The Vikings lost four games by six points or fewer in 2020, including two by one point. If they had won just one more game, they would be heading to the playoffs this week instead of staying home.
And that doesn’t sit well with defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.
“I’m just angry, to be honest,” he said Monday, a day after Minnesota’s season ended with a 7-9 record. “I’m angry how everything played out. I’m angry. We had a lot of expectations going in.”
After a 1-5 start, the Vikings clawed their way back to a .500 record (6-6) and were in position to make the playoffs. But they lost their next three games before winning the finale 37-35 Sunday at Detroit in a game that had no playoff implications.
The late-season loss that hurt most was 33-27 at home to Chicago on Dec. 20. Reverse that outcome and the Vikings would have finished 8-8 and replaced the Bears as the NFC’s No. 7 seed, clearing their way for a trip to New Orleans to open the playoffs this weekend.
“We’re not in the playoffs, so you’re going to look back and say, ‘Why are we not?’ ” center Garrett Bradbury said. “There’s a lot of things that stick out. But we’ve got to improve. We have to do better.”
The offense wasn’t to blame for the Vikings failing to make the playoffs a year after they went 10-6 and won a wild-card game at New Orleans. The Vikings finished No. 4 in the NFL in total offense this season, their highest ranking since they were No. 4 in 2004 and their first top-10 finish since they were No. 5 in 2009. However, Pro Football Talk reported Monday that offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, 59, will retire after just one season on the job.
Haunting the Vikings most was a defense that ranked No. 29 in scoring defense and No. 27 in total defense, by far the lowest rankings in Mike Zimmer’s seven seasons as head coach. The Vikings gave up 470 points, the third most in their 60-year history. The only defenses worse were the 1984 and 2013 teams that gave up 484 and 480 points, respectively.
“In years past, I think we’ve had that high standard on defense, but this year we’re just kind of lacking them,” Odenigbo said. “Obviously, everybody’s at fault.”
The Vikings were hampered by numerous injuries on defense, most notably to defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, and by young players having to play so much right from the start. Youth at cornerback was a big issue, and so was an inability to generate a pass rush.
Consider that Minnesota’s sack leader was defensive end Yannick Ngakoue with five, and he was traded to Baltimore after just six games. Second in sacks was Odenigbo, who had 3 1/2 as a starter in what he called a “disappointing year.” He had seven sacks in 2019 as a reserve.
“Because we don’t have fans (due to the coronavirus pandemic),” Odengibo gave as one reason for the lack of a pass rush. “So, when you eliminate U.S. Bank Stadium with third and long and people can’t hear the snap count, it makes it a lot easier. … It was a high-scoring offense all year.”
At least the Vikings’ offense took advantage of the NFL’s record season for scoring. They averaged 26.9 points per game, their highest since the 2009 team averaged 29.4.
Kirk Cousins, who threw 35 touchdown passes; Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,557 yards; Justin Jefferson, whose 1,400 yards were the second most in NFL history by a rookie receiver, and Adam Thielen, who caught 14 touchdown passes, all had impressive seasons on offense.
But in the end, the Vikings did not make the playoffs and finished with their first losing season since they went 7-9 in Zimmer’s first year in 2014, Thielen said that means there’s much work to be done in the future.
“That’s why I go back to work right when the season’s over, to try to help this team win games,” he said. “So, that’s kind of a weird thing because, obviously, I didn’t do enough to help this team win.”