First, it should be made clear, it was the NFL, not the Eagles, who wussified football. The blizzard conditions on Sunday, about enough to delay a school start here in Minnesota, crippled the city of Philadelphia and forced the second postponement of a game for our Vikings. The "Tuesday Night" crew even pointed out that the Vikings have now had more games postponed than the Twins, by 2-1 margin.
So the game was moved. And when Tuesday rolled around it was a beautiful night, a clear field, and a chance for Michael Vick to showcase his MVP-like talent in front of a national audience. Only someone forgot to tell the Minnesota defense. Antoine Winfield played his best game in some time, and the front four with its' interchanging parts and added blitz help, made Vick's evening a sore one. We hit him so much he began to play like a ...wuss.
The game did not start out like it was a Minnesota night. The highly favored Eagles scored first, grabbing a 7-0 lead early in the contest. Michael Vick was taking many shots from our defense (which ironically looked like the Eagles defense), but delivering with runs and short passes well enough to move the football. Joe Webb began with short passes too, only he looked awkward at first, His short swing passes seemed to have a little extra air time, and the result was minimal gains. Adrian Peterson was held in check as well, and it looked like the beginnings of a long night. I must admit I turned away for the commercials to check on the Golden Gophers basketball game at the Kohl Center more than once.
It was not until Winfield stripped Vick of the ball and scored that Minnesota looked like it might win. Suddenly, the defensive attack on Vick begin to bear fruit. Despite numerous drops of interceptions by the rag-tag secondary earlier in the game, it was becoming clear that this defense owned Vick. By the end of the game a limping Vick looked nothing like one of the two potential MVPs in 2010. Give it to Tom Brady.
On the offensive side of the ball, there was Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. Harvin would end up with 100 yards, and many of them after the catch. Webb finding the human pinball meant the defense could not focus solely on the run. And when the Eagles worried about the pass, Peterson made them pay with punishing runs. AP finished with over 100 yards and a TD, and if not for his first lost fumble of the season late in the game, maybe his finest performance of the season considering the opponent.
And then there was Webb. He seemed to glide about the field much like Rod Carew. He never looked llike he was running full speed, but when he did run, few could catch him. His ten yard TD run included numerous misses from the part of Eagle defenders. And when Jim Kleinsasser leveled the last would-be tackler with a crushing block, Webb danced into the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to deflate the Eagles as much as the constant blitz on the other side of the ball.
It was not as if Philadelphia had nothing to play for - sure they wrapped up the NFC East, but Atlanta's loss to New Orleans on Monday had cleared a possible path for the one seed in the NFC. The Eagles were playing well, clearly the class of the East, and many people's choice for the NFC representative. A win meant a probable bye if either the Falcons or Bears lost the next week. And Chicago would be playing in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers back at the helm. It was possible.
Instead, Vick limped off the field, beaten, battered, and bested. The Eagles, a great thorn inside the paw of Vikings recent success, had been delivered a deathly blow to their Super Bowl hopes by Joe Webb and the now 6-9 Minnesota Vikings. Sure, we might have dropped from the 7th to 14th pick, but most Minnesota fans would say this was worth it. The confident, swaggering Eagles have fallen. How sad.
Like a good (I use that term loosely) Rocky movie, the Vikings face the Patriots as a decided underdog. Brett Favre is injured and questionable to start Sunday's game. The Vikings are suffering defensively from the absence of Cedric Griffin. There is no pass rush as teams have found a way to minimize the Vikings' front four. At 2-4, Minnesota trails both Chicago and Green Bay by a game and a half. And now the team is on the road, where they are 0-3, having lost to the Saints, Jets, and Packers.
New England is undefeated at home. They are scoring nearly thirty points a game. Tom Brady has thrown for eleven touchdowns with only four interceptions. Wes Welker is back, as healthy as ever. Deon Branch has replaced Randy Moss quite nicely, having thirteen catches for one hundred thirty-seven yards and a touchdown in two games. The Patriots defense has stopped the run better than Minnesota in its' first six games.
