Percy Harvin made a statement instantly. Jerome Felton made a key block on the outside and he was gone. Minnesota would take a 7-0 lead in seconds. Later in the game, Marcus Sherels, refusing to fair catch in traffic, shook off a few arm tackles and raced into the endzone as well. Two return touchdowns and a 20-13 win over Detroit.
I cannot recall a game where Minnesota returned both a kickoff and a punt in the same game. And while I can recall games where the Vikings have won without scoring an offensive TD, it has been a long while. The 2009 and 1998 NFC Championship teams both featured outstanding offenses with parts of a good defense. But how long since 10-3 wins? Take away the returns and Minnesota's offense produced two field goals. Six points and a victory.
Adrian Peterson kept the possession clock near even as he carved through the Lions defense. Christian Ponder avoided mistakes. Add a gutsy call by Bill Musgrave late in the game passing to new 2012 addition Jerome Simpson, and you have enough to win this year.
Kudos to everyone associated with the defense. The defensive line had five sacks, Letroy Guion and Everson Griffen each with two. Chad Greenway had eleven tackles, Antoine WInfield deflected passes and had ten tackles. Rookie Harrison Smith saved a touchdown with a hard hit on Calvin Johnson.Josh Robinson looked good in coverage. A total team defensive effort.
And that is what has been missing since the domination of the 1970s. Sure we have had many playoff teams, great offenses, but when it came to playoff games we could not stop the best teams in the NFL. Not sure who to thank, or if it will last, but for right now Minnesota is winning with a hard-hitting defense.
Like old times.
Fingers will stop pointing at Leslie Frazier, as he raises his Northern record to 1-8. The team is playing hard. Adrian is running like a purple beast. Percy Harvin continues to electrify the fan base. And we have a good pass rush with a run stopping front seven. If these young defensive backs like Smith, Robinson, and Chris Cook keep improving, we might just get cocky.
It is good to be a (Vi)King again...
It is almost here.
Actually it was here Wednesday, the opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. Two of my personal 'most-hated' teams in the NFL. Dallas and New York have become staples of NFL television. I watch them both far too often. I really do not care for what happens in the oft-bloated NFL East.
Nor do I care for afternoons of the AFC West. Instead, give me the NFC North. But unless you have a package that provides other game opportunities, or you want to spend Sunday managing the internet and watching from a computer, you basically get what they give you. Maybe that is why I know Oakland and Denver's history better than Chicago or Detroit.
But I digress.
What can we expect in 2012 from our young, recovering Minnesota Vikings? Now minutes away from opening kickoff, most fans I have read, listened, or watched do not expect great things. They realize that Christian Ponder is young and inexperienced. They see Adrian Peterson trying to come back too quickly from a major injury. They scoff at the talent Minnesota displays at wide receiver after Percy Harvin. A defensive backfield too old (Winfield), too young (Smith), or inconsistent (everybody else). Linebackers that make the famous "no-name defense" of Miami seem celebratory.
Their predictions have ranged from no better than 3-13 to a modest 6-10.
And then there is the optimists, blind if unsuccessful, loyal to the end. They see elite talent in Jared Allen, A rejuvenated Kevin Williams, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and a strong rookie class. They see an 'easy' schedule in the first half of the season. They see Chicago getting old. They see the Packers defense crumbling. They see the Lions as paper tigers. They see what they want to see.
These predictions range from 8-8 to about 11-5 and and a playoff birth. (Even blind homers are realists somewhat, no 13-3 out there).
The funniest part of it all is that most fans on either side will not change their minds after this first game. They will see what they want to see. If the Vikings win, it will be because the Jaguars are bad. It will be because Maurice Jones-Drew held out, or the top tackler was injured. If Minnesota loses, it will be first game jitters for the young ones. Or bad officiating, or play-calling. I find it most humorous that about 1,000,000 Minnesotans feel they are better play callers than Bill Musgrave or Leslie Frazier. Every game. Every year. Except Bud Grant, hallowed be his name.
I will be watching no matter what... Right, honey?
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.
I confess I missed most of the Tampa Bay game. I can count on one hand the number of Vikings games I have missed in forty years. I constantly remind my wife about the wild-card game she made me miss in 1994. When I was eleven I refused to go to church claiming sickness, and was then told I could not attend the Vikings-Cowboys "Hail Mary" playoff game, which I still attribute to God spiting those who would not take me. I never even watched that game I was so mad. Those two games and maybe a funeral when I was young, that is about it.
So last Sunday I had to do some emergency work thanks to the recent frost. I listened to updates on my friend's satellite radio. The Vikings first half domination did not surprise me. I saw signs of an improved defense from last year right away. Shutting out the Bucs didn't seem unfathomable. Josh Freeman is still learning, Tampa really has no skill receiver, and thier defense was susceptible to a good running game, which we had.
The second half, as bad as it was again, also did not surprise me. We folded against the Chargers in game one. I managed to catch a few glimpses of the television as we mismanaged the clock.In the short few minutes I did watch I just became angry. Working in the drizzle was a better place to be than watching a second second-half destruction.
Meanwhile, the Lions were pounding the Kansas City Chiefs (Or Luck lottery favorites) 48-3. Detroit had squeaked by the Bucs in week one, and in week two took advantage of a team falling harder than my property value. Calvin Johnson added another two touchdown game, Matthew Stafford threw four TDs, and the defense played outstanding.
