I often have told this story when writing how important the center is for a National Football League team.
The Vikings were another example today, missing injured John Sullivan (concussion) as they scored only one touchdown and lost 17-16 at Buffalo on a last-second touchdown pass by Kyle Orton.
It was a draft I attended in 1968, and Paul Brown was drafting for the expansion Cincinnati Bengals, who had the No. 2 overall pick. The Vikings took USC tackle Ron Yary No. 1. There were some great quarterbacks and running backs available, but when it came time for Mr. Brown to announce his draft choice, he said “The Bengals select Bob Johnson, center of the University of Tennessee.” Knowing Brown as I did, I asked him, “Why are you doing that?”
He said “Bob Johnson will play a dozen years for me, and without a good center, you can’t win.”
And he was right. Johnson played 12 years, and his No. 54 is the only number retired by the Bengals.
So when Joe Berger, who hasn’t played much center in the NFL, and hardly any for the Vikings, came in at center for the injured Sullivan, the team was in trouble. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked five times.
The Vikings just don’t score touchdowns, and until they find a way to score touchdowns without Adrian Peterson and without Kyle Rudolph and without Matt Cassel and without Brandon Fusco, and now without Sullivan, it’s going to be more difficult.
The score was Detroit 17, Vikings 3. The problem wasn’t the quarterback, even though he was sacked eight times for 45 yards in losses … and when he did complete a pass, he was running for his life, and getting physically handled by the Lions.
The quarterback, one Teddy Bridgewater, is not a franchise quarterback, at least not yet, but he proved in the second half that he has a great future, not as a rookie, but once he gets an offensive line in front of him and a running game to go with it. You can’t win games without a running game, and the Vikings maybe have one of the worst running games in the league. You take Adrian Peterson out of the lineup, and all the opposition has to worry about is defending the pass to be effective.
Coaching isn’t the problem either. Mike Zimmer is a good head coach and has a good staff, but when you lose your starting right guard, your starting tight end, and other people aren’t performing, and you don’t have a running attack, the defense can’t win the game, even when it plays well.
This will be a good football team when Bridgewater gets some experience, Adrian Peterson comes back or a running back of his caliber is obtained, and the other injured players are healthy.
Until then, they will struggle, and I predict they will not win at Buffalo, and they might even have trouble winning at Tampa, where the Vikings, even with outstanding teams, always had a battle in the heat of Florida.
The media has really put the pressure on Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had a big day two weeks ago against an Atlanta team that has a 2-3 record and a suspect defense. The Falcons’ victories have come against Tampa Bay and New Orleans, two teams that have struggled this year.
I’m not saying that Bridgewater doesn’t have great potential, but he will go against the best defensive team he has faced, by far, and have one of the worst running attacks in the NFL behind him, when he plays Detroit on Sunday. Detroit has the top-ranked defense in the league, and the Vikings offensive line will have to have the best day it has had since the Atlanta game if Bridgewater is to succeed.
We will find out how good Bridgewater is Sunday. It’s possible that he will go into the game at not 100 percent, because of a sprained ankle that kept him out of the Packers game.
He has been called a franchise quarterback by some media people, but at this point, I wouldn’t put him the same class as Francis Tarkenton, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Bridgewater still has to prove himself to be a “franchise quarterback,” and I’m one of the media who is cheering for him to become one despite my feeling that Christian Ponder will still wind up playing well for some other team before it’s all over.
The Patriots beat the Vikings on Sunday by turning three interceptions into 17 points. They had four interceptions in all off Matt Cassel to win 30-7 at TCF Bank Stadium.
Nobody expected that many interceptions, or that the Vikings would have a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown, or that Adrian Peterson’s absence would affect the team that much.
But one thing people did expect was that the Vikings’ schedule would make it hard for them to get off to a good start.
The Patriots were a better team. Now the Vikings have to play at New Orleans, which has unexpectedly lost its first two games and cannot afford to go 0-3. The Saints will be ready for the Vikings.
Then the Falcons come to town with a very good quarterback in Matt Ryan. The Vikings could win that home game, but it won’t be easy.
As for Game 5, the Vikings will not win at Green Bay. You can be assured of that.
The Lions are here in the sixth game, and new coach Jim Caldwell will have Detroit playing better than it has in the past.
So be prepared for some losses in the early part of the schedule, and a better record in the latter part of the schedule. If the Vikings can steal two or three wins in the first six games, they’ll have a good chance to contend for the playoffs.
The Vikings didn’t win a road game last season, and you have to go back to late 2012 when they last won away from home -- at St. Louis, where they won today 34-6, and at Houston.
The interesting thing in the victory Sunday was that everyone was expecting Adrian Peterson to run wild. He gained a total of 75 yards and his longest run was for 17 yards.
The biggest playmaker was Cordarrelle Patterson, who wound up with 102 yards and made an absolutely sensational 67-yard run, dodging several potential tacklers. It was the longest run by a Vikings receiver in team history, and it was the first time a receiver for the Vikings gained more than 100 yards on the ground in a game.
No doubt Mr. Zimmer and his staff have done a great job, and all the praise out of Winter Park was not propaganda. But the real test will come next week, when Bill Belichick, winner of three Super Bowls, and with another great Patriots team on hand, comes to Minnesota.
The Patriots are led by the great Tom Brady, who will test the Vikings pass defense and see if it can play as well as it did against St. Louis. Even though the Patriots lost on Sunday in Miami, they will be a force this season.
Next week -- that’s when we’ll find out how good this Vikings team is.
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