A week after stunning the Bears in Soldier Field, thanks mostly to an otherworldly performance by rookie phenom Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings returned to their anemic offensive form against the Dallas Cowboys. There would be no big AD highlight reel from this, the back’s first pro game in his home-state of Texas – instead, Peterson would give up a key fumble late in the game, helping Dallas seal a 24-14 victory.
The game would prove to be more about gaffes – on both sides – than any one player’s great individual performance. In the first-half it was Dallas committing the big mistakes. The first came in the 2nd quarter with the game tied 7-7: Dallas was deep in Viking territory when Tony Romo was sacked by Kenechi Udeze and coughed up the ball. Kevin Williams then scooped up the fumble and rumbled 84 yards for an apparent score. Ray Edwards was called for holding on the play however and the touchdown was brought back, though the Vikings retained possession. The Vikes failed to score on their ensuing offensive series, but the turnover at least had kept Dallas from padding their lead. The next Dallas fumble would prove costlier: Romo completed a pass to Patrick Crayton who fumbled as he was being tackled by Antoine Winfield. Ben Leber picked up the loose ball, then lateraled to Cedric Griffin who took it down the sideline, fumbling it himself but managing to pick it back up and finally score (paying homage to former Cowboy Deion Sanders in the process). The Vikings now found themselves up 14-7 – somewhat improbably, given Dallas’s complete statistical domination.
Things would change in the second half however, and it would be the Vikings committing the damaging mistakes. The game was 14-14 after a Marion Barber touchdown: The Vikings managed to drive the ball deep enough for a field goal try, but for some reason Ryan Cook didn’t get on the field on-time and the team was forced to call a time-out. Who knows what would’ve happened had Cook not committed his unforgivable rookie mistake – what did happen, though, was that Dallas blocked the field goal after the time-out and took the ball all the way back for the score and the 21-14 lead. The Viking defense was at least able to stiffen against Dallas after this and keep the score from getting worse. And the Vikings had their chances offensively – but simply failed to capitalize. The death-blow came after the Cowboys pinned the Vikings deep, and forced Adrian Peterson to fumble. The ensuing Dallas possession led to a field goal, and the 24-14 score that would hold up until the end.
The frustration of Peterson’s so-so performance – he was held to only 63 yards after putting up 224 on Chicago, but did manage to score the Vikings’ initial touchdown on a nifty first quarter run – paled in comparison to the torture of watching Viking QB Tarvaris Jackson once again run Brad Childress’s offense into the ground. One need only look at Jackson’s final numbers to understand: 6/19, 72 yards, 0 TDs. Everyone knows the Vikings are a running team, by necessity if not always choice, but even running/defense-dominated squads need something from their QB – and today Tarvaris Jackson gave them nothing. Actually, that’s not entirely fair – Jackson did give them a few things. He gave them sideline passes thrown too far out-of-bounds for the receivers to be able to catch them. He gave them balls way over receivers’ heads. He gave them an underthrow to Bobby Wade on a play that might’ve resulted in a touchdown, and did result in Wade giving Jackson an earful on the sideline. There may be some reassurance for Viking fans in the fact that, at one point, Brad Childress himself could be seen yelling at Jackson after a particularly bad misthrow. Perhaps even Childress, who’s stuck by Jackson nearly as stubbornly as Lovie Smith stuck by Rex Grossman, is finally coming to realize that his project QB simply doesn’t have what it takes, and if the Vikings hope to salvage anything from this season, they have to pull the plug on the kid.
There is plenty to salvage too. We have a dynamic offensive weapon in Adrian Peterson, an offensive line that can often look dominant (they didn’t push Dallas around as much as they did the Bears, but there were still some decent holes at times), and a defense that despite its tendency to give up big chunks of yards through the air is still stalwart against the run, and has a knack for the kind of big plays that can turn games (as today’s game was turned for a time in the first-half). It’s unlikely that the Vikings would be able to manage any kind of playoff run in any event, but still, it’s a football coach’s job to put his team in position to win games – and it’s become all-too-evident that, as long as Tarvaris Jackson is behind center, the Vikings will not consistently find themselves in that position. Adrian Peterson is not going to get 224 and 3 TDs every week, as was proven today. The team needs a passing game, and Tarvaris Jackson is simply not equipped to give them one. So, Chilly – time to swallow your pride and end the T-Jack experiment. Put in Kelly Holcomb or whatever other veteran you can scrape up and try to make something of the rest of the season. I would not be saying this unless Jackson had been truly brutal – and today he was truly brutal. He’s flat-out the worst quarterback in the NFL – and it’s not really even close.