Tarvaris Jackson completed 77 percent of his passes for a career-high 171 yards in a 29-22 victory over the Raiders on Sunday at the Metrodome.
Two plays in the first half overshadowed anything else Jackson did while playing indoors against a lousy opponent at home. First, Jackson floated an interception into double coverage in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 3-yard line early in the first quarter. Then, with 53 seconds left in the half, he held the ball far too long, got clobbered and fumbled it away.
The first mistake prevented the Vikings from taking a 14-0 lead. The second one enabled Oakland to tie the score at halftime. Add them together and, well, if Jackson does possess what coaches like to call the indescribable "it" factor, he did another darn good job of keeping "it" to himself.
The good news is through the grace of God and Al Davis' Commitment to Eeewww!, Jackson got the win, baby, and, by gosh, he wasn't even hurt. And that sets up Jackson's most intriguing and possibly most important test in an evaluation process that absolutely cannot be allowed to continue beyond this season.
Vikings coach Brad Childress wouldn't connect any kind of end-all importance to Jackson's evaluation and Sunday's game against the Giants (7-3) at Giants Stadium. But Childress did admit this game contains more of the key elements by which young quarterbacks are judged.
"It is significant from the standpoint that it's hostile, it's noisy, it's a very good pass rush, it's a team playing with a lot of confidence, so it will be good to evaluate [Jackson] in those confines, within the confines of our offense and just watch him manage it and play and do the right thing with the football," Childress said. "And, yeah, [he] has to do something. You don't get to play them all at home. You don't get to play them all against the Oakland Raiders. These guys [the Giants] are a 7-3 football team."
The Giants lead the NFL in sacks with 34. Left defensive end Michael Strahan, who turns 36 on Wednesday, has eight. So does right end Osi Umenyiora. The only defensive end tandem in the league with more combined sacks is Green Bay's Aaron Kampman (nine) and Kabeer Gbaja- Biamila (8½).
Jackson, who has missed all or parts of six games this season, sat out both Green Bay games because of injuries. That's another reason this game is important. In his two starts last season, Jackson didn't face a team that finished the year with a winning record. In six starts this season, he has faced only two teams that now have a winning record.
Childress said the Vikings will "do different things" to provide extra pass protectors on the edges at times. But he also said the offensive tackles must be responsible for some 1-on-1 blocking.
So that puts left tackle Bryant McKinnie on Umenyiora and second-year right tackle Ryan Cook on Strahan, a 15-year vet who leads all active players with 140½ career sacks. And, oh yeah, Cook also will have to deal some with 24-year-old Justin Tuck, who has seven sacks.
(Psst: Five bucks says the first false start comes within the first three snaps.)
No doubt the Vikings will watch film of what the Giants did against Philadelphia on Sept. 30. Facing an offense similar to Childress' West Coast attack, the Giants set a team record by sacking Donovan McNabb 12 times in a 16-3 victory. Umenyiora had a team-record six against left tackle Winston Justice.
The killer pass rush. Giants Stadium in November. An opponent that has won seven of eight. It all makes for a good game to shake some answers out of T-Jack, who, up to this point, has carried himself more like the backup left guard than the franchise quarterback.
And, believe it or not, Sunday's game also is an important test because this could be one of the last weeks in which the Vikings still are in the wild-card chase. Don't laugh. They are 4-6, but the remaining schedule after Sunday is weak. And, besides, since when does a team have to be all that good to earn an NFC wild-card berth?
Batter up, T-Jack.
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org