Leslie Frazier wasn’t completely out of his mind the other day when the coach said the Vikings could still finish 8-8 and make the playoffs if the team played its best football.
After all, a year ago, the Vikings won their final four games to earn a postseason spot.
So why would it be impossible to start against a beat-up Green Bay team Sunday and go on a six-game winning streak that would even the Vikings’ record and give them a chance to make the playoffs? Frazier talked about how there wasn’t any dominant team in the NFC North and the way things were going, anything could happen.
Some of the right things happened for the Vikings in the division Sunday. The Bears got walked over by the Rams 42-21 and the Lions lost to the Buccaneers 24-21, so they are both 6-5. The Packers were 5-5 going into Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings still have home games with the Bears and the Lions and were in a position to help their own situation if they played like they did in the first three quarters at Green Bay. They led 23-7 early in the fourth quarter, but they blew the 16-point lead and wound up tying the Packers 26-26 in overtime.
Flynn steps in
Yes, it is hard to figure out the Vikings. They couldn’t stop quarterback Matt Flynn, who was traded by the Seahawks to the Raiders in April and released; picked up by the Bills in October and again released; and picked up by Green Bay in November. Flynn was looking for a job when Packers starter Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone earlier this month, otherwise he still would be unemployed.
Flynn, who previously backed up Rodgers with the Packers from 2008 to ’11, replaced Scott Tolzien midway through the third quarter and proceeded to complete 21 of 36 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. He found a way to lead the wounded Packers to 16 fourth-quarter points to send the game into overtime and keep the Packers from defeat.
“[Flynn] gave them a spark,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “I think he knows the offense a little bit, obviously, and he is familiar with us. They went to their no-huddle hurry-up [offense], but penalties are what really killed us. I think we had a third-and-10 offsides and then a pass interference. We had two penalties that kept drives going.
“In the fourth quarter, that hurry-up got them into a rhythm and we shot ourselves in the foot with some penalties. We fought back, got it to overtime, and obviously ended with a tie.”
The Vikings would have had a much better shot at the playoffs had they not blown other big fourth-quarter leads, losing in the final 10 seconds to the Bears, with 51 seconds left to the lowly Browns and with 35 seconds remaining against Dallas. The Vikings are 2-8-1, with three losses more than the division-leading Bears and Lions.
Seattle made the playoffs in 2010 with a 7-9 record, winning the NFC West and becoming the only team with a losing record to make the playoffs in a regular-length season. So it’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.
In losing 20-7 to Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Gophers football coach Jerry Kill described the Badgers as the best team the maroon and gold has played this year.
“No disrespect to anyone else, but they’re that good,” Kill said. “I really believe in the next week or two, you’ll see them in the top 10 in the country. They’re playing very well at the right time, we’re playing very well.”
After studying video of the game, Kill said: “We played hard and we did some great things, but at the end of the day, as I go back over and over, the second quarter was a big quarter that we didn’t take advantage of. We had the ball inside the 50-yard line and we turned the ball over.”
Kill also talked about having the ball inside the Badgers 35 and turning it over.
“We had three turnovers, and that’s three possessions where you could get 80 to 100 yards,” he said “And in a game like that, you’ve got to be able to have that. Because the momentum shifted there in the second quarter. And then you’re down, they come out and score, you’re down two scores, and then you press a little bit.”
Kill talked about the Gophers not executing against a good team.
“But the effort and the preparation was good. [The Badgers] just made some plays and we didn’t make some plays, and had opportunities to make some plays. And turnovers killed us.”
Kill praised the Gophers’ defensive performance. “I think if you talked to the defensive coaches, I think the only thing they would say is that there were times that we didn’t tackle [well],” he said.
Kill added: “We played well enough on defense to win the game. And offensively, we played very well in the first quarter moving the football, but we just, in the second quarter, we had critical turnovers on the other side of the 50. And if we don’t get those turnovers, those are scoring opportunities.
“We had our chances. We dropped a few balls, we missed one down the pipe there late. But when you get in games like that, the team that makes the most plays wins. They made more plays than we did.”
Now the Gophers face another great team in unbeaten Michigan State at East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans manhandled Northwestern 30-6 this past weekend.
Former Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez, now the Badgers’ athletic director, praised Kill’s work with the football program while here for the game Saturday.
“[Kill] is well on his way,” Alvarez said. “That’s a good football team. I judge coaches by how their teams improve as they go along, and you can see a great deal of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, and from Year 2 to Year 3. So now it’s important that you continue to recruit well and build on what they’ve accomplished. But that’s a nice football team.”
Alvarez said he believes Kill is the ideal coach for the Gophers.
“It’s important to have a right fit,” Alvarez said. “You have to know who you are, what type of kids you can consistently recruit, and [with] both of my hires [Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen], I found guys that understood the culture at Wisconsin, understood how we win here, the type of players that we can get, the fact that we’re a developmental program, we use the walk-on kids. So if you make mistakes with the scholarship guys, you have a handful of guys that can come up and help you.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org