It looks tough for Minnesota to pull off an upset.....
Adrian Peterson is back in 2010. Presently AP is on pace for near 2,000 yards, averaging just short of 5 yards a carry. Peterson is on pace for nearly 50 catches. He has no fumbles to his name in six games. While the Minnesota offense has stalled through the air, they are averaging nearly 137 yards on the ground per game. He looks better than ever.
For Minnesota to pull off an Italian Stallion type effort it will have to rely on Adrian Peterson. That is not to say Minnesota should not throw. On the contrary, New England has surrendered over 280 yards per game through the air, and the Vikings will need to exploit that shortcoming. Hopefully, Randy Moss will be given opportunities to burn his so-recently-former teammates. Favre will almost certainly be at the helm, and he will need a performance closer to 2009 than 2010. But the Vikings' strength so far this year is Peterson. He has totaled 828 yards (running and receiving) in six games, or 138 yards per game.
Minnesota has lost many close games so far this year. An optimist would say that the Vikings were in each game, and could easily be undefeated as opposed to 2-4. A pessimist would say the offense is sputtering through the air, and that we deserve our present record.
One thing is for certain today. If Minnesota pulls off the Rocky-like upset, it will be because of Adrian. Peterson has 157 touches of the ball in the first six games, or more than 26 a game. He may need more today.
Minnesota is desperate, Favre a question mark, and the defense a little suspect. The Vikings need to reach inward and find what has been missing in so many games so far this season. They need a little extra. They need ,,, me?
I will make my first call of the year...
Minnesota 27 New England 24.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
The Vikings in two short weeks have gone from "What's Happening?" back to "Great Expectations". Sure, Minnesota is only 2-3 and still trails Chicago by 1 1/2 games. In addition, Green Bay is presently ahead of the Vikings by a 1/2 game and will host Minnesota on Sunday Night. Why would there be reason to be optimistic given this scenario? Let's examine...
Minnesota is 2-3. Lying ahead are games at Green Bay and a game at New England the following week. Most predict Minnesota will be 3-4 at best after the two games. But after that the schedule softens some. The Vikings only home loss was to the Dolphins, who then proceeded to beat the Packers in their home as well. Both were close games. Minnesota will have better success after the first half of their schedule, which most agree was one of the toughest assignments in the NFL. The toughest opponent in the second half appears to be the Giants, and that game is at home. Four games will be against North foes, where Minnesota has shown domination in recent times. Add Buffalo and Arizona at home and there is reason to hope.
Meanwhile the Packers are decimated by injuries. Key losses have changed the face of a good team. Gone are Ryan Grant (a bit overrated anyway), JerMichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, and a host of others including defensive linemen and backs. Brian Poppinga the outside linebacker is also hurt. Even star Clay Matthews has been slowed by a hamstring issue. Add to that a sign that Aaron Rodgers can be rattled with pressure and Green Bay looks vulnerable.Throw in the fact that their next five games include Minnesota twice, on the road to the New York Jets, Dallas, and a road trip to Atlanta, and suddenly the Packers are not so favorable. Late in the season they face the Giants and Patriots.
The Chicago Bears have come out strong to start the season. But looking ahead at the second half schedule, the Bears have only one opponent that would be considered "easy", and that is the Lions in Detroit. We should be reminded that this 4-2 Chicago team barely beat the Lions at home due to Calvin Johnson's need to flip touchdown catches rather than contain them. A cynic might expect the Bears to crumble in the second half. It is conceivable that they finish with at minimum a losing second half record. Jay Cutler continues to be erratic, and Chicago has lost two if its' last three. It might be worse.
