky hinges oiled before we’re all pouring one out for Kirk. 

Despite the fire drills in the backfield, Cousins threw for 351 yards and two scores. He also led Minnesota, without any timeouts, on a nervy nine-play, 60-yard drive in the final 1:48 to set up Greg Joseph’s 53-yard field goal that forced overtime. It included a clutch completion to receiver K.J. Osborn to convert a fourth-and-4 at midfield with 37 seconds remaining. 

However, the Vikings were fighting uphill throughout a hot and humid day. Third-and-forever is no way to succeed in the NFL. The relentless penalties made it impossible. Any other mistakes like Cook’s fumble or an end-of-half touchdown to receiver Ja’Marr Chase were amplified.

“We’ve just got to clean it up,” Zimmer groused. “There were too many mistakes. It was disappointing.” 

The offensive line blood is on the hands of the front office and Spielman, who carries around his perennial inability to fortify that unit like a disease. 

All offseason and training camp, even when rookie first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw was sidelined after reinjuring his surgically repaired groin, we were told to believe in Darrisaw’s replacement and the new right and left guards, but the lack of cohesion, competency and confidence were startling against the Bengals. And there does not seem to be enough spackling left to repair the damage. 

A trip to the desert and a matchup against a Cardinals team that thrashed Tennessee 38-13 awaits Minnesota before a pair of home games against 2020 playoff teams Seattle and Cleveland.  

The fatalism that hangs over Vikings fans and taunts them to drink early and often every autumn weekend is like a fog moving in from all directions. A heaviness that you cannot shake. You can smell the chaos on the horizon. 

Grab your tumbler and butter that popcorn. They’ll either turn this around or sink. Either way, it’s going to be an entertaining show.

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