It was 1987, and the Minnesota Vikings had a really good football team. After a 2-0 start all of that changed. A strike ensued and owners put replacement players on the field to continue the season. Some teams benefited greatly from the success of their replacements in the three weeks that would be the season. Minnesota did not.
Minnesota would exit the strike (and a new shortened schedule to fifteen games) at 2-3. The Vikings were outscored 70-33 in the three games. Minnesota had acquired Tony Adams, a backup quarterback from Kansas City, who had been out of football for about nine years. In his three games, Adams threw for 607 yards and three touchdowns. That might not sound like much, but Minnesota could not run the ball. The best any replacement back could muster in the three games was twenty yards by Jeff Womack. Adams' passer rating of 64.2 was actually well above his career NFL average of 55.5.
Originally, Minnesota fans were enjoying the receive and return efforts of Anthony Carter in 1987. Whether it was Tommy Kramer or later Wade Wilson throwing, Anthony Carter was there to haul it in.
Then the sudden strike.
Coach Jerry Burns found one good thing in a sea of misfortune during the replacement games. And that was wide receiver James Brim. Old veteran Adams seemed to have a good connection with Brim. In the three games, Brim caught eighteen passes for 282 and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran twice for thirty-six yards and another score. Brim scored three of the four total TDs Minnesota managed in the replacement frame. Those Vikings lost by seven to the Packers at home; then by twenty in Chicago; finally falling to Tampa Bay by ten. The oddity of it all was that striking NFL players actually had to cheer for the replacements as their efforts were part of the overall season. The games counted. Players grew angry with ex-NFLers and free agents whom willingly crossed their line. Scabs came in all sizes and experiences. But the strikers secretly hoped these scab players would win games for their eventual season.
Minnesota recovered from the 0-3 replacement record to finish 8-7. They made the wild-card game and upset both the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers before losing a heartbreaker to the Redskins, a team they had taken to overtime at the end of the season, only to lose. In the 49ers game, Anthony Carter had 227 receiving yards on ten catches.
It was a memorable season.
Some will remember the efforts of AC in the playoffs. Others will recall the destruction of the Saints despite New Orleans having the 2nd best record in the NFC. It was 44-10. Maybe some will recall the attack registered by Chris Doleman, Doug Martin, and Keith Millard. Or the intimidating safety Joey Browner. Most can only remember Darrin Nelson being unable to collar a Wade Wilson pass in the end zone that cost Minnesota a late tie in the NFC Championship.
For me, with the Bills in town and talk of a strike in 2011, I think to James Brim and Tony Adams.
So close. So much anguish. The loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship ranks with the harshest losses in Minnesota history. There was the "Hail Mary' loss to the Cowboys in 1975 at the Met. Then there was the 1998-99 Championship OT loss to the Falcons at home in the Dome, after the 15-1 season, due to a missed kick. The Super Bowl losses. They all hurt.
Worse yet, the New Orleans Saints went on to win the Super Bowl, validating just how good the 2009 Vikings really were. The 34-3 handling of the Cowboys in the previous playoff game was one of the most lopsided games in Minnesota playoff history. The way the Vikings dismantled the cocky Cowboys was breathtaking. While the Green Bay Packers were allowing over fifty points in their loss the week before, the Vikings surrendered three in an easy win.
So the question(s) is asked for this season: Will the Vikings be able to repeat their 12-4 season? Will this be the year that Minnesota finally wins a Super Bowl? In order to answer those questions we first have to ask ourselves ... do we feel lucky? Or at least be able to answer these questions....
1. Does Brett Favre return or will Tarvaris Jackson take leadership?
The most thought of question. If Favre does return things look very good. His 107.2 passer rating in 2009 was proof that he is far from over the hill. His ankle injury at the hands of a very violent Saints defense is the deciding factor according to reports. But Favre is a question mark until he actually puts on the uniform. Once he does, the answers will come. This offense will explode with Favre back at the helm.
