You cannot tell me that the San Francisco 49ers have a more talented roster, player for player, than the Minnesota Vikings do.
Sure, they’ve got some individual advantages such as defensive tackle and cornerback, but overall Minnesota has the edge talent-wise.
So what happened last Saturday? How could the Vikings be so thoroughly outplayed?
It’s simple. They aren’t a good road team.
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s going to spend this offseason trying to figure out how to get his team “over the hump” — how to transform them from playoff team to championship contender.
That won’t be easy considering all of the obstacles in his way. First up, Zimmer has to fill the current vacancies at offensive and defensive coordinator. Then he has to hope the front office can keep the nucleus of his team together with very little salary cap space to work with.
I count no less than five starters on defense and four on offense who could be asked to take a pay cut or be outright released, so this roster could look very different come the fall of 2020.
That’s all secondary, though, to the reality that Minnesota will never take the next step if it doesn’t figure out how to win on the road.
The Vikings went 5-5 away from U.S. Bank Stadium this season, including the postseason. They beat the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints. Only the Saints made the playoffs.
The Vikings lost on the road to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and the 49ers. Only Chicago missed the playoffs.
Basically, they beat the teams they were supposed to beat and fell short against the cream of the crop. Zimmer’s guys weren’t good enough to do much damage in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed.
It’s ironic, then, that an AFC team has excelled in the postseason with Zimmer’s preferred style of play. The Tennessee Titans slipped into the playoffs with a mere 9-7 record but won two straight road games as a No. 6 seed.
How did they do it? By playing good defense and pounding the opposition into submission with the running game. (Don’t tell me the Vikings need to upgrade at quarterback when Ryan freaking Tannehill is playing in the AFC Championship Game, okay?)
It’s not about talent for Minnesota. It’s about attitude. Every time the Vikings went up against a fast, aggressive defense they curled up into a ball, so to speak, and took their beating. They aren’t going to fix that problem by replacing Pat Elflein at left guard or by calling more bootlegs.
They will fix it by lining up and punching the other guy in the mouth. They did it to New Orleans and won a game nobody thought they could. They need to have that same mentality week in, week out.
That’s how they will solve their road woes.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at email@example.com.