The Vikings are 1-3 after a mistake-laden 30-17 loss at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. Actually, “mistake-laden” may be a bit of an understatement. Gaffes, errors and self-inflicted blows defined the game for the Vikings, who were trying to get back to .500 after starting the season 0-2. It began early, when Naufahu Tahi fumbled the ball over to Tennessee at their 37, setting up a touchdown to give the Titans a 10-0 first quarter lead. A 28-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown run got it back to 10-7 – then Peterson went from savior to goat by coughing up his own fumble late in the second to set up a second first-half TD for Tennessee. Turnovers were only part of the story for the Vikes however. There were also the drops, including a huge one by Bernard Berrian when he appeared to have a step on the cover man deep down the right side-line, and the drive-killing penalties, like the pair of pre-snap snafus that scuttled the Vikes’ attempt at grabbing the early second half momentum. Some of the mistakes were downright bizarre – like Gus Frerotte apparently forgetting about the two-minute warning at the end of the first half when the Vikes were driving but had run out of timeouts.
And someone needs to explain to me how stuff like this happens to a professional team: It’s late in the fourth quarter and you’re significantly behind, with only one timeout remaining. You’re coming out for your first play of a series, and someone lines up wrong and the play clock runs down while you wait for them to get where they’re supposed to be and you have to burn that one lone timeout you have. How does a player on an NFL team not know where he’s supposed to line up? It’s not like an audible was called or the defense was shifting. Such plays, it seems to me, are symptomatic of an overall lack of discipline and focus – the very stuff this team was always criticized for when Mike Tice was coach. But that stuff was supposed to go away when the loosey-goosey Tice was replaced with the more old-school Brad Childress. Except it hasn’t. This team still goes braindead in ways that make no sense to the average human. And sometimes it’s the coaches themselves going braindead. When tomorrow’s press conference comes, I want someone to ask Brad Childress why, in the 4th quarter with the team down 23-10, he’s handing the ball off on 2nd and 10 inside his own territory. So much for a sense of urgency with the team behind. And so much for a never-say-die mentality – Brad Childress proved pretty definitively that he doesn’t possess one when he elected to punt down 30-17 with 2 minutes left in the game. Then again, this was after Gus Frerotte had been injured and Tarvaris Jackson had entered the game. Maybe Childress just knew that Jackson had no chance of making the 13 yards needed to pick up the first and give the team at least a glimmer of a shot to mount a fluke comeback.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
This game will be picked apart mercilessly for the next week, and the key suspects will be raked over the coals – but let’s hope the positives don’t get lost amidst the venting. Positive: Adrian Peterson ran 18 times for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns. Positive: Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian both went over 70 yards receiving and Berrian caught one gorgeous deep ball from Frerotte to set up the late touchdown that momentarily let the Vikings back into the game. Positive: Antoine Winfield is playing at a Pro Bowl level at cornerback. Teams are flat-out not throwing to his side. Of course, this means Cedric Griffin is being picked on. But, despite the inadequacies of the secondary, quarterbacks are not dominating this team the way they did in the past. Kerry Collins threw for only 199 yards this week after Jake Delhomme was similarly stifled last week. I realize it’s Kerry Collins and the Titans don’t like to pass too much anyway, but you have to admit – if this had been the Vikings defense of two years ago or even last year, Collins probably would’ve racked up 300+. Many a mediocre quarterback and receiving corps was made to seem All-World when faced with the empty holes in the Vikings’ defense – but that just isn’t happening this year. And it’s not just the improved front four. In fact, Jared Allen, the alleged great pass rusher, did barely anything through most of today’s game. The real pressure came on blitzes, especially in the second half. Leslie Frazier has developed into one of the best D-Coordinators in the league. And through it all the Vikings remain stout against the run. They limited the Chris Johnson/LenDale White combo to 74 yards today, though Johnson did manage a pair of touchdowns.
Compare the two teams’ stats and what you realize is that the Vikings, in many ways, did not play a bad game. They had more passing yards and rushing yards than Tennessee, and were better on third downs, and were almost even in time of possession. They lost the game through penalties, turnovers and other various and sometimes inexplicable mental mistakes. If they’d played a solid, relatively gaffe-free game, they would certainly not have been thumped on the scoreboard the way they were, and they may even have won it. And I’m absolutely not making excuses – I’m simply stating facts. There were stretches of this game, on offense and defense, when the Vikings looked every bit the equal of a Tennessee team that stands now at 4-0. But the Vikings consistently shot themselves in the foot, while Tennessee went about their business in a professional way.
I Don’t Know What to Do
I wish I had a magic wand I could wave over this team and make them more focused and disciplined but I don’t and neither does Brad Childress. It’s likely that we’ll have to continue enduring the boneheaded mistakes that marred today’s game – which means this team will never rise above mediocrity. Is it Childress’s fault that his players can’t seem to keep their heads in the game? He’s often been accused of making things too complicated, giving guys too many things to think about, trying to micro-manage each situation to the point of confusion. Maybe there’s truth in this. It brings me back to an incident from last year: Adrian Peterson caught a kick-off near the sideline and stepped out of bounds at the one, where the Vikings were then forced to start their next drive. AD was bashed for a rookie mistake, but it turned out Childress had coached him to try this play on the basis of some arcane rule that says you get the ball at the 40 if you manage to step out of bounds and then field the ball. “We coach our players quite often on that fact,” Childress said after the game, being rather smug about it. The question for Childress then was, “Why are you bothering to coach your players “often” about a situation that will almost never come up (since most kickers don’t suck bad enough to float the ball near the sideline like that)?” Adrian’s mistake happened precisely because his coach had given him too many things to think about. And this team plays that way almost every week – like a bunch of guys who are trying to juggle fifty things in their heads at every moment rather than just do their specific job. Childress, it seems to me, is a decent football mind but a bad manager of talent and game situation. Things run smoothly some of the time – but other times, the game seems to move too fast for Childress to keep up. Perhaps he is himself just trying to think of too many things at once. He may be the most anal-retentive coach in the history of the NFL, and his nit-picky style has resulted in a team that has a talent for melting down in ways seldom seen in the annals of professional sports.
Tags: Adrian Peterson Antoine Winfield Bernard Berrian Bobby Wade Brad Childress Cedric Griffin Chris Johnson Gus Frerotte Jake Delhomme Jared Allen Kerry Collins Lendale White Leslie Frazier Mike Tice Minnesota Vikings Naufahu Tahi Tarvaris Jackson Tennessee Titans