MINNEAPOLIS -- Either it's all downhill from here or the Minnesota Vikings are going to Miami for the Super Bowl.
What a start to a game.
What a start to a season.
If one of the worst endings to a Vikings season came against Atlanta — see NFC Championship Game, circa 1998 — two decades later the Falcons provided a remarkable ignition of hope for fans still waiting for a return to the big game.
Of course, you know what they say about hope.
It's a dangerous thing. This is how it works with Minnesota sports, the Vikings especially.
A 28-12 domination will raise expectations, though, and the 2019 Vikings got things started the right way. Four sacks, 174 rushing yards, plus-4 in turnovers. They owned the Falcons in every aspect of the game, right from the start.
On the game's first play from scrimmage, Atlanta didn't block Anthony Barr and the Minnesota linebacker hammered quarterback Matt Ryan for an eight-yard sack.
Three plays after that, Eric Wilson bolted through the Falcons' line and blocked Matt Bosher's punt to give Minnesota the ball at Atlanta's 21.
Three plays after that, following a holding penalty, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen on a short pass and the receiver rolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
Three minutes and change into the game and the Vikings led 7-0.
The defense, special teams and offense all got in on the fun.
"We got a sack. We got a blocked punt. It excited everybody," running back Dalvin Cook said. "It excited the offense and we went from there."
Save the negativity for later, maybe even next week in Green Bay. Given the Vikings floundered around the preseason with a punter controversy, a holder kerfuffle and a backup quarterback quandary, this start was as unexpected as an $84 million NFL quarterback throwing only 10 passes in a game.
Ha! That could never happen.
But it did. And the quarterback was smiling about it afterward.
Cousins spent a lot of his postgame press conference smirking -- how could he not? --after finishing 8 of 10 for 98 yards against the Falcons.
Not in the first quarter. Or the first half. For the game. And Cousins played it in its entirety.
Checking the calendar again ... yes, it's 2019.
He made Y.A. Tittle look like Dan Fouts.
"It was really unique," Cousins said. "It felt like a youth football game when you run right, run left, run middle. That's what it felt like. It was a unique game. I've never quite played in a game like that."
This was made possible by Minnesota's run game, which at times has been absent during head coach Mike Zimmer's era. And when the run game is absent, the Vikings have to throw. And when the Vikings have to throw too much, it gives Zimmer heartburn. He'd prefer Cousins throw the ball 10 times in every game.
The Vikings rushed for 172 yards on 38 tries, including 111 yards from Cook. The third-year back ran like a beast, which is what Minnesota expected when it drafted him out of Florida State in 2017. A knee injury derailed his rookie season and he was OK last year, but this is what the Vikings pictured.
If Cook and the offensive line have games like this regularly, Zimmer can throw away the Tums.
"When we get up 28-0, we don't have to throw the football," Zimmer said. "We could play to our strength, which is running the football. It might look boring, but that's what we need to do."
Boring? If anybody believes ball control and running the ball is boring, they need TSA to pull them aside for a full-body patdown. Mix that offensive formula with the Vikings defense and you have potential.
If the Vikings can make every quarterback feel as uncomfortable as Ryan looked Sunday, they have a chance to contend in the NFC. Ryan was sweating like a pork chop at a dog park.
Is our enthusiasm getting the best of us? Most likely. It is one game, the Falcons are hardly the Patriots and, well, this is the Vikings we're talking about. They started last season, a year removed from the Minneapolis Miracle and a run to the NFC Championship game, with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
So many expectations.
By debacle's end, they had lost 24-10 at home in the regular-season finale at U.S. Bank Stadium to a Chicago Bears team that had no motivation to win. The Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs.
The Vikings have been down this road before and it's always ended with a steep cliff.
But for now, what a start.
Enjoy it. What comes next in Green Bay and afterward is anybody's guess.