Minnesota has made efforts to get better. By adding Randy Moss the team has addressed their biggest need. Brett Favre's passer rating is starting to heat up, as he looks to pass the Sam Bradford's of the league and return to a level of Rodgers or Drew Brees. We saw a glimpse of this in the New York Jets game, where the offense exploded in the second half. In the Cowboys game, we saw just enough to get a win. In both games it was evident that Percy Harvin will play a valuable role in the return of a successful passing game. With the way Adrian Peterson is running in 2010, we are confident that the running game is there. The offense is improving.
The defense is playing outstanding. The loss of Cedric Griffin the one sore spot in a remarkable effort to date. Lito Sheppard was torched repeatedly by Tony Romo and Roy Williams last week, but I expect the Vikings' brass to identify and treat this issue before Sunday's game. Chad Greenway is playing at an All-Pro level. If the defensive line can find their sack 'stride' Minnesota's defense will be considered possibly the best in the league.
A few weeks ago it appeared that the Vikings were destined to the basement of the division. Now, as we near the halfway point of the season, fortune has smiled upon the team and opened doorways to the top. To succeed in 2010 Minnesota will have to take advantage of this opportunity, defeat their Northern rivals head-to-head, and watch as they fall maybe as fast as we rise. Despite a lack of a solid start to the season, the stairway to the division lead appears to be available...
Can Minnesota seize this opportunity? We may find out Sunday Night.
It was a good day for Minnesota. With about six minutes remaining the Vikings scored their final touchdown, Brett Favre's fourth passing TD, to cap a drive that left some Cowboys bitter. Keith Brookings ran up to the Minnesota bench and yelled "classless" to Brad Childress for either leaving starters in up 27-3, for passing frequently to score, or because Brookings was so frustrated by being dominated he regressed to adolescence.
If you examined the statistics, the game was not so one-sided as the score. First Downs were even at sixteen. Time of possession and total plays favored Dallas slightly. Third down conversions were almost identical, with Minnesota converting one more than the Cowboys. But it was what each team did when they had the ball. It was about field position and turnovers. And in those areas it was a definitive edge for the Vikings.
In that game Cedric Griffin had nine solo tackles. Ray Edwards had three sacks (of the team's six) and six hits (of the team's ten) on the quarterback. Sidney Rice caught 6 passes for 141 yards and 3 TDs. It was the most one-sided win in playoff memory in which it was Minnesota being the dominant. Now fast-forward.
The Cowboys arrive with the same 1-3 record that haunts the Vikings. Media has proclaimed this game a 'must-win' for whichever team wants to be in the playoffs. There is not room for both, they say. Gone are a couple of the heroes that led us to our playoff victory of last year. Griffin is out for the year with a recent season-ending knee injury. Rice has been out all season with his delayed surgery of his hip. Edwards is here, but not nearly playing to the level he displayed in that 2009 Divisional Game. Dallas arrives healthier than when they appeared last year. But playing a lot worse.
Meanwhile, Brett Favre is questionable as to whether he will further his continual streak of games started (that means he will). The defense has only six sacks in the first four games, which happens to be the same number as they had in the one playoff game. We saw the first glimpse of a clicking offense with new arrival Randy Moss versus the New York Jets. But we also saw another close loss.
Will this be the game that Minnesota comes together? Will the defense continue to play well despite missing their best cover in Griffin? Will the front four batter Tony Romo like they did last year?
One thing is certain, Adrian Peterson will improve on his last performance versus the Cowboys. In that game he was held to 63 yards on 26 carries. There is no doubt you will see better numbers. Favre right now is not playing to the same level as he did last year against the Cowboys when he finished with a passer rating of 134.4. More like half of that. He is looking the worse for wear this year, throwing far more interceptions, and struggling to get the protection necessary to be as successful as 2009.
But now is the time. It is the site of something very good last year. The Cowboys arrive in full memory of what occurred in 2009 and they will want revenge. Minnesota, seemingly out of sync, looks to today to bring back the stellar play of their team at the place where it all crescendoed in last year's near Super Bowl season. What will be today's outcome?
I expect today the offense and the defense will come together and it will be a Purple Day.
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