If things are left to T-Jack, all is not lost. He actually had a higher passer rating than Favre, at 113.4. However, it was based on only 21 pass attempts. We Viking faithful are hopeful that Jackson learned from the best last year, and has grown into the skills and mind set needed to succeed in the NFL. If Jackson performs like he did vs. the Cardinals in 2008, then no problem. If he is the QB who faced the Eagles in the playoffs, then the answer will be no.
2. Can Adrian Peterson regain his 'old form' and fumble less?
Peterson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2007. He averaged 4.8 ypc in 2008. And last year, he fell to 4.4 per carry. In those three years he has carried the ball 915 times. That is a lot. Each year he has regressed in average. Is this a slowing down of a running back, or the reality that defenses have focused more and more on this prolific back? Is it the offensive line that has slowed down? I cannot say which is the truest answer, but he is still the most impressive back in football, no apology to Chris Johnson needed.
As for the fumbles, things have been bad for two seasons. In his rookie season, AD (Peterson's acronym - for All Day) had 4 fumbles in 257 touches, or about every 64 times he touched the ball. In 2008, AD had 9 fumbles in 384 touches, or a fumble every 43 tries. Last year, AD had 7 fumbles in the 357 times he saw the ball, or one fumble every 51 attempts. An optimist would say "Hey, he is getting better!". But the reality is he is a very violent-type runner. The previous best back in Viking history, Chuck Foreman, also struggled with fumbles. The answer to this question lies within AD.
3. Will E.J.Henderson return to form or Jasper Brinkley step up?
When Henderson went down in the 12th game last year, Vikings faithful cringed. Not only because of the horrific fracture of the femur that E.J. suffered, but also because his replacement was Jasper Brinkley, a relative unknown. Henderson was averaging about seven tackles a game, on pace to lead the team and be considered for All-Pro honors. What would become of the defense?
Jasper Brinkley had 23 tackles in his four starts and change, and was probably more of a liability than an asset. But he was maybe better than expected. Now reports are that he had a terrific off-season, and is having an even better camp in Mankato. If Henderson returns to form all is well. But if not, many feel Brinkley is ready to come forward.
4. What will become of the Vikings secondary?
Cedric Griffin's ACL tear during the NFC Championship was as big a factor in the loss as any of the turnovers. Griffin had developed into the best defensive back, given Antoine Winfield's injury and slow recovery. Now Griffin appears to be unable to play until at least October. What will we do?
Luckily, the Vikings did address this issue in both off-season moves and the draft. 34th overall pick, Chris Cook of Virginia, is a 6'2, 212 lb, specimen that will help the future at cornerback. This is good considering Winfield is in his 12th year. Add to that the signing of Lito Sheppard, an Eagles runaway, who joins former coach Brad Childress. Benny Sapp and Asher Allen also return. At safety, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams come back with another year of experience. Minnesota finished 19th in yards allowed versus the pass. 23rd in tds allowed. This area must be improved.
5. Is the offensive line getting better or worse?
In the loss to the Saints, it was apparent that the O-line could not handle the rush of the Saints. Although Bryant McKinnie was awarded All-Pro honors, most knowledgeable fans did not see it that way. There were frequent mistakes by McKinnie, Sullivan, Herrera, and Loadholt. Even Steve Hutchinson struggled once in a while. In that NFC Championship the line was overmatched. On top of all that, the Vikings lost their most experienced back-up, Artis Hicks, to free agency.
Minnesota did draft an offensive lineman (too late for my taste) in Chris DeGeare, a 6'4, 325 lb., from Wake Forest with the 161st pick. The starting five returns as well. In Mankato, reports are that 2nd year OT Patrick Brown from Central Florida, and 3rd year player Chris Clark from Southern Mississippi are looking good. But neither would address the biggest concern: Herrera. This line did lead the offense to an overall 5th ranking in yardage and 2nd in scoring, albeit most due to the uncanny play of Favre and the running of Peterson. To go farther in the playoffs this unit will have to get better.
The 2010 season awaits. The questions are there. We await answers. The first game, a Thursday Night affair to kickoff the season begins in New Orleans, the source of many of these unanswered thoughts.
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