Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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It was an ugly game in the midst of an already-ugly season.
In his six weeks as an in-season NFL head coach, Mike Zimmer has dealt with everything from a suspended star to an injured starting quarterback to a gunshot free agent to kidney stones.
Sunday, he may have preferred kidney stones to what he witnessed.
His defense, which had played so well, gave up a literally last-second touchdown and the Vikings lost, 17-16, at Buffalo, sending the Vikings to 2-5.
A victory would have left the Vikings 3-4 with a trip to Tampa this weekend and a chance at .500. Instead, Zimmer must feel like he’s staring into the abyss.
Zimmer’s defense led the way, pressuring Kyle Orton and injuring the Bills’ two best backs in a physical performance against a team that has beaten the Bears and Lions this season. Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, two players expected to benefit from Zimmer’s system, made plays all over the field.
Teddy Bridgewater looked overwhelmed early, but then regained his poise and began finding his long-lost wide receivers, even hitting Cordarrelle Patterson with a touchdown pass.
But the offense’s inability to produce more than one touchdown cost the Vikings a victory.
The Vikings had 10 days to prepare for a home game against an injury-depleted divisional opponent.
They looked like they needed 100.
All that time, and their game plan included one interesting wrinkle – rookie running back Jerick McKinnon making his first NFL start.
They didn’t find a way to make Cordarrelle Patterson a bigger part of the offense. They didn’t fix their offensive line, which was dominated by Detroit’s strong front seven. And offered little support for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who found himself under pressure all day.
The result was a 17-3 loss that was easily explainable, given Detroit's strong defense, but unsightly nontheless. The result was another horrid offensive performance and another division loss.
The Vikings are 2-4 after the toughest six-game stretch of their schedule. Had they emerged from this stretch with Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and a confidence-boosting offensive line, the record would not be worrisome.
The way they’re playing is.
The only bright spot on the offense was McKinnon, who looked explosive with the ball and even handled most of his pass-blocking duties well.
But on a windy day that made passes flutter, the Vikings couldn’t run the ball or throw it downfield, and Bridgewater often looked like a man painfully aware of his circumstances.
Greetings from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium, where Team Strib is preparing for the Vikings-Lions game.
At the beginning of the season, I thought that if everything went right - Matt Cassel played well and stayed healthy, Adrian Peterson performed well in the Vikings' offense, Kyle Rudolph had a breakout season and Mike Zimmer's defense worked well - the Vikings might win two of their first six games.
Despite all of their problems - injuries, suspensions, turmoil - the Vikings have already won two. In a division in which there are no sure things, and with Calvin Johnson's injury short-circuiting what looked like a possibly dominant Lions team, the Vikings have a chance to jump into contention today.
They face the Lions without Johnson and Reggie Bush, at home, in the rare game at TCF Bank that will be considered an advantage for Minnesota. The Lions rarely play well outdoors, and the loss of Johnson and Bush will make them much easier to game-plan against.
Here are the two most prominent aspects of the game I'll be watching today:
-Can Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner help Teddy Bridgewater get comfortable against a surprisingly strong defense? Can he involve Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon, his two most talented players?
-Can Harrison Smith run well on his sore ankle? Can the Vikings stuff running back Joquie Bell, and limit Golden Tate's ability to run after the catch?
If the Vikings can do those two things, I believe they win. And if they win, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot despite all of the terrible things that have happened to them so far.
A lot of bad ideas met up on Thursday night at Lambeau Field, their confluence producing the Vikings' 42-10 loss to the Packers.
Bad idea: Playing on the road on Thursday night. So far this season, road teams on Thursday night are 1-4, with the closest of those margins being 20 points.
Bad idea: Playing Christian Ponder in a football game. He wasn't just bad. He was unprofessional and embarrassing to the sport.
Bad idea: Playing the revitalized Packers offense without much preparation time. The Vikings' defense, impressive in three of the first four weeks, looked lost while trying to reach Aaron Rodgers, cover Jordy Nelson or tackle the previously ineffective Eddie Lacy.
The result was an unsightly addition to the annals of a usually fascinating rivalry.
It also offered evidence that the quarterback position is the most important in sports. With Teddy Bridgewater running the same offense last week, Jarius Wright played like a star, and Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were highly effective.
With Ponder at the helm, even playing against what has been a mediocre defense, the Vikings couldn't function.
Now the Vikings have to hope that Bridgewater's ankle injury isn't a harbinger of future injury problems.
The guy suddenly seems very important.
My column for tomorrow's paper (and online, of course) will address the Twins' managerial search. I have a nomination.
For the moment, though, let's acknowledge that what happened this afternoon was remarkable.
A pro sports organization fired a longtime manager, then held a press conference where the guy who did the firing and the guy who got fired sat next to each other, and the guy who got fired made bald jokes about him and his former boss.
The guy who got fired brought two of his kids to sit in the front row as he said his goodbyes.
The guy who got fired said he agreed with the decision.
At the end of the press conference, the guy who got fired got up, walked away, turned back and said, ``I'll see ya, boss.''
I think the Twins made the right decision. It was time for Ron Gardenhire to go.
For the moment, though, let's enjoy the uniqueness of this afternoon.
Gardy cracking jokes. Terry Ryan speaking bluntly about why he fired his old friend, and why he thinks he should stay on the job. A media relations department that set it all up on the fly.
My column will get into my evaluation of the organization and what it should do next.
For the moment, let's give the Twins and Gardenhire credit for being so remarkably gracious and blunt on what had to be a painful day for all involved.
Knowing how much losing eats at Gardenhire, and that he has had health scares over the years related to high blood pressure, it's my hope that he takes at least a year off and rests before his inevitable return to the dugout.
I frequently butted heads with Gardenhire over the years. I wasn't a fan of many of his strategical moves, and I thought he got too emotional in the late innings.
What I'll always appreciate about him is his sense of humor, his work ethic, his loyalty to his staff, and the way he treated people who can easily be mistreated in baseball clubhouses - the clubbies, the organizational worker bees, and women.
In the early 2000s, one Twins player said a few things to a female reporter that were inappropriate, at best. Gardenhire immediately addressed the player and apologized to the reporter, who wasn't even offended.
Having met plenty of Gardenhire's friends, I came to like Gardy the human much more than Gardy the manager.
So I hope he gets to spend a little time being a human before he subjects himself to the rigors of managing a big-league team again.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 on Tuesday, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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