#1: AD Saves the Day
Adrian Peterson didn’t just win the game yesterday for the Vikings – he saved their season. By his sheer talent and explosiveness, he rescued his team from getting totally buried in the NFC North. It was all about Adrian yesterday – not great offensive design, not brilliant team effort, not even the Bears necessarily being stinky and lame (though their ultra-conservative play-calling in the first half didn’t hurt). Adrian didn’t just deserve a game-ball yesterday – he deserved Brad Childress and every other member of the organization going up to him and personally thanking him for saving their butts from being 1-4. He deserved gratitude from his offensive teammates for making them look good, and from the defense for giving them a big enough lead that their choking-dog pass coverage didn’t kill them.
#2 Scary Hester
Despite Adrian Peterson’s superhuman efforts, the Vikings still needed a last-second field goal to win the game. Why did this happen? Why, when the team had a two touchdown lead with less than 3 minutes left, did it end up coming down to a 55-yard Ryan Longwell prayer? One reason: Fear of Devin Hester. The Vikings’ game-plan after Hester’s early punt returned TD was simple – don’t let Hester return anymore. Probably a sound plan. Unless you’re up by 14 and time is running out, and kicking it away from Hester means conceding too much field position. A key play in that whole late-game sequence was Chris Kluwe’s 23 yard punt, which gave the Bears the ball on their own 47 (leading to Mushin Muhammad’s 33 yard TD several plays hence). Kluwe has a big leg and there’s no reason for him to be only punting it 23 yards – unless he’s trying to angle it out before Hester can get his hands on it. Kluwe, by trying to carry out the coach’s orders to kick it away from Hester, handed the Bears the ball only 3 yards shy of mid-field with 2:56 left. Sorry, but I just kick it to Hester there – and if he runs it all the way back, he runs it all the way back.
The Muhammad TD was not the only score set up by the Vikings’ serious Hester-aversion. It was 24-14 early in the fourth when the Vikes, after a Longwell field goal, kicked a ground-ball that was fielded by the up-man, who just happened to be wide receiver Rashied Davis. Davis ran it back 20 yards to give the Bears the ball on their 42, leading ultimately to a field goal and a 24-17 score. This was really the beginning of the near-choke that ended with Longwell having to kick that 55-yarder. And it happened because the Vikes were scared of Hester (and the Bears were smart enough to stick a guy like Davis in there as the up-man, realizing the Vikings would probably squib it).
#3 Coverage Crap
It’s fashionable to blame the lack of good defensive ends for the Vikings’ miserable pass D, but I think it’s time for the secondary to get more of the heat. I’m going to start with the best corner the team has, Antoine Winfield. Good tackler, Antoine – not the world’s greatest back-pedaler though, as he demonstrated by falling down on Bernard Berrian’s touchdown catch. I really can’t wait to hear Antoine’s explanation for that one. Wet turf? Wrong cleat-length? Temporary vertigo? Shiny object in the stands distracted him? And what about that Muhammad touchdown – the one that gave us that justified sinking feeling. Seems to me that if you’re going to play soft – and the defense at that point was softer than a marshmallow – then you might just as well have your safeties way deep to keep anyone from getting in the end-zone under any circumstances. Yet Muhammad was able to catch it relatively short and scoot by everyone for the score. Can’t blame that entirely on the lack of pass-rush. At some point, somebody’s gotta know where they’re supposed to be. Maybe the coaches just aren’t calling the right defenses? Or maybe our secondary guys are just stupid and don’t know what they’re supposed to do.
#4 Bears Play It Too Safe
Let’s face it – the Bears probably could’ve gashed our pee-wee pass defense if they’d tried. But they didn’t try – not until late in the game, when desperation set in. Part of the reason, I suspect, was how well Cedric Benson ran it early. Our run D, normally stout, gave up several good runs to Benson, perhaps lulling the Bears into thinking they could run it and didn’t need to air it out. Bad mistake – cause every team throws it on the Vikings, and that’s why almost every team beats the Vikings. Just ask the Chiefs. They looked pedestrian in the first half, then came out in the second half and started chucking it – and ended up winning the game. If the Bears had heeded the examples given to them by other teams, they would’ve scrapped their safe game-plan and just let Griese fire it all over the stadium. I venture to say they might’ve won.
#5 T-Jack Still Not Any Good
The euphoria of victory can blind us to reality sometimes – that’s why we need the cold water of truth dumped over our heads. There’s no colder water we could douse ourselves with this merry morn than Tarvaris Jackson‘s stat line from yesterday: 9/23, 136 yards, 5.9 average, 1 TD, 0 INT.
Oh I know – he didn’t throw a pick. He managed the game. I say bullpoop. 9 for 23? That doesn’t cut it, even in a game management sense. And how’s this for even colder water: Take away T-Jack’s 60 yard TD strike to Troy Williamson and his average goes from 5.9 to 3.4. Yup, 76 yards on 8-for-22. Sorry, but that flat sucks. Yes, I know, we didn’t need a big game from our QB – we ran all over them with Adrian Peterson. But do we expect Adrian to put up 224 and 3 TDs every game? He’s practically going to have to, if we expect to win with a QB who can’t even make the simple, short throws half the time.
Jackson’s big asset is supposed to be his athleticism. He can move. He can presumably scramble and make plays. Except he doesn’t. He clearly lacks the instincts of a Romo or a McNabb, guys who use their legs to set up their arm. The supposedly mobile Jackson is really just a pocket-passer – and not a very good one either. We need a lot more from him if this big win is going to lead to a roll. I seriously doubt we’re going to get it.