With the exception of the rare extreme mismatch in the NFL, most games hinge on the outcomes of 3-5 plays.
And within the context of those games, themes emerge — and get hyper-contextualized when they happen in the first game of the year.
As such, here are the things we thought we had learned after the Vikings' 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals a week ago:
*The offensive line was an undisciplined mess. Whether it was pre-snap penalties, post-snap penalties, the inability to protect QB Kirk Cousins or the lack of holes for Dalvin Cook, the revamped offensive line looked even worse than last year's subpar line.
*The kicking game, a huge question mark coming into the season, was a pleasant surprise as a spot of strength in the opener. Placekicker Greg Joseph made a game-tying 52-yard field goal against the Bengals. Jordan Berry's overtime punt was a huge difference-maker.
But as Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, the script changed in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals.
If you don't see the podcast player, tap here to listen.
So of course the exact opposite happened against the Cardinals.
The offensive line protected Cousins quite well, giving him time enough to throw while giving up just one sack. Cook had lots of gaping holes, particularly in the first half, as he ran for 131 yards as part of a very balanced offense.
And the kicking game ... well, that has been well-documented already. But Joseph missed an extra point and what would have been the game-winning 37-yard field goal at the end of the game.
Joseph has made three field goals of 50-plus already in two games. So he has contributed. But those two short kicks were killers.
Per Pro Football Reference, NFL kickers so far this season have made 146 out of 154 extra points (95%) and 28 of 30 field goals (93%) from between 30 and 39 yards.
Those are chip shots in the modern NFL. Those are the ones you need to know your kicker is going to make.
But here's the secret of the NFL: The mediocre teams don't know what they can count on from week to week. They are constantly playing whack-a-mole with their problems, fixing them until something else pops up.
They often flare up at the worst times, in those 3-4 plays that determine the outcomes of games.
That's the 2021 Vikings. Supremely gifted in some areas. Exceedingly deficient in others. And never knowing exactly what they are going to get from everyone else.
Who knows what problems will be solved — or more likely emerge — against the Seahawks next week.