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Chip Scoggins: Vikings appear ready for Patriots. If they are, credit coach Kevin O’Connell.

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell celebrates a win against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 11, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell celebrates a win against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 11, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Anthony Souffle/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin O'Connell raised a talking point unprompted after the game that will henceforth be known as the Dallas Debacle.

"There's going to be a lot of narratives about our team," the Vikings coach said Sunday evening.

A no-show performance of that degree provides an easy opening for outsiders to shoot arrows at the target. The storyline would have been a single-track narrative if, say, the Vikings had suffered a close, hard-fought loss coming off a sugar high from their Buffalo thriller.

Hey, it happens … Teams experience letdowns after big wins all the time … The Cowboys are a good team … The Vikings were due for a loss.

And so on.

The 37-point loss belongs in its own unique category. The performance was so wretched that it was remarkable. You just don't see NFL games that competitively lopsided too often. Like roasting a marshmallow with a butane torch, it was over quickly.

And now the rookie head coach faces his next big test.

The schedule gave O'Connell 90-plus hours to identify what the heck happened that caused his team to be so emotionally and physically flat, address it with players, fix problems, extinguish any remaining frustration, and steer his team back to a positive headspace to play another game on a short week ... against a coach regarded as the NFL's all-time greatest, Bill Belichick, a shark who knows the smell of blood.

So, yeah, this is an interesting moment for O'Connell.

"I just know each and every week in this league is another opportunity to really prove who you are as a football team," O'Connell said.

Mike Zimmer often said that his mentor, Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, advised him as a new head coach that he will face something new or unexpected each week that requires adaptability.

NFL seasons are like soap operas with their subplots and dramatic twists. Smooth sailing is not part of the vernacular. A head coach must stand at the ready to react to ebbs and flows and occasional brush fires.

"I do believe that we will respond to this the right way," O'Connell said. "But at this point in the season, November comes and sometimes you can get hit in the mouth. This league has a way of humbling any football team at any point in time if you don't play good football."

Ultimately, the outside narratives that O'Connell referenced matter little to their pursuit. It's weekly fodder, background noise. The Vikings get to determine whether the Dallas Debacle will be seen in hindsight as a weird outlier or a warning shot.

"One game shouldn't move the needle too much in any direction," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "You should really be able to stay level. The key is correcting things, fixing it and not ever letting it become more than one [loss]."

One positive sign: Cousins was ambulatory and in good spirits at his weekly media chat after absorbing a pounding by the Cowboys pass rush. Cousins faced so much pressure Sunday that he looked like he was in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.

That was the top concern amid everything that went wrong, even more so now that left tackle Christian Darrisaw is in the concussion protocol again. Darrisaw is on the shortlist of the team's most important players.

Running back Dalvin Cook didn't mince words when asked what teammates can do to help Cousins.

"Block," he said.

No further explanation required.

Cousins noted that some of his family members and friends offered up the cliché that the game might have turned out differently if a play or two had gone in the Vikings' favor. Cousins chuckled when sharing that story.

"I'm not going to act like two plays was the difference," he said.

The head coach is responsible for setting the right tone in dealing with positive and negative developments. To that end, O'Connell and his players sound eager to play Thanksgiving night to atone for their most recent performance.

This is their first real bump in the road. Let's see how they respond.


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