Jim Souhan: A big game arrives, and so has success for Vikings

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2012 - 8:58 AM

Sure, beating the Packers would be huge. But don't forget the strides that Leslie Frazier's team already has made.

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There were a lot of reasons coming into this season to believe Vikings coach Leslie Frazier’s job security was in doubt. Now, he’s looking at a contract extension.

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It's nice to have a big game in town again, even if that means watching politicians falling all over each other to be the biggest boosters in town, lighting up tunnels and bridges in purple. R.T. Rybak doing the Jared Allen calf-roping bit on Hennepin Avenue seemed a bit much.

The Packers will play at the Metrodome/Mall of America Field/Future Demolition Site Sunday in the biggest game for the Vikings franchise since their epic loss in the 2009 NFC title game in New Orleans, and the biggest game at the Dome since the Vikings whipped the Cowboys in the '09 division playoffs.

"I think the young guys who haven't experienced a game like this, they're going to get to see it firsthand and play some big-time football,'' Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We're obviously excited, the guys who have been there, and now we're getting back to it.''

It's a big game because a victory puts the Vikings in the playoffs and dents the Packers' aura of divisional invincibility, but in a lot of ways it's more dessert than main course. In a lot of ways, the Vikings already have reached their goals for the season.

Four months ago, the Wilfs didn't know whether Leslie Frazier could succeed as a head coach. Now Frazier is in line for a contract extension. While the Colts' duo of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians has helped revitalize their franchise, they've also won in a mediocre division and because the team tanked last season, while Frazier has had to slap a lot of mortar and super glue on his roster to win games. Frazier is as deserving as anyone of coach-of-the-year votes.

Four months ago, the Wilfs could have worried that Adrian Peterson would never be the same. Now they know he's not the same. He's better than he's ever been, and showing no signs of wearing down. He'll be their franchise back for years to come.

Four months ago, the Vikings offensive line was a work in progress. Now it's one of the main reasons for the team's turnaround, as John Sullivan has become one of the best centers in the game.

Four months ago, the Wilfs didn't know exactly what they had in Matt Kalil, the consolation prize for missing out on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Now they can pencil him in for about 10 Pro Bowl appearances.

Four months ago, the Vikings coordinators were unproven, and a threat to Frazier's job security. He had replaced Fred Pagac with the highly anonymous Alan Williams, and had invested great faith in Bill Musgrave's ability to salvage Christian Ponder and establish a power-running offense. Williams has coached a defense that stuffed San Francisco and Houston, and Musgrave and his assistants have found creative ways to open holes for Peterson while coaxing competent play down the stretch from Ponder.

Four months ago, the schedule offered a few easy victories but threatened to crush the team down the stretch. It was hard to find any analysts outside the organization who believed that this team was capable of more than six or seven victories, or of surviving December. They enter Sunday's game on a three-game winning streak, with their victory at Houston last Sunday providing their most impressive road victory since Brett Favre beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2009.

There is always another game, and there are always problems to solve. The Vikings roster is filled with unproven young players and near-the-end-of-the-line veterans, and while their patience with Ponder has been justified, they can't feel confident that he'll become the franchise quarterback they hoped he would be.

Whatever problems remain, a victory would further justify Frazier's approach. Instead of treating 2012 like the rebuilding season many of us thought it was, he has maintained faith that this team could make the playoffs, that it need not lower its expectations because of recent history.

In his own, quiet way, Frazier made a seemingly crazy prediction, promising that last year's 3-13 team could become competitive in one year.

In his own, quiet, way, he's made that prediction come true, regardless of what happens against the Packers.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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