The news came just before the start of the game. Christian Ponder was not going to be available, and the quarterback duties would fall to Joe Webb, the back-up who had not thrown a single pass all year. But the faithful did not waiver. Fans reasoned the run possibilities would force the Packers to not emphasize stopping Adrian Peterson. Even critics agreed. Tony Dungy, who had picked Green Bay to win, changed his mind upon hearing the quarterback shuffle. He thought the read-react approach to quarterback might be just the ticket.
I guess not.
As a yearlong defender of Christian Ponder, I have this desire to say "I told you so" to the thousands of fans who called for Ponder's head throughout the year. See. This is what you have been asking for all year?.. Happy?
But I am now more inclined to agree with them. Whether or not Ponder is the future, it is painfully obvious we need to improve at the QB position. I am certain if Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels had been the starter yesterday, we would have been in position to win, or at least compete.
True, Green Bay added Charles Woodson. Their defensive backs were healthier. But Woodson is worth 27 points?
We missed Ponder.
But before we lament away our January, we must reflect on what has happened. A 3-13 team has improved seven games in a season. Only the Indianapolis Colts can say better, and they had a fallen coach as a team motivator.
Adrian Peterson compiled one of the greatest single-season efforts in NFL history and is the favorite to win the MVP. We can rest assured that he has fully recovered from the ACL/MCL injury to his knee.
Blair Walsh has arrived, and Minnesota has the best place kicker in its' history.
The defensive secondary is improved. Some. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are promising. Harrison Smith is really good.
We beat Green Bay, Houston, and San Francisco this year. We played Washington, Seattle and Indianapolis tough. All these teams are alive in the playoffs as of today.
We are not so far away.
After the pain wears away we will assess the season. Already I can see some key positions that need improving. Offensive guard, defensive secondary, linebacker, and wide receiver to start.
And, of course, quarterback.
But for right now I am down. Still on the wagon; always will be, Many will get off, but they probably jumped on last week.
Sunday morning has proven to be a tough one. The knowledge that Green Bay is the cause of our end is hard to accept. We realize the team was not ready in 2012 to go the distance, but we would have liked at least one more round.
This Sunday's game vs. the Packers will be big. The biggest game since the "Assault in New Orleans", or otherwise referred to as the NFC Championship in the 2009 season. If Minnesota wins, they will have gone from back-to-back losing seasons, including last year's 3-13 season to a 2012 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Unbelievable.
Still, Minnesotans refuse to embrace quarterback Christian Ponder. And for solid reasons. His passer rating lies in-between Michael Vick and Blaine Gabbert. He throws for under 100 yards. He had five fumbles lost and twelve interceptions. His decision-making is much maligned.
Yet here we are at 9-6.
Adrian Peterson is demonstrating how important a running game can be. Peterson's 126.5 rushing yards per game dwarfs the next closest runner by nearly 30 yards per game. AP's 6.0 yards per carry are second to only C.J. Spiller, and his due mostly to running against prevent defenses, as opposed to 8 or 9 in the "box". Adrian's 2012 season ranks 8th all-time for rushing yards in a season, with Earl Campbell only 36 yards away, and O.J. Simpson's 2,003 yard performance a mere 105. Peterson's season ranks 79th all-time in all purpose yards, and if he can manage to set a single-season record by rushing for 208 yards vs. Green Bay, will finish in the top 30 all-time. He is 2nd in the league in rushing TDs. 2nd in attempts. And he has only lost two fumbles.
The defense is anchored by more than just Jared Allen and Chad Greenway in 2012. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have been impressive, combining for 12.5 sacks. Kevin Williams, along with Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, have kept the middle solid throughout the season. Jasper Brinkley is starting to dominate at the middle linebacker. Harrison Smith and Antoine Winfield pound would be runners and receivers, and the cornerbacks have been better than any in recent memory. A total team defense.
Even Blair Walsh deserves credit. All he has done is set team and NFL records with nine consecutive field goals of 50+ yards. He is 32 of 35 on the year in field goal attempts. His kick-offs are pinning opponents deeper than in years past. He could very likely be an All-Pro is 2012.
And then there is Ponder.
Ponder lost favor by mid-season. Whether it was Bill Musgrave tightening the reins, or a lack of good decision-making, Christian stunk up the place for a while. And Minnesota lost games they had opportunities to win. Certainly the Washington loss, the Green Bay loss, and a few others drew pointed fingers at Ponder.
Despite a good game yesterday, most still feel he is not the quarterback of the future, and will be the demise of 2012. These fans want Minnesota to draft another quarterback next year, and open the door to potential free agent QBs or others out of favor with present teams. The list includes: Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, and more. Even Tarvaris Jackson would be an upgrade in the more pessimistic fan's eye.
But let's look at a few past drafts before we come to judgment...
2012 NFL Draft included a slew of apparent strong quarterbacks. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin headline a strong class. But would it surprise you to know that Luck's present passer rating is below Ponder? And other than the top two draft picks overall, only Russell Wilson (75th pick) is looking good. Miami's Tannehill (8th) and Cleveland's Weeden (22nd) have had mixed reviews.