So Detroit heads into the Dome undefeated and favored in the game against my Vikings. I saw on a CBS site that Minnesota was rated the 30th best team in the NFL. There are more than thirty teams, right? The Chiefs have to be worse than us. We led to playoff contenders in both games by half time. San Diego and Tampa Bay are not Kansas City. Sure we lost, but in both games we in strong contention to win. Maybe we forgot about Adrian Peterson, or our blitzing killed us, or Donovan McNabb struggled, but we also lit up both teams for thirty minutes. We are not the thirtieth best team.
Further, the Lions beat us late in the season last year. Heck, the Tigers owned the Twins this year. Maybe we will never beat another Motown team as long as I live. It is certain the Timberwolves will help in that realm. The Wild, too.
But alas, things are not as they seem. Minnesota will start off strong. Antoine Winfield will do his thing, AP his. Minnesota will get a lead and the fans will return to their supportive loudness. You see, playing underdog at home is fun. When I was wee bit of a gambler I used to look for the home underdog. No, not the fifteen point variety, but the three point ones. A home team good enough to stay close. And that we are.
The Lions will come in with puffed chests. They boast their best team in a very, very long time. But they are still the Lions. And this is the centennial game among two franchises that frankly have not been on the same level. Sorry.
I know what you are thinking. 'What a homer, he is blind to the truth'. But I am not. I know we stunk in the second halves. In those two halves we were the 30th best team. But I know something else, too. I know that Kevin Williams is back. I know that Adrian Peterson is running as strong as ever. I know that Jahvid Best is averaging 3.5 yards a carry. I know we have punished Stafford before.
The Vikings are 0-2, and another loss could start the wheels of change. Certainly the Packers will be formidable all year, and if they fix their defense, a shoe-in for the playoffs. The Bears are a fringe playoff team. If the Lions go to 3-0 people might start expecting them to make the playoffs (outside of Michigan). It is a must win game in September of the NFL. And while Detroit has earned some respect, pounding the Chiefs is not a precursor to the playoffs, rather a rite of passage in 2011.
And win we will on Sunday, mind you. If Leslie Frazier can find a way to field the first half Vikings all game, that is.
In Brad Childress' final days we saw the complete disintegration of a football team. Not that the 2010 team was ever considered good, but there were signs of hope.
The opening game of the season Minnesota traveled to New Orleans and held their offense to a mere fourteen points. Unfortunately, they lost 14-9. Week Two, Minnesota lost at home 14-10 to Miami. After a win at home versus the Lions and a following bye, they faced a scheduled four weeks of the Jets, Cowboys, Packers and Patriots, three games of which were on the road. The Vikings only managed to defeat Dallas, and were 2-5 at that point. An overtime win over the Cardinals put Minny at 3-5, not good, but with some glimmers of understanding.
Minnesota would then travel to Chicago where they lost 27-13. They then returned home and were destroyed 31-3 by Green Bay. Childress was gone the next day. Leslie Frazier was promoted and a new era begun. Frazier went 3-3 with a variety of quarterbacks and defensive players. The best game was easily the delayed game with at the Eagles, where Minnesota battered Michael Vick and beat a good Philly team 24-14. The worst was a 40-14 shellacking at TCF Stadium at the hands of the Bears.
In the end Minnesota's dome collapsed. Brett Favre was beaten into submission. Childress was gone. And to make matters even more gloom, the Lions finished ahead of the Vikings while the Bears and Packers met in the NFC Championship. The previous year Green Bay gave up over 50 points in a playoff loss to the Cardinals, while Minnesota routed the Cowboys and held their won in New Orleans. In one year's time we saw the complete collapse of a franchise.
But like kings of old, when a season has died, a new one is born. The 2011 Vikings face a tough schedule again, as all three NFC North teams appear to be among the better in the NFC, if not the NFL. Green Bay has already won their opener, a 42-34 win over the Saints at home. Chicago is the defending division champion, and has added more to the offense (Marion Barber and Roy Williams) through free agency. Detroiters are certain that the combination of tackle Suh with rookie tackle Nick Fairley will propel them toward a playoff visit. Everybody is confident except one fan base: ours.
Vikings fans who have hope this year are called homers. Given the others in the division it is reasoned that Minnesota is doomed for fourth place automatically. The addition of guys like Donovan McNabb and Charlie Johnson has not impressed the critics. The losses of players such as Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Brett Favre, Bryant McKinnie, Ben Leber, etc... too much to overcome with a few elderly veteran additions, they say.
But as you might have guessed, that does not include me. And I am not alone. Whether a blind homer, eternal optimist, or genius prognosticator, there are a growing base that sees reasons to get excited for Vikings football in 2011. The signing of Adrian Peterson today a boost to ego. The cutting of McKinnie proof that there are new philosophies afoot. The older of us who have witnessed Minnesota be among the best in the division more often than not.
If we improve on our turnover ratio we will be better. If we really improve on the ratio, I think the playoffs are possible.
It may be another pitcher of purple kool-aid, but hey, what would life be without kool-aid?
San Diego will be a tough test. But like the Monkees of old, I am a believer.
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