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.
Norm Van Brocklin (1961-66) did it for six years and never went to the playoffs. He was 29-51-4. But he did get stuck with building a new franchise surrounded by powerhouses Chicago and Green Bay.
Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985) was head coach for eighteen seasons. He has the longest consecutive year tenure (1967-83) as well as most years. His 7-9 season after the 1984 Les Steckel (3-13) debacle would be his last. Grant was 151-87-5 with a 10-12 record in the playoffs, losing four Super Bowls including three in a four year span.
Longtime assistant Jerry Burns (1986-1991) was next after Grant re-retired. He was 52-43 with a 3-3 record in the playoffs. He is probably best known for local radio spoofs featuring his rough language.
Dennis Green (1992-2001), or the "Sheriff", had the second longest tenure, going 97-62 with a 4-8 playoff record. He has the 2nd highest winning percentage behind Grant in the regular season, but is tied for the worst percentage in the playoffs with (you guessed it) Brad Childress.
Mike Tice (2001-05) had a rough go of it, compiling a 32-33 record to be one of the three head coaches in Vikings' history not to have a winning record. Probably most known for his ticket selling scandal, Tice's 1-1 record in the playoffs is actually as good as any in team history, percentage-wise.
Brad Childress (2006 to present) is 36-29 to date. His playoff record is 1-2. The failure to defeat New Orleans in the NFC Championship last year, as well as the horrid start to 2010, has fans regretting the team's decision to hire and/or keep Childress. Rumors are plentiful that suggest there is little respect from players to coach. The Randy Moss fiasco has put the spotlight on a head coach that does not have the support of the community. But then again, neither did Green, Burns, Tice, or Steckel. Minnesota's fans expects lost Super Bowls at a minimum.
As the anti-Childress support grows, like dandelions in season, many look to a new coach. There is speculation that Leslie Frazier could be placed in the head coach role should Childress get axed. One thing is certain, Minnesota has missed capitalizing on coaches within their grasp. Securing Frazier might become a priority as Minnesota has watched too many good coaches get away.
Here are a few...
Brian Billick. Billick served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1998 under the Green regime. Minnesota stuck with Green as Billick took the head coaching position in Baltimore in 1999. There he led the Ravens to an 80-64 record, and further 5-3 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl (XXXV) win in his 2nd year. Billick must have had a special eye for talent as six of his staff went on to head coaching positions, most of which are still active (Jack Del Rio, Marv Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary, and Mike Smith). Billick is an analyst now, though some wonder if he would come back if properly prompted.
Tony Dungy. Dungy was defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1995. He became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. His six year service included four playoff visits for a franchise used to losing. He next left Indianapolis, only to see John Gruden win the Super Bowl in his absence with the Bucs. But Dungy won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts. He retired in 2009, having a career record of 139-69 and a 9-10 playoff record. He is another name being tossed about for both the Gophers and the Vikings. But house money suggests he will stay on television.
Mike Tomilin. Tomlin was promoted to defensive coordinator when he joined Minnesota in 2006 by new coach Brad Childress. His success parlayed into an offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, and a NFL record as youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (XLIII). He presently has a 37-19 career record, 3-1 in the playoffs. Without a doubt he is the most talked about "one that got away" coach. His job presently is very secure.
There are others. But lest we forget, sometimes assistants and coordinators do not pan out as head coaches. Some have success, but often with a steep price. Examples...
Buddy Ryan. Minnesota went to three Super Bowls with the Purple People Eaters from 1973 to 1978. Ryan was a gifted defensive coordinator who was mentioned but passed over frequently for head coaching positions. Minnesota loved Grant, so Ryan had no chance to climb the ladder in Minnesota. For that and other reasons he left for Chicago in 1978. His success with the Bears led to a Super Bowl win (XX) in which he was carried off the field with Mike Ditka. The two's feuds, however, were legendary. Minnesota then passed on re-acquiring Ryan in years 1984 through 1986. Finally in 1986 the Philadelphia Eagles gave Ryan his chance. Buddy would compile a 43-38-1 record with an 0-3 playoff record. Ryan was loved for his abrasive personality and boasts of success. But he did not live up to the hype. Ryan later took his act to Houston as defensive coordinator. In that short stint he punched offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the jaw for his inability to use up the clock from a run and shoot offense. So off he went. 1994 the Arizona Cardinals offered a head coaching position to Ryan. In his two year stint he was 12-20. The Ryan Express finally ended.
Scott Linehan. Scott was offensive coordinator from 2002 to 2004. His name was tossed about during the time of Childress' hiring. But Linehan was passed over. He eventually was given the head coaching position in St. Louis in 2006. His two year tenure resulted in an 11-25 record. He now is the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. A sentence worse than death itself.
Ted Cottrell. Cottrell was defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2005. He had an extensive career resume' of both NCAA and NFL positions. The Vikings passed on Ted. Later, Ted was given his chance to coach the New York Sentinels in the United Football League. He finished 0-6 as was never considered again for a head coaching position.
Marc Trestman. Trestman was an assistant in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was mentioned as a possibility when the team was looking for a head coach. Trestman was an offensive coordinator for numerous teams in the 1990 and 2000s. Not too long ago he became the head coach of the Montreal franchise of the Canadian Football League (a la Grant). In his three year tenure he has compiled a 38-16 record winning one Grey Cup, losing another, and a third year pending. Maybe now Trestman has entered into the thoughts of the Wilfs as his recent career suddenly parallels Grant.
Hindsight is 20-20 as they say. In a hind-sighted world Minnesota would have landed maybe Buddy Ryan, Tony Dungy and/or Brian Billick instead of Les Steckel, Jerry Burns, Dennis Green or Mike Tice. Instead of Childress running the show, we would have promoted Mike Tomlin ourselves.
There is considerable feeling that Minnesota will make a move at the end of this season, barring a miraculous return deep into the playoffs. Leslie Frazier is the assistant that could soon end up on this list of coulda-beens. The question is whether he will fit into the Dungy/Billick/Tomlin grouping or the Cottrell/Linehan one?
One thing is certain. We will be there in hindsight.
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.
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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