The signature game of the Vikings‘ 2005 season – the game we all remember from that up-and-down year, which saw the team finish 9-7 and barely out of the playoffs – was played in the Meadowlands against the New York Giants. The Vikings, a team not exactly known for big road wins outdoors, did very little offensively in that game, which they won 24-21. 21 of their points came courtesy of returns – a punt run back for seven by Mewelde Moore, a kick for seven by Koren Robinson and an interception for seven by Darren Sharper. It was as unlikely a victory as you’ll ever see, one that propelled the team to a long winning streak, and almost into the post-season.
So here we are in 2007. The Vikings entered today languishing well behind the elite teams in the NFC. They were again in the Meadowlands, to face a 7-3 Giants squad fresh off a dominating win over the Detroit Lions. Surely, the last thing anyone expected was a repeat of that bizarre, season-turning win two years ago under Mike Tice.
However, improbably, the Vikings have again emerged from the Meadowlands with a crazy win, 41-17 over a stunned New York Giants team. As before, the offense was far from electrifying. But the Vikings have shown that, at least when they play the Giants in New Jersey, they don’t need a conventional offense. This time they didn’t even need any special teams heroics. They only needed to face Eli Manning, a quarterback they have thoroughly owned the two times they’ve matched up against him.
Eli Manning is now 0-2 lifetime against the Vikings with 8 interceptions (4 in each game), 4 returned for touchdowns (3 today). The first pick today came courtesy of Manning’s old nemesis Darren Sharper, who, just like in 2005, ran it all the way back for a TD. And it only got worse from there. A tipped ball by Ben Leber – another guy Manning won’t be sending a Christmas card anytime soon – led to a Dwight Smith interception and 93 yard touchdown return early in the fourth. Then, on the next Giants possession, Manning tried forcing one into Jeremy Shockey, and had Chad Greenway pick it off and bring it back for a third return touchdown of the day.
Manning’s nightmare day was made worse by the Vikings’ confusing blitz scheme, which led to a lot of up-the-middle pressure. But it wasn’t all Eli’s fault. His receivers dropped plenty of balls on him. His offensive line committed dumb penalties. The Giants offense looked crisp on their first possession, when they marched down the field for a touchdown, but would spend most of the rest of the day struggling just to get in synch.
The Viking offense distinguished itself mainly by holding onto the ball, save for one Tarvaris Jackson fumble, which took a lucky forward bounce right into the arms of Bobby Wade. Yes, it was that kind of day for the Vikings, who seemed like they could do no wrong. Not that the Giants defense didn’t give them plenty of trouble. The pass rush was all over Tarvaris Jackson as expected, but T-Jack bore up against that pressure like a professional quarterback, and was even able to make some plays despite being flushed and harrassed. The embattled Jackson took a big step today toward silencing his many critics. He was accurate, completing 10 of 12 passes. He made the one big deep throw he attempted, hitting Sidney Rice for a 60 yard score on the first possession of the game. He committed no turnovers. All this despite the running game being totally stifled by the Giants.
Now the Vikings find themselves at 5-6, just a game behind the Lions for the second wildcard spot. And they get the Lions next week at home – with Adrian Peterson perhaps back on the field. If the Vikings do somehow manage to sneak their way into the playoffs, they will look back at today’s Meadowlands win as the one that turned them from a floundering team into a contending one.