Chicago’s sports columnists were busy pounding keyboards and the hometown Bears not long after California surfer dude Chad Hutchinson came from way down the depth chart to throw three touchdown passes in a 24-14 victory over the Vikings back on Dec. 5, 2004.
The opening line of one column read: “Exactly what have the Bears been thinking the past 10 weeks?” The kicker at the end read: “Necks were sore Sunday from looking back and wondering what might have been.”
Those of us covering the Vikings 12 years ago read that in the airport the next morning, chuckled and knew the author would be wincing over his words soon enough. Hutchinson, the Bears’ fourth quarterback that year, started the next four games, went 0-4 and threw one touchdown pass. The former St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect, who had started nine games for Bill Parcells in Dallas in 2002, never played again, finishing with three career wins.
The not-so-great Hutchinson comes to mind as some in the media react to what the current Vikings have done to the oh-so-great Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton the past two weeks. Facing two of the NFC’s teams to beat, the Vikings became THE team to beat by flustering Rodgers and flattening Newton.
It’s been the best two-week stretch of dominant defense in recent memory. Yet too many people spent last week asking what’s wrong with Rodgers (at least until he threw four TD passes in the first half against Detroit). And Monday morning in Charlotte, a sports columnist asked the Panthers and his readers two questions: “Why was Cam Newton sacked eight times?” and “Why could Carolina not win at home against a Minnesota team that didn’t have its starting quarterback, running back or left tackle?”
Perhaps it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with everybody else and start asking what’s really right with the Vikings.
Folks in Carolina must have short memories if they can’t figure out Sunday’s loss. Essentially, it was a replay of Super Bowl 50.
In that game, the Broncos stopped the run and teed off on Newton, who was sacked six times, turned the ball over three times, posted a 55.4 passer rating and lost 24-10. Sunday, the Vikings stopped the run and teed off on Newton, who was sacked eight times, turned the ball over three times, posted a 47.6 passer rating and lost 22-10.
Sense a pattern yet?
The Broncos had lost their starting Pro Bowl left tackle before the season began. They didn’t have a dominant running back and, with all due respect to Peyton Manning, his passer rating in Super Bowl 50 was 56.6. Sam Bradford’s was 93.0 on Sunday.
Blinded by all the injuries on offense, people forget that there have been no significant injuries to a dominant defense. And if you’re about to say, “What about Sharrif Floyd?” Mike Zimmer might body slam you from the top turnbuckle.
The Vikings coach has been firing not-so-subtle messages across Floyd’s chronically-injured bow for some time now. The latest came Monday when Zimmer credited Floyd’s replacement, Shamar Stephen, with being the top reason the run defense has climbed from the lower half of the league a year ago to seventh through three games.
Five NFL teams are 3-0. Four of them — Philadelphia, the Vikings, Baltimore and New England — have a top-five scoring defense. Denver is eighth.
The Eagles have a rookie quarterback. The Patriots have used two quarterbacks not named Brady. The Broncos have first-year starter Trevor Siemian, and the Vikings have won with Shaun Hill and Bradford, who arrived 25 days ago.
It’s a team game, folks.
Twelve years ago, quarterback Daunte Culpepper was in the mix for league MVP during a record-setting season. But the defense couldn’t stop Chad Hutchinson.
A year earlier, the Vikings started 6-0 and missed the playoffs. The league’s worst teams that year were the 4-12 Giants, Chargers, Raiders and Cardinals. The Vikings lost to all four.
Kerry Collins had 375 yards passing for the Giants. Doug Flutie was 41 when he passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more in San Diego. Rick Mirer led Oakland with the second-best passer rating (111.9) of his career. And, of course, we all know the infamous tale of the Josh McCown-to-Nate Poole season-ending dagger in the desert.
In those four games, the Vikings sacked Collins, Flutie, Mirer and McCown a total of seven times. That’s one fewer fall than Newton took in 60 minutes on Sunday.
There’s nothing wrong with Cam. But there is something right with the Vikings.