The 2011 NFL Draft saw four quarterbacks chosen in the top twelve, six in the top thirty-six picks. Cam Newton, first overall, has been impressive. Jake Locker (8th) less so. Blaine Gabbert (10th) a disappointment. After Ponder, Andy Dalton was chosen 35th and Colin Kaepernick 36th. Both look better than Ponder to date.
In 2010, five QBs were draft in the first four rounds. The top pick was Sam Bradford, chosen 1st overall. Next was Tim Tebow, who went with the 25th pick. The remaining QBs include Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and some guy named Kafka. Only Bradford holds hope for a solid future.
In 2009 only three QBs are of note still today. Matthew Stafford, first overall, has been great and terrible. Mark Sanchez, fifth overall, is now washed up after his fourth season. And Josh Freeman (17th) continues to struggle with Tampa Bay. In this their fourth year, this class has taken a mighty step back.
2008 had of note Matt Ryan (3rd) and Joe Flacco (18th) and maybe Chad Henne (57th). Flacco has his detractors while Matt Ryan has proved himself year after year. The rest? Nothing.
So go ahead and hate on Ponder. Wish for another quarterback to take over. You may end up right, Christian might not be that good. But do not forget, Minnesota will not have a top ten pick. Probably not a top twenty. That means talent like Griffin, Luck, Newton, etc.. will not be available. We will have to find a Russell Wilson, or a Colin Kaepernick. In the meantime, most fans understand we still need to improve at other positions, such as wide receiver or offensive guard.
In the meantime, I will support Ponder as he beats Green Bay (along with AP and the defense), and brings us back to the playoffs in 2012.
Onward Christian Ponder. I will march off to war with you.
When one talks playoff droughts in Minnesota, only the oldest of fans can give a knowing nod. The 1960s was home to the beginning of the expansion franchise, and those first seven years. It was the Norm Van Brocklin years, the coach for the first six fledgling years. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 with the 1964 season (8-5-1) our only winning year. Bud Grant was pursued and accepted the position in time for the 1967 season. Grant went 3-8-3 that year, before the Vikings' winning ways would begin.
The Vikings' first division title (1968) would precede a run of ten playoff visits in eleven years. Four Super Bowl visits. An NFL Championship. Three NFC championships. Ten division titles. Numerous individual awards, most notably Alan Page's MVP award in 1971. Fran Tarkenton was traded for valuable draft choices by Minnesota in 1968 and then re-acquired in 1972. After a missed playoff, Tarkenton led a run of three Super Bowl visits in four years (1973, 1974, 1976) interrupted by the Hail Mary loss to the Cowboys.
We thought the good times would never end.
The first time since expansion that Minnesota ever missed the play-offs for more than one consecutive season after the expansion years was the drought of 1983-1986. Minnesota finished playing at the Met (1981) and made the playoffs in a strike-shortened 1982 season. Grant started 7-2 in 1983, but finished and retired with an 8-8 season. Les Steckel followed it what is known as the worst of years with Pecos River and a 3-13 mark. Grant was then reinstated and went 7-9 before retiring again, a la Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan. Jerry Burns was then hired and went 9-7 but missed the playoffs. That winning season signaled the end to the losing way of 1983-86.
Jerry Burns led Minnesota through its' second drought in 1990-91. It was a year after the blockbuster trade that sent the Vikings' future off to Dallas for Herschel Waker. After Minnesota surprised the NFL in 1987 with its' run to the NFC Championship despite suffering an 0-3 beginning with replacement players, the Viking brass felt they were one player away from a Super Bowl win. Boy, were they wrong. Walker was released in 1991 and Jerry Burns quit. Minnesota returned to their winning way.
The Vikings made the playoffs eight of the next nine seasons. When present day Packers and Bears fans make fun of the present day Vikings, the older Vikings' fan can smile. They remember stretches like this one and the 1970s. In 1998, Minnesota amassed one of the greatest offenses in all of NFL history. Rookie Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and more. The loss at home to the Falcons by a missed short kick may be the single greatest disappointment in Minnesota history. The 15-1 team would probably be voted Most Likely to Win the Super Bowl in a Do Over, though fans of 2009, 1975, or 1969 may disagree.
Minnesota won playoff games in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. They were not just making the playoffs, they were knocking on the championship door. And then that is when the weather changed. Minnesota has only made the playoffs three of the last eleven seasons. The 2004 team backed in at 8-8 (but upset the Packers in Lambeau so they are revered). In 2008, Minnesota made a run with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. In 2009, Minnesota famously added Brett Favre and made a serious bid for their first Super Bowl, only to be beaten (literally) by a very aggressive Saints team.
A pair of three year droughts ensued in 2001. We will call this the 2000s Famine.
First, the 2001-03 drought where Minnesota went 20-28. The successful but turbulent Denny Green was let go for Mike Tice at the end of the 2001 season. Tice had a good thing going in 2003, starting 6-0, only to finish with a 9-7 record and missing the playoffs after a last-second Cardinals loss.
