A Wild One
The game began ominously for the Vikings: The Saints‘ Pierre Thomas received the opening kick off and ran it back 56 yards to set up Drew Brees and the prolific New Orleans offense. 8 efficient plays and a PAT later and the Saints led 7-0. A poor offensive series ensued for Minnesota; the Saints soon took the ball back, and charged down the field until they were once again knocking on the door of the endzone. Another TD looked inevitable when Reggie Bush ran 18 yards down to the Minnesota 1. Then, the football gods in the guise of the officials intervened: A holding penalty was called, nullifying Bush’s effort and pushing back the Saints. After failing to achieve the first down the Saints were forced to try a field goal. Martin Gramatica, not the most reliable kicker to begin with, booted the ball low, allowing Kevin Williams‘ flailing hand to deflect it. As if by a miracle, the ball landed in the arms of Antoine Winfield who was already running toward the opposite endzone. Winfield easily outraced the pursuing Saints to score the game-tying, and indeed game-changing, touchdown for Minnesota.
From this point on, the tranquility of normal NFL existence unraveled, and we were all given a glimpse of what football looks like in the Twilight Zone. In this bizarre parallel dimension, a team can outgain their opponent by 130 yards in the first half and still trail by 10. A player of seemingly normal human abilities – we’ll call him Reggie Bush – can suddenly become a supernatural force capable of running back two punts for TDs in a single half, missing a third only because he tripped over his own feet. Meanwhile, a player of super-human dimension – we’ll call him Adrian Peterson – can diminish to the point where he makes barely a dent on the game. And a supposed back-up quarterback – dub him Gus Frerotