Saturday night at Mall of America Field, Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb showed something that hasn’t been seen around these parts in a while:
A willingness to throw the football to Bernard Berrian.
A novel concept, perhaps. But there it was, first quarter of the game against Dallas. First-and-10 from the Cowboys 49 on a drive that began with running back Adrian Peterson softening up the Cowboys’ front seven. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had his receivers bunched, inside the numbers, with Berrian on the left side. McNabb took the snap, took a deep drop, sold the play-action, then took his time.
Berrian broke out, faked a move to the outside, turning safety Gerald Sensabaugh around, then broke to the post.
McNabb let loose with a pretty pass that was caught by Berrian as he entered the end zone to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.
“Pretty much,” Berrian said when asked if the touchdown was the result of his speed. “Just going out and doing what you’re blessed to do.”
It was Berrian’s first touchdown since he caught one against Seattle in November 2009. And even though this one came in a preseason game, it was an encouraging sign for both Berrian and the Vikings.
In 2008, with Tarvaris Jackson throwing most of the passes, Berrian had a productive 48-catch, 964-yard, seven-TD season in which his 20.1-yards-per-catch average showed how explosive he could be.
And then, enter Brett Favre. Berrian and Favre never seemed to click. In 2009 Berrian caught four TDs, and his average per catch dropped to 11.2 yards as he dealt with sore hamstrings.
Last year Berrian was even harder to find, not that Favre looked very hard. Twenty-eight catches, 252 yards, no scores. Favre ignored Berrian, and Berrian’s production went down while his frustration rose.
And then, Saturday: McNabb looked for Berrian early and often, and Berrian responded by appearing to be more engaged than he has in a long time.
Berrian said he and McNabb were creating a good chemistry. “It’s been great,” he said. “We both came into this offense at the same time so we both took ownership of it and are growing together.”
Berrian caught two passes for 64 yards but had three others thrown his way in two-plus quarters of play.
McNabb said he and Berrian have been working on getting adjusted to each other. “It’s a good start,” McNabb said.
Musgrave was a bit more excited.
“That was one thing we worked on pretty hard this week,” he said. “We want to have a good rapport between those two.”