Minnesota started 5-1 the next year, only to fall to 8-8 by season's end. The victory over Green Bay kept his job for another year, but eventually Tice would be replaced by Brad Childress.
The drought of 2005-07 was one of mediocrity. The Vikings actually had only one losing season (2006, 6-10) and went 23-25 over the three years. In 2007, Minnesota drafted Adrian Peterson and that seemed to change their fortune. Peterson's 296 yard game in his rookie season typified the type of rain to change a landscape.
Minnesota was decent in 2008, going 11-5 and winning their first division title since 2000. And then there was the addition of Favre, and as any fan who is of reading-age knows, the 2009 season. But the 2009 team was not one of longevity. The holes began to appear. Players left or were injured. A great team disassembled rapidly. Brad Childress would be replaced by Leslie Frazier after a 3-7 start to the 2010 season, one filled with false promise.
Our present drought 2010- is at the two year mark. We are 9-23 in that time, making this the barest drought of all time, including the expansion years. Many feel we are in rebuilding mode and will not see the playoffs for a time. Others remain optimistic that this drought will be no longer than other recent ones.
Many good signs are appearing. A rejuvenated Adrian Peterson. A defensive end that is capable of having season's like Alan Page, Chris Doleman or Keith Millard. Again. A sharpening of the skills of young Christian Ponder. The explosiveness of players like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson. The addition of an offensive tackle (Matt Kalil) with hopes of a Ron Yary or Gary Zimmerman type future. Good signs.
But drought is tough to cure. Usually when it is dry in one region (ours) it is fertile somewhere else (the rest of the division). It will take good farming but maybe an added dose of hardship elsewhere. Not to wish ill on my rival teams, but maybe a plight of some kind. Like turnovers from your star player. Or missed field goals.
Because I do expect it to rain soon. And the promised land still waits for us all.
Glory and Skol.
As talk of a trade for Donovan McNabb looms, I find myself excited. The drafting of Christian Ponder is precursor to a future unknown. The signing of Tarvaris Jackson by the Seahawks strange. Free agent quarterbacks like Kyle Orton and Vince Young just do not do it for me. Questions at QB are not good to have going into a season where the Packers are defending champions, the Lions expected to be much improved again, and the Bears looking decent. So we may bring in the aged McNabb.
I remember when Donovan McNabb visited in September, 1996, with the Syracuse Orangemen. They were nationally ranked, and faced my Golden Gophers who had just eked out a three point win versus Ball State in the Metrodome a week earlier. It did not look promising. McNabb was strong-armed, fast, and impossible to contain. I sat with my 6 year-old son among the older alumni and expected the worst. Sure enough, McNabb impressed early and the Gophers trailed. Unfortunately, a ticket had been given to a Syracuse fan who would sit among the Minnesota faithful. Every play that McNabb made, every score, this guy would scream how it was "over" for the pathetic Gophers. He laughed at our team. He knew how good McNabb was.
My son complained to me. I complained to him. We hated this fan in orange. What was he doing sitting among the alumni? I silently cursed the person who surrendered their ticket to this outsider. I did not want to spend the game being humiliated by a fan from another team. I whispered to my son (like a nice Minnesotan) that he was a bad man. He would get his someday, just probably not by a Wacker led Gopher team. But then the tide changed. I recall turnovers turning into touchdowns. The Syracuse fan grew quieter. All of the elder fans I sat with started to smile. And then my son, whom I love dearly, started to say the things we alums could not. He taunted the Orangeman. He laughed at him. And it was a glorious day. Minnesota pulled off an improbable upset against McNabb and Syracuse (who would finish the year ranked and 9-3). I never hugged my son more than that day.
Some twelve plus years later I took that same son to the Vikings playoff game versus the Eagles. We had Adrian Peterson, we had won the NFC Central, and the aging Donovan McNabb came to town with his Eagles and their vaunted defense. Gus Frerotte had led Minnesota in 2008 to a respectable year. I am not sure many thought we would get to the Super Bowl, but most hoped we could defeat the Eagles at home in this first round of the playoffs, McNabb was good. We were not. The 26-14 loss was a low point for my son, myself, and our relationship with the Vikings. Next to the 1998 playoff loss to the Falcons, this was the worst we had encountered. It was the last game I would watch live with him before he went off to college. Not a good way to end.
And now the Vikings are wanting to bring McNabb in to push/educate Christian Ponder. Or maybe to start and return Minnesota to the respectability of just a season ago, when we were a play away form the Super Bowl? Minnesota has had success bringing in older quarterbacks before. Guys like Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Frerotte, and Brett Favre have done exactly that. Why can't it be McNabb, too?
It will be difficult at best. But one thing is certain, Donovan McNabb brings a history that warrants hope. He was the facilitator of a football fan friendship I have kept with my son for many years. Maybe he can help some other father/son duo enjoy moments like we have had?
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.
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