My 7th grade football team has started each of its' first two games by not showing up. We have been outscored 36-6 in two games. The second halves we have played even. Yes, we are 0-2 and wondering how good we are. But I can take solace in the fact that each game we played better in the second half. I attribute the beginnings to a mental fear of what lies ahead. After they realize it is not so scary (and a motivational huddle) they seem to adjust and make better plays.
But the Vikings have been the opposite. They have started the first three games as an elite NFL team, worthy of Super Bowl mention. And then they go to the locker room. What comes out can only be 'euphemized' as ugly. Yes, the Lions are a legitimate team, full of more talent than a grown fan can recall it Detroit. But the reality is that Minnesota has done this three consecutive games. Each 2nd half we have come out ready to lose.
I try to picture what is being said in the locker room that so deflates this team. I reason that in each game the opponent has made adjustments to find holes against a dominant defense. In this game, finding Calvin Johnson (7-108-2) and Brandon Pettigrew (11-112) was the solution on offense. Detroit amassed more than 300 yards in the second half after being stymied in the first.
And surely the opponent is able to figure out how to adjust each week against this Bill Musgrave offense that depends on more than Adrian Peterson to succeed. Donovan McNabb was on and off throughout the game. Receivers dropped balls on occasion. Offensive linemen were run over by a very physical Lions defensive front at times. The Vikings moved the ball enough, but did not finish a few drives, and were stopped late in the game on a fourth and one where a field goal would have given them a six point lead. They didn't trust the defense.
The saddest part of that is the defense had maybe their best series right after that miscue. Jared Allen was knocking Matt Stafford back in 2009, and forcing overtime. The game was probably decided on the coin flip. Detroit called heads and won. It looked as if the defense would hold again, but a tremendous catch by Calvin Johnson led to a next play field goal that gave Detroit their first win in Minneapolis in a very long time.
I was stunned again. My mind drifts to the movie "Groundhog Day", where the tragedy is repeated endlessly. Or to the legend of Sisyphus, who pushes a boulder endlessly without success as punishment. I cannot fathom how a team can dominate a game to the level of this one, and still find a way to lose. I rarely think coaches are responsible for outcomes of games (much) but I am beginning to wonder. It is the same players. What can turn off momentum so thoroughly between halves?
I want to go into the locker room at half time and scream at my Vikings. It works on 7th graders, maybe it is what they need? I realize little kids have to overcome mental hurdles that are anxiety and fear based, but I did not expect it from my professional team. I keep waiting for the game when it will change. I do not think changing quarterbacks or positional substituting is a fix. This is a mental thing.
And while I still believe in this team, I confess I was wrong about the Lions game. I thought that they were slightly overrated, we were underrated, and that we would storm the field and not relent until finish. I expected a ten to twenty point win if all went well. The close loss tells me we are not far off. But it also tells me we are 0-3.
Instead, I stare blankly at the television, watching the Patriots do the same against the Bills, the Eagles lose at home, or the Jets pounded by the Raiders. I am not aided by knowing favorites lost. I take no comfort in that we were underdogs in this game. I was convinced that we were better than the sum of our halves.
And I was wrong. No stairway to heaven.