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Vikings 23, Packers 7


by Patrick P. Marek


When fans enter U.S. Bank Stadium for a Vikings game they are welcomed to the frozen north with an actual indoor snow flurry.

For last Sunday’s border battle with the Packers, it would have been appropriate if Minnesota’s special effects experts would have pivoted to create a giant rainbow to span the field with a huge pot of gold in each end zone. It was a new day, full of promise, pleasant surprises, and lots of fanfare from what Packers coach Matt LaFluer calls “that annoying horn,” as the Vikings methodically destroyed the Packers 23-7 in the season opener.

There was a recent nationally syndicated column that featured many past and present Vikings players and coaches throwing Mike Zimmer under the bus for creating a toxic work environment. It claimed that Zimmer’s perpetual grouchiness and eternally torked-off bad mood created a suffocating negative cloud that choked everybody in the organization, from the construction workers to food service employees, assistant coaches, and the players (especially kickers). Everyone was so afraid to make a mistake that they couldn’t cut loose with their best effort, fearing that failure would get them benched, fired, or subject to Zimmer’s vitriol in team meetings. One former coach even went so far to say that the Vikings would thrive “because the devil’s gone. Satan is out of the building.”

It certainly seemed like past Vikings demons had been exorcized during their relentless destruction of their NFC North rivals on Sunday. Minnesota scored on their first possession and kept their foot on the gas for the entire game. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith convened their first meeting of the “Edge Department” in style, starting with a choreographed celebration before they sprinted onto the field, and then making Aaron Rodgers miserable for the entire game. Both Smith and Hunter had sacks, and the defense tallied four sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery against the flustered Packers signal caller. Aaron Rodgers showed his true colors on Sunday … Vikings bruise purple. Minnesota actually had a stroke of luck when rookie wide receiver Christian Watson, wide open after beating Patrick Peterson dropped a perfect pass on Green Bay’s first possession of the game that would have been a 75-yard-touchdown to tie the score. Rodgers was quick to voice his frustration on the bench, and as the wheels began to fall off for the Packers, his facial expressions looked like a man who had a mouthful of bad cheese that he couldn’t spit out.

Justin Jefferson was so excited when Kevin O’Connell was named Vikings head coach that it’s a wonder that he didn’t offer to help move the furniture into his new house.

That’s because he had watched how the Rams used last year’s MVP receiver Cooper Kupp in their Super Bowl-winning offense. Even though Kupp was a marked man every time he took the field, O’Connell and the Rams’ brain trust managed to scheme ways to get him open. I admit I was a little nervous when Jefferson announced that he had set a goal of over 2,000 receiving yards for the season. However, when I attended training camp in August, and watched the wide receiver drills, I became a believer. Quite simply, Jefferson was always open. Nobody could cover him, and it was more of the same on Sunday. Minnesota moved Jefferson all over their formations, and he responded by catching nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. By halftime, Jefferson already had six catches for 158 yards and both touchdowns. Jefferson had a few contested catches, but most of the time he was wide open. Rumor has it that Minnesota is already loading up the Brinks truck, preparing to make Jefferson the highest paid receiver in the NFL next year. For now, let’s just strap ourselves in and watch the best receiver the Vikings have put on the field since Randy Moss.

Here are some more encouraging examples that the Vikings have risen from the ashes of their disappointing past and are ready to put the league and their fans on notice that they can be one of the best teams in the NFL: Kirk Cousins was aggressive and accurate, the offensive line was serviceable, the defense stopped the run as well as choking off big plays, and both kickers had productive and drama-free performances.

Best of all is the purple elephant in the room that no one is talking about. Minnesota didn’t even give the Packers a whiff of hope with two minutes remaining in the half and the end of the game. Last year’s team set an NFL record for futility during their opponents’ two-minute drill.

Finally, I know that I have been one of Mike Zimmer’s biggest critics over the last few years. He certainly deserved the scrutiny, but after this one last observation, I have decided that it’s time to stop. Think back to the vision of Mike Zimmer on the sidelines … arms crossed, and a facial expression that alternated between dour and furious.

Now compare that image to the demeanor that Kevin O’Connell showed on the field. He looked like a kid who had just gotten the keys to his dad’s Porsche. The Vikings did a total “George Costanza” move with their choices of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell and chose the exact opposite vision from the Spielman/Zimmer regime. For now, all I can say is: “Viva la difference!”