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.
We remember. It was a season coming off of one of the harshest losses the Minnesota Vikings had ever suffered in an NFC Championship. Beaten on the road after a decisive win at home in the previous round. Fans who disliked the coach for his lack of playoff success grew. But their was hope by many as the team had a new quarterback who had played very well in getting the team to the NFC Championship.
And then, tragedy struck.
A player would not be available to start the season. It would be a blow to the offense, who had counted on this player for its' success. They would start poorly without him, losing their first two games. Then they would win one they should at home to be 1-2 in the standings. A tough schedule lay ahead.
The 2010 Minnesota Vikings you say?
Or maybe the 2001-02 Vikings. Back then it was Daunte Culpepper, fresh off his successful first year with the team. The much maligned Denny Green had disappointed in the playoffs again. The New York Giants disposed of Minnesota 41-0 at the end. During the following training camp, Korey Stringer died tragically, and the team was scrambling to replace such an important member of the offense.
They started the season by losing 24-13 to Carolina. The Panthers would win only one game the entire year. Next, Minnesota lost 17-10 to Chicago. After a 31-26 win over Tampa Bay, they stood at 1-2. The city was nervous. Things were not clicking like they had in the previous year. And they were right to be nervous. Minnesota would make it to 3-3, and then proceed to lose nine of the last eleven games, to finish at 5-11.
Dennis Green was let go before the end of the year. He had not done enough with the talent he was given. That final year, Minnesota had an exceptionally poor Draft, with Michael Bennnett being the top selection with the 27th pick. Mike Tice replaced Green in the final game, and would go on to a mediocre few years before being let go. Both Green Bay and Chicago had success in those years while Minnesota floundered.
The loss of Sidney Rice just before the season has had an obvious impact on Minnesota. The Vikings are 29th in total offense. Brett Favre, who tore the league up in 2009, has a 60.4 passer rating (that's really low). He has only 597 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. Despite the number two rusher in the NFL, the offense is just not getting it done.
Brad Childress is a coach walking the plank, so to speak. He has had improved success in regular season each year, but little in the playoffs. Minnesota fans are not happy with just getting there. Childress has been given plenty of talent to obtain that elusive first Super Bowl. Positive drafts have yielded players like Adrian Peterson, Rice, Percy Harvin and much more. Acquisitions, like Favre and Steve Hutchinson, have given the team elite offensive talent. Their are many veterans on the defense who are candidates for All-Pro consideration this year. It is now or never for the coach.
Some are hoping that Childress' trend of improvement every year will also apply to the playoffs. Most fans would concede that the Vikings certainly had the team necessary to win one. The humbling of the Cowboys and the strong effort in New Orleans demonstrated just that. But this year's slow start, or more specifically, the loss to the Dolphins at home, has fans on edge. The Childress haters are convinced we have no chance. The realists see a very tough schedule in the upcoming weeks and more talent on both the Bears and Packers than a true Viking fan could stand. And the optimist correctly assessing available talent, is sure that this is still the strongest team in the NFC North. They remember that this team was a play (or huddle) away from winning the NFC Championship. And they have faith that Brett Favre will begin to return to last year's form.
We did experience 2001. It was not fun. This season's start has been somewhat depressing, given the talent and expectation coming into the opener in New Orleans. If it is to be deja vous all over again, it will probably come at the expense of a head coach. Many would like that. Sacrifice a season to get a new head coach. But what if the next one is Mike Tice? I think we should just start winning again with the same coach.
We will find out soon after the bye week is over.
I call it Bud Grant Syndrome, or BGS. Minnesota joined the NFL in 1961 and Norm van Brocklin was the coach for the first six years. He has a tough assignment as the coach of a new franchise. The NFL has a history of teams that struggled in their early years. Only a few have avoided this pitfall. Minnesota was not one. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 in his tenure, which equates to a winning percentage of .363.
