On a moment-by-moment basis, the NFL can be unsightly, as television timeouts provide the only respite from penalties and replay reviews, but the league remains the undisputed king of making you feel.
Sunday afternoon, the Vikings and Rams played an often unwatchable football game that was nevertheless relentlessly compelling.
The Vikings had to survive the same kinds of cheap shots from the same defensive coach, Gregg Williams, that inflated Brett Favre’s ankle to the size of a cantaloupe in the 2009 NFC title game in New Orleans. Two of Williams’ defenders took runs at Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the second knocking him out of the game with a shoulder to the head as he slid on the turf, and Mike Zimmer didn’t hide his anger during a millisecond postgame coaches’ handshake with Jeff Fisher, or during his postgame comments.
The Vikings won on an overtime field goal 21-18, bringing the team surging off the bench to envelop kicker Blair Walsh, and moments later the TCF Bank Stadium scoreboard was showing the Green Bay Packers losing at Carolina, as thousands stayed to continue cheering.
It is early November. The leaves have turned or fallen, the air has grown baby teeth, and the Vikings are tied for first place in the NFC North with the rich cousins from the East. This is the best Vikings have had it in six years.
“I really like our football team,’’ Zimmer said.
In a little more than three hours, fans and players could feel anger, righteous anger, redemption, angst, joy, sadness (for severely injured players), and hope.
“The mood was it was us against the world at that point,’’ Walsh said of the sideline atmosphere after the Bridgewater hit. “We weren’t getting any help from anybody at that point. We kind of wanted to stick it to them. We thought it was a dirty play. That’s kind of the MO on that team — a little dirty.”
“I would say if we were on the street, we would have had a fight,” Zimmer said.
However far the Vikings are from proving themselves, however far they may be from winning a championship, they have made themselves matter, just as the schedule becomes daunting.
For the next five weeks, the Vikings will play teams with records currently at .500 or better, including the Packers, with first place at stake. Carolina is the only team in the NFC without two losses. The Vikings might have picked a good time to be good. Or good-ish.
The Vikings are 6-2 despite having scored only 168 points. There are only two other teams in the NFL that are .500 or better who have scored fewer — St. Louis and Seattle.
“We’re a pretty resilient football team,’’ Zimmer said. “I think they believe. They believe in each other. I think we play very good complementary football. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always pretty when you get the W.’’
Sometime it’s ugly even when this team wins, as it won Sunday not with precision passing but 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-elbows running from Adrian Peterson, and Everson Griffen’s spin-move sack, and game-saving open-field tackles from Xavier Rhodes and Brian Robison, and Walsh finding his goalpost GPS just in time to win two consecutive games.
The Vikings won the coin flip to begin overtime, and Zimmer chose to play with the wind instead of taking the ball. It was a logical move because the wind was so harsh and because Bridgewater was out. It also spoke to Zimmer’s belief in his defense, which is more than faith-based. The Vikings are tied with Seattle for the fewest points allowed in the NFC, and are the least-penalized team in the NFL.
They are built to play close, low-scoring games, and they might be built to make their fans watch their games and the scoreboard at the same time.
On a day when Zimmer couldn’t hide his anger, the Vikings offered hope. Until this season, they had made it to 6-2 only once since 2003.
As the air grows baby teeth, they are headed for two months of football that matters, and scoreboards that must be watched.