It was the worst of times. Or is.
A 6-10 year was difficult to swallow. Given the success of the 2009 Vikings many found the 2010 season upsetting. Brett Favre was battered like Archie Manning, due in part to a offensive line that seemed to scream "Where is Matt Birk?". Favre's response to the attack was to throw interceptions or fumble in his own end zone (against a visiting Dolphins). The two tackles did not have success against the better pass-rushers in the NFL such as Julius Peppers or Clay Matthews. The defensive secondary minus Cedric Griffin and the hope of a talented Chris Cook was awful. The defensive front seemed to take half of the season off in terms of a pass rush. But we persevere as the fan. Better times are ahead, right?
Now we face this weekend's championship game with the knowledge that our two most hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, are this year's best in the NFC. It is not the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, or any East team. The NFC North is a powerhouse. Don't laugh, we have sent three of the last four finalists to the NFC Championship. Five of the last ten teams. Unfortunately, it has been mostly Chicago and Green Bay.
We can rationalize our failure in 2010 as a product of our two rivals' success. After all, we were 6-6 against the rest of the NFL. Only the games versus the Giants was as lopsided a loss as matches with the Bears and Packers, and that was one with Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. We were closer against the Saints, Patriots, and Jets in other losses. But that defensive mechanism does not take away the reality that our division is tough right now.
I reluctantly tip my cap to the two teams. Green Bay has awoke with an offense that is quite impressive. Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback Minnesota wished it had. The Dom Capers' defense has improved as those cheesy blowhard fans had predicted. Now, they seem to have found a punishing running back in James Starks. No, he is not Adrian Peterson. But he also is not Ryan Grant, to the betterment of Green Bay.
The Chicago Bears have arisen thanks to their defense. There is enough hands now on the offense that Jay Cutler's missiles find targets. The line gets enough of a push to allow Matt Forte chances at yardage. But the defense shows up religiously. Twelve times this season they have surrendered twenty of fewer points, including eight of their first nine games (the exception being twenty-three). Only the loss to the Patriots suggested this season that the Bears might be vulnerable defensively.
We are left with cheering for the winner of this Sunday's game in the Super Bowl. As much as I despise the thought, I certainly would prefer that one of the two defeat the winner of the AFC Championship. An NFC win would be further proof that the 2010 's demise was as much a result of our division's toughness as any ineptness. Not that it is comforting knowing the Bears and Packers are really good right now.
It certainly is not.
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.
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.
I am a reasonable man, eh brutus?
I could lament over the loss on Monday Night. We did nothing for nearly three quarters. We lost our best cover man in Cedric Griffin for the season. Brett Favre kept grabbing his elbow after each throw (it seemed). But for some reason when I try and get discouraged over the poor start I just smile. I picture myself dejected and then a big purple kool aid guy comes busting up my front door and everybody smiles.
I could tell you Brett Favre is presently 30th in passer rating in the league at 67.0, and that is up from last week! I could point out there is not a Minnesota receiver in the top thirty in the league. I could point to the fact that the Vikings have only six sacks in four games, Jared Allen only one all season. I could show you a schedule that has Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Arizona, Chicago, and Green Bay again for the next six weeks. But when I try and type it I just smile.
Hey, Kool Aid.
Maybe it is that Randy Moss is in town. He caught four passes for eighty-one yards and a touchdown. Favre's 37-yard TD to him was Brett's longest on the season. The Vikings offense woke up in the 3rd Quarter of last night's loss to the Jets. Suddenly, Percy Harvin looked impossible to stop in the middle of the field. Moss was consistently in position to make a play on long balls steadily hurled at he and defensive back Cromartie. Adrian Peterson was turning corners so quickly that the cameras struggled to keep pace. That same offense that tore up the Cowboys last year was back. And even better.
Maybe it is a defense that continues to shut down opponents. Sure the Jets moved the ball well in the first half, but that ended. When the Vikings needed a stop late in the game the defense arose to the challenge. And that was with Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard as the corners. The red zone defense was amazing. In four games the Vikings have stopped 35 third down attempts, while allowing only 16 conversions. As bad as the Vikings offense has been, they have out-rushed, out-averaged, out-possessed, and out-passed their opponents. That is how good the defense is.
I know many are unhappy with the coaching, game management, and philosophy of Brad Childress, coordinator Bevell, and others. They struggle with using time outs to think about extra-point attempts, or the lack of focusing on a running back that is third in the league in rushing, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and has zero fumbles. Others fear that the age factor and injuries to Brett Favre spell doom. His seven interceptions in the first four games puts him position to finish with 28 on the season. Even Sam Bradford has a better rating, for heaven's sake.
And Chicago is 4-1 on the season, with games versus Seattle, Washington, and Buffalo next. And the Bears are 2-0 in the division. Green Bay is 3-2, and scoring 23.6 points per game with a rabid air attack. Aaron Rodgers, JerMichael Finley, Greg Jennings, and Donald Driver are as skilled as any in the passing game. Both have a fairly large lead over Minnesota in the Central.
And then more kool aid.
Minnesota is about to explode. The surge last night was a sign of great things to come soon. The defense will only get better up front, and Favre is starting to connect long with his new receiver (Moss) and his young one (Harvin). Adrian Peterson is on fire, easily one of the strongest backs to ever play the game. He may cross the 2,000 yard mark this year. Childress and friends know enough to not get in the way, they will be able to let these players succeed.
And the Packers are reeling from injuries. Losing guys like Ryan Grant, Harrell, Aaron Rodgers, Finley, and many more are showing a lack of depth. Watching the Redskins attack around slow tackles and pummel Rodgers was proof that Green Bay may not waltz into the playoffs. The secondary was mediocre at best. If not for Clay Matthews, I am not sure any Packer would have gone noticed on defense. And the Bears, while facing an easy few weeks ahead, are certainly not a shoe-in for the division title. I think their defense is better than advertised, but I cannot endorse any offense that has Jay Cutler at the helm. Ever. And I believe the Bears could easily go 2-6 in the 2nd half of their schedule. Easily.
Yes, their is a lot of purple drink over at my place. Is it my forty years of understanding of the NFL, or is it complete denial? My brain tells me it is the former. This team that could have easily won the NFC Championship last year is as good as last year, and with the addition of Moss, maybe better. Then again, at 1-3 Minnesota is on the doorstep of a 1-4 start, which holds poor prognostics for its' owner.
Sure we could bury the Vikes, they might even deserve it. But the smile on my face tells a different story. A purply drink. And purply fun that awaits.
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