It appeared early this season that the five-game stretch the Vikings just completed, from their Nov. 7 game at Washington through their game on Sunday against the Jets, would be their toughest of the season.
The run certainly lived up to its billing. After a fourth-quarter comeback to win against the Commanders and a 17-point rally to beat the Bills in overtime the following week, the Vikings suffered the second-worst home loss in franchise history against the Cowboys. They needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Patriots on Thanksgiving night, and five red-zone stops to turn back the Jets on Sunday.
But the Vikings went 4-1 in the stretch against five teams with combined records of 38-22-1. It put them in position to become the first team to clinch a division title with a win on Sunday in Detroit, and it helped them build a résumé with which to refute some of the questions about how good they really are.
As of Monday morning, the Vikings had played the NFL's sixth-toughest schedule, facing opponents with a combined winning percentage of .534. Their strength of victory was .476, the fifth-best figure in the league.
Their record (10-2) remains at odds with their margin of victory this season; they've only outscored opponents by 10 points, and have built their record with a 9-0 mark in one-score games. But two comeback victories on the road, and a pair of close wins at home, have quieted some of the questions about the Vikings' (and specifically quarterback Kirk Cousins') grit. Cousins' performance against the Patriots — 30 of 37 for 299 yards, three touchdowns and an interception — might have been his best game of the year, and it came in a prime-time game on NBC.
The loss to the Cowboys raised concerning questions about how the Vikings would handle themselves against a team with a violent pass rush in the playoffs. They'll await left tackle Christian Darrisaw's return and cross their fingers he can avoid a third concussion when he gets back on the field. A matchup with Dallas or San Francisco, should the 49ers make the playoffs without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, could be trouble for the Vikings, and it's entirely possible they'll have to go through Philadelphia again if they want to reach the Super Bowl.
But the Vikings avoided the kind of losing streak that could have really taken their season off-course. They rallied to win twice on the road, beating the AFC's current No. 1 seed in the game of the year, and bounced back from the Cowboys game to beat the Patriots in a short week. After they lost Darrisaw in Dallas' dominant win and wide receiver Justin Jefferson called for the offense to adapt, the Vikings adjusted their scheme enough to function against two talented defensive fronts, even though Cousins absorbed plenty of hits in both the Patriots and Jets games.
If nothing else, the Vikings proved they could win in some tough circumstances during their five-game stretch. As safety Harrison Smith said Sunday, the stress in many of the Vikings' games has simulated what they'll see face in the playoffs. Should they make a run in January, they could call back to what they weathered in November.
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