Bud Grant, a local hero from both the Gophers (football, basketball, baseball) and the NBA Minneapolis Lakers, had coached the previous ten years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He originally started as a member of the Lakers, and was a part of the 1950 NBA Championship team. After two years as a reserve in the NBA, Grant changed careers and joined the NFL's Eagles in 1951. Grant had been drafted in the first round after college by the NFL, but chose to stay in the area and play for Sid Hartman's Lakers. Grant had nearly 1,000 yards receiving in 1952, a year after leading the team in sacks in 1951. Grant would hold out for more money and leave the Eagles for the CFL in 1953. There he had a great career cut short by a move to coaching in 1956. He coached there for the ten years, winning four championships (ended up in the CFL Hall of Fame) before Minnesota lured him away to replace Van Brocklin.
Grant had a rough first year, going 3-8-3 in 1967. And then the transformation occurred. From 1968 to 1978 Grant won the division ten times. After his 8-6 year in 1968, he was 35-7 the next three years, including the Vikings first Super Bowl visit. After a mediocre 7-7 season in 1972, Grant reeled off six straight division titles and three more Super Bowl visits. Minnesota was consistently one of the best teams in the NFL every year in the 1970s. Minnesota fans grew accustomed to his winning ways, as Grant compiled a lifetime record of 151-87-5, or a winning percentage of .634.
But all good things must end, and Grant was replaced in 1984 by Les Steckel. Steckel went 3-13 in what many felt was the worst season in Vikings history. It was so bad, they talked Grant out of retirement, and he coached the team in 1985, compiling a 7-9 record. But then he left again.
Jerry Burns followed, sporting a 52-43 (.547) record from 1986 to 1991. He was followed by Dennis Green, who coached the team from 1992 to 2001. Green had better success than any other coach not named Grant, and led the Vikings to their best regular season record in 1998 at 15-1. Green's lifetime record was 97-62, a winning percentage of .610. But Minnesota could not seem to get back to the Super Bowl with him despite good talent. Mike Tice took over in 2001 and struggled to a 32-33 record, Minnesota's first losing coach since Steckel. Vikings brass removed Tice before the 2006 season and brought in Brad Childress.
Childress has been a work in progress. It is interesting to note that he has improved by two games every year, from his first in 2006 (6-10) to last year's fourth season of 12-4. Childress is a lifetime 36-28, or .563. Last year Childress returned the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but as we all know, fell short to the Saints.
So how does BGS affect Childress? For one, Minnesota fans consider any season short of the Super Bowl a failure. Moreover, since Grant, fans have pointed a finger at the head coach more than the owners, GMs, or players when the season ends short of the Super Bowl. Dennis Green had great success for a period, but fans were constantly upset with his decision-making. Jerry Burns suffered the same fate. Neither did well in the PR part of the job, struggling with reporters keen on asking why they made the coaching decisions that they did. Minnesota Nice did not apply to questioning and criticizing head coaches for the Vikings. Mike Tice and Les Steckel were given shortened assignments because Minnesotans do not tolerate losers coaching the Vikings. BGS has insured that this will always be.
For the last twenty-five years I have watched as friends, strangers, and those in-between bemoaned the poor coaching in Minnesota. I heard complaints in the 15-1 season in 1998. I heard complaints last year regarding Childress and the 12-4 season that was a play or two away from a Super Bowl visit. I guarantee Childress will be criticized if he continues his trend and goes 14-2 this year. It has to be. It is BGS.
We loved stoic Grant sitting on the sidelines in the cold of the Met. Our eighteen season love affair ended in 1985. Since then Minnesota fans have been sure that their coaches are basically morons. I do not think I have watched a single game in the last twenty years where some arm-chair, drunk, athletic has-been does not call me or talk to me about the lack of good coaching. Any mistake, from fumbles to penalties, falls on the leader of the team: the coach. Never mind that management won't draft offensive linemen early, or that we refuse to add a needed free agent. Come that first loss of the season people begin to call for the coach's head.
Can we cure BGS? Yes, definitely. But getting to the Super Bowl won't cut it, Grant did that four times. The only known antidote for this disease is a Super Bowl win. And it would not surprise me if even that didn't do it.
We really liked Bud.
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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