I used to like the Pro Bowl. The images of Hawaii, the relaxed look at the players, the sideline interviews, and the chance to see the league's best perform against each other were enough reasons to warrant viewing of the end of the season highlight game. When the game was played in Honolulu at teh end of the NFL season, it was the perfect showcase for the NFL. It was an end of the year celebration. It was never really about who won the game, but rather, which players could dominate it. Four times Minnesota Vikings won that honor, the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Fran Tarkenton was the first in 1965, and Adrian Peterson the last only a few years ago.
Today's Pro Bowl, cast between conference championships and the Super Bowl, is more a showcase of how little the players think of the game. Sure, ten of the twenty-eight missing players will be excused because they are in Super Bowl XLV, but isn't that who we wanted to see? For whatever reason Aaron Rodgers was left off of the roster, but six other Packers will be absent. But fear not, there was six Cowboys selected. Add five Giants and five Eagles and the NFC roster takes on an East feel, despite their ineptness in 2010.
The missing list includes a who's who of the NFL. Offense? Try missing Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Gates, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew and a few of the league's best linemen. On the defense, Dwight Freeney, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Briggs, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Ndamukong Suh, and Brian Urlacher, to name a few. I will even miss watching Clay Matthews, the dominant long-haired pass rusher of Green Bay. The long hair really bugs me, but can he play!
While I would not place the Pro Bowl in the same light as the All-Star games in the NBA and NHL (absolutely no defense), I think MLB has a better game. No, not the call-it-a-draw game, but the chance to see the game's best play hard. In baseball, one can play hard and not risk injury. Such is not the case in the other sports. The NFL simplifies defenses so as to avoid injuries. The result is a lot more scoring. While it is similar to the other sports, football's intensity seems to hide the softness of the All-Star venue better than hockey or basketball. I know when I am watching a 14-12 hockey game something is missing.
So today we sit back and watch the Pro Bowl if we has absolutely nothing else to do. I am debating taking the ice out of the gutters or viewing the game.
And it is a tough decision...
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.
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.
Ever since the 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFL playoffs I have hated the Giants. I do not want to revisit that nightmare.
In 1997, the Vikings were one of four teams from the NFC Central to make the playoffs. Green Bay was to go on to lose the Super Bowl to John Elway and the Broncos, but the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also wild-cards that season. Minnesota, seeded sixth, traveled to New Jersey to play the Giants. At the half, the Vikings trailed 19-3 but rallied behind Randall Cunningham. The 23-22 upset of the Giants meant Minnesota would play the top-seeded 49ers and lose 38-22 to end the season. A memorable season in that we won on the road in the playoffs.
Last season's 44-7 destruction was also enjoyable, and might have played a part in the first round ease with which we thrashed the Cowboys. Yes, beating up on good Giants' teams is almost as exciting as beating the Cowboys. To pound them both back-to-back, well that nears sweeping the Packers, it does.
This season Minnesota is 5-7, and probably just hurting their draft position the rest of the way. The team is playing better (again), and now the playoff hopeful Giants arrive. Or do they?
Presently they are scheduled to come in tomorrow morning at 8 AM. They will be off their routine to say the least. But then, so is the whole of the Twin Cities and friends, as most of us has reveled in this blizzard with opportunity to stay home with our families, watch a good movie, and eat. The area has come to a near stand still. The brave and well equipped will travel, but we also call them the crazy. MnDOT has advised their be no travel. Latest talk has the two teams joining Monday Night Football. But if winds stay at 30 mph, then what?
The 8-4 Giants envision a playoff run behind Eli Manning and a good defense. Well, sometimes a good defense. They did surrender seventy-four points to a suspect Dallas team in a split of their annual series. But they have three times held an opponent to under ten, so the talent is there.
New York fans have to feel nervous given last year's result. Sure, they can rationalize that it was a shell of their team, but the sting is the same. And they are ripe for the picking in 2010. A team stranded in Kansas City that packed for Minneapolis. A diverted flight turned sour. How many of us can stay on our game when that happens?
So the weather outside is frightful. The Vikings are playing delightful. And since the Giants have no place to go. Let it snow, let is snow, let it snow.
Sorry for that ... Skol.
The look on a small child's face when their mommy's face appears from behind something hidden is precious. I would learn in school studying the work of Jean Piaget and others that this process was called "object permanence" or the lack thereof. When the object leaves the sight of the underdeveloped brain, presto, it is gone. That is what makes Peek-A-Boo such a fun game. It is like finding your parent new each time.
Sure we all knew the talent existed. We have developed brains, we do not need to see something to know it is there. You can hide behind losses to the Dolphins and Packers are home, it does not matter. Most of us still remember that game in New Orleans last season, or the team that completely dismantled the Cowboys and even the Giants, albeit their reserves at the end of last year.
The ground game provided 190 yards, Adrian Peterson over one hundred with three TDs. Toby Gerhard added over fifty more. Tarvaris Jackson ran twice for twenty-two additional yards. All of that with guard Steve Hutchinson replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris DeGeare. Sidney Rice caught five for over one hundred yards including a Jackson pass that went through a pair of defender's hands and ended up being wrestled over for Rice's first score. The defense, led by the disappearing front line, was stalwart. Star rookie Steve Johnson of the Bills caught TWO passes.
No, this is not time to start looking at the playoff schedule. Unfortunately, most of the teams Minnesota is trying to catch also won. Only Tampa Bay faltered and that was because they faced a good Atlanta Falcons team now 10-2 and on top of the NFC. There are a few 8-4 teams that the Vikings would have to catch in order to make the playoffs, and presently our 5-7 record is woefully short. One of them, the New York Giants, comes to town next week.
No, we are not suddenly giddy like a two year old child. We have developed brains. We all knew the good team was right behind the wall, set of hands, or whatever blocked our view. We know this week it was only the Buffalo Bills, too.
The smile you see is because we missed them so very badly.
The good team, that is.
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