On Sunday, the Vikings lost at home to what was thought to be the NFL’s worst team. Thursday, they’ll face what might be the NFL’s best, the Rams in Los Angeles, and next week they’ll face the defending Super Bowl champions in Philadelphia, two places presenting challenges and locales as different as sunburn and heartburn.
This is a bad time for bad omens.
This bicoastal 10-day test could leave one of the presumably elite NFL teams at 1-3-1, which would not necessarily prove disastrous but would evoke memories of Vikings seasons lost.
We know this franchise. The Vikings don’t stub their toes. They fracture their feet. There are already ominous signs that this season could be more like 2010, when they got their coach fired, than 2009, when they came within a swollen ankle and an extra man in the huddle from playing in a Super Bowl they would probably have won.
In 2010, star receiver Sidney Rice went from being Brett Favre’s favorite receiver to a player who cared more about money than achievement. That was his right, but his passive-aggressive approach to football helped ruined that season and perhaps his career.
Favre had to be talked into playing and did so mostly for the money, admitting himself during his first news conference after signing the contract that the team would not be the same.
Brad Childress lost the locker room and his job, and in an act of God or sublime satire, the Metrodome collapsed.
This is feeling like then.
There is no comfortable way to blend real-life tragedy with analysis of a team’s fortunes, but the former does affect the latter, and two important figures have passed — highly regarded offensive line coach Tony Sparano and beloved team historian Fred Zamberletti.
Nine days into the season the Vikings released the rookie kicker that they had traded up to draft after he cost them the victory the franchise covets most — at Lambeau Field.
In training camp, cornerback Xavier Rhodes sparred with receiver Stefon Diggs so often that coach Mike Zimmer banished them to the locker room. Sunday, during what may have been the least-explicable loss in franchise history, Zimmer and Rhodes bickered on the sideline.
Last week, star defensive end Everson Griffen missed practice because of a knee injury, and Sunday Zimmer said Griffen was dealing with a personal matter. Now we know that Griffen has been dealing with mental health issues and is being treated.
The offensive line, the weak spot of a powerhouse roster, lost guard Nick Easton before the season began and rookie center Pat Elflein missed training camp and the first regular-season game before returning to limited action last week. Sunday, Buffalo overwhelmed the offensive line, and Thursday the line will face the great Aaron Donald, the intimidating Ndamukong Suh and the wizardly defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Vikings’ choice of cornerback Mike Hughes added an exceptional athlete to an important position but, just as the drafting of kicker Daniel Carlson, ignored the team’s position of need in a win-now season.
Zimmer stood at the lectern after the Vikings beat San Francisco in Week 1 and chortled about everyone who wanted him to take an offensive lineman in the first round. Hughes had played well, returning an interception for a touchdown. Zimmer didn’t chortle Sunday, when his offensive line may have cost the Vikings a victory.
All of the apt disclaimers apply here, of course. The Vikings could win one or both of the next two games and set themselves up for another successful season. They could lose the next two and rally to win the division and enter the playoffs as a stronger team than the one that was exposed by the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game last year.
But atmosphere matters when you’re dealing with humans, and this Vikings season is already seasoned with sadness and concern.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org