The Vikings wrap up a tough four-game early season stretch this afternoon against the Tennessee Titans. After falling in an 0-2 hole, the Vikes have a shot at pulling back to .500 – a pretty good feat considering the level of competition…and considering how close the whole thing seemed to completely unraveling just two weeks ago. It goes to show what a roller coaster an NFL season is. After Week 2 a lot of people were ready to write this team off, but one win later and suddenly the ship is righted. And if the Vikes beat Tennessee the bandwagon will get crowded again.
The Titans have themselves had a pretty interesting early season. Like the Vikings, they had to switch quarterbacks, though in their case the starter went down due to injury. Titans fans might be forgiven if they viewed Vince Young‘s knee injury as a blessing in disguise, given the direction Vince’s mental state seemed to be going. The ’06 NFL Rookie of the Year had a tough season in ’07 and was set to have an even tougher ’08 – and the strain was clearly getting to him. The fragile Mr. Young couldn’t handle being booed by the home fans. He was so unstable that family members and team officials even called the cops to find him when he suddenly went missing (a situation that still hasn’t been cleared up). This was just the latest in an apparent string of disheartening episodes for Young: In an off-season interview, Young admitted that he contemplated retirement after his rookie year, and it’s since been revealed that he tried to beg out of last year’s Titans playoff loss to the Chargers. If ever a guy was a candidate for some kind of convenient injury, Young was it. Now he’s off getting his knee and head together and Kerry Collins is the QB. Vikings fans have vivid memories of Mr. Collins from the infamous 41-0 NFC Championship Game shellacking at the hands of the Giants. Collins has himself been through a lot since then, including a stint with the Raiders (if that doesn’t make you want to give up football, nothing will). Now the former problem player is the stabilizing influence the Titans needed in the wake of Head-Case Vince.
Gus Frerotte has had a similar equilibrium-restoring influence on the Vikings, whose offense was in shambles after two weeks of Tarvaris Jackson. The lesson? Old slow quarterbacks who know what they’re doing are better than young mobile ones who can’t keep their stuff together. Leadership is at least as important as physical ability when it comes to quarterbacks, and the fact is, neither Jackson nor Young has shown much leadership. Young is too manic-depressive and Jackson too timid. I don’t know how you fix either situation – maybe electro-shock in Young’s case or a personality transplant in T-Jack’s. At any rate, both teams have remedied the issue by calling on age and experience. Don’t expect anything flashy from either QB. Expect lots of running – from Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, and from Tennessee’s own one-two punch of rookie Chris Johnson and third-year wrecking ball LenDale White. The term “old school” is going to be mentioned quite a bit in respect to this game. Not only because these teams emphasize running, but because they play physical defense.
That being said…I think this game will absolutely come down to quarterback play. Both teams can run the ball and both teams can stop the run. Neither team is likely to scorch the other through the air, but just the fact that yards figure to be at a premium means it will only take one big play to turn the tide. Whichever quarterback can avoid the bad mistake and make that one big play will probably win the game for his team. The rest of this figures to be a stalemate, a quagmire, a veritable war of attrition. Rob Bironas and Ryan Longwell will probably both earn their money today. I’m banking on the Vikings’ D-Line being slightly better than the Titans’ and maybe pressuring Collins a tiny bit more than Frerotte gets pressured. Collins makes the mistake, Frerotte makes the one big play, and the Vikings squeak out a 14-10 win.