ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

John Shipley: For Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell, the hard part has started

First-year head coach must prove his team is still the one that dismantled Green Bay in the opener

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell on the sidelines against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 19, 2022.
Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINNEAPOLIS — While there’s really no soft landing for an NFL coach after a loss, it helped Kevin O’Connell that his first as a head coach came eight days after his Vikings pretty thoroughly dismantled Green Bay.

In Minnesota, that kind of goodwill has legs.

It no doubt made it easier for O’Connell to jump on the grenade in the immediate aftermath of an ugly, 24-7 loss Monday at Philadelphia, where everything that went right against the Packers went wrong against the Eagles.

“I put this on me,” O’Connell told reporters in the immediate aftermath.

When asked Wednesday to expand on that during his first media access since Monday night, O’Connell obliged, citing variations on a theme: He got away from the game plan, got obsessed with tying the game early instead of laying the groundwork for the offense to succeed.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I can’t tell you how many players I’ve had come up to me, reached out and, kind of early on today (and said), ‘Hey, we’ve gotta play better too,’ ” he said Wednesday.

So, that worked.

Of course, it’s easier to be magnanimous with a chip like that Green Bay win in your pocket, and it’s generally smarter to be the first to criticize yourself. On the other side of cynicism, maybe you just accept that O’Connell has a resting spot at friendly and a management style that tips toward respect.

Asked Wednesday how his new coach handled his first loss, quarterback Kirk Cousins said, “Well, as expected from a class and mature person.”

MORE MINNESOTA VIKINGS COVERAGE:
Pro
The rookie cornerback had surgery to repair a meniscus on Monday.
Pro
Kevin O’Connell empowers Cousins on a daily basis and the results speak for themselves.
Pro
Tight end was acquired in a trade with Detroit on Nov. 1
Pro
7-year-old Vikings fan geared up with chains for Thanksgiving game
Pro
Minnesota aims to put last week's loss behind them against a team they haven't beaten in 22 years.
Pro
The Patriots selected O’Connell in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft out of San Diego State.
Pro
If neither can play, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said Duke Shelley would start Thursday against New England.
Pro
Tomlinson has missed the past three games due to a right calf injury, and hasn’t taken part in any practices or walkthroughs since being hurt Oct. 30 against Arizona.
Pro
On Sunday, the Vikings didn’t show much of anything. They were outgained 458 yards to 183 by the Cowboys.
Pro
The writing was on the wall from the opening drive as Cousins got stripped of the ball by Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons.

So, score another one for the new regime for absorbing its first loss without killing a piece of the team’s spirit. It’s a low bar but certainly appreciated.

“You didn’t see coaches yelling at players, you didn’t see any negativity after the game,” receiver Adam Thielen told KFXN-FM 100.3 this week. “It was just guys trying to figure out how to get better.”

Now comes the hard part.

On a short week, with one fewer practice than normal — the Vikings had a walk-through on Wednesday as opposed to a full-pads practice — O’Connell and his staff must game plan and coach the Vikings to a win against the Detroit Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of particular concern was the performance of Cousins, so good against the Packers before throwing three interceptions against the Eagles. Because O’Connell made Mathew Stafford a Super Bowl-winning quarterback last season as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, it’s assumed he can work similar magic with Cousins, a talented passer with great stats who just can’t seem to win the big games.

As head coach, O’Connell has a lot of irons in the fire, but finding and bringing to fruition the full potential of Cousins is job No. 1. In fairness, Cousins threw what should have been a 63-yard touchdown pass to Irv Smith Jr. on Monday only to have the tight end drop it in the second quarter. And the defense was so lousy in the first half that it’s difficult in hindsight to imagine it making that much of a difference.

Cousins sure seems to like O’Connell, the offensive coordinator during Cousins’ best season in Washington, an improvement on last season’s friction with head coach Mike Zimmer. Still, after Monday, Cousins is 2-10 as a starter on Monday Night Football, both wins at moribund Chicago as the Vikings’ quarterback.

That Monday’s loss managed to be a shock says something about the faith O’Connell engendered with that season-opening win over Green Bay. It’s not so much that the Vikings lost to a good team on the road but that they were so efficiently dominated. Sunday’s game against an improved Detroit team — the Lions already have won a game — will be the rubber match for fans trying to gauge the new coaching regime.

For the players, Monday’s gone.

“It was a loss. (O’Connell) owned up to it and now we’ve got to own up to it as players,” rush linebacker Danielle Hunter said. “You can’t stay on it too long. It’s the beginning of the season. Where we are right now, we’ll be a completely different team by Week 11, Week 12.”

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
What to read next
Pro
Joe is the son of Bob Pohlad and grandson of Carl, who bought the team in 1984.
Pro
He has has been a healthy scratch in 4 straight games.
Pro
In an instant, Foligno slammed his helmet and started screaming at the referee. He was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct minor as well as a misconduct. All of it added up to 19 penalty minutes.
Pro
He is now on a nine-game point streak, the longest of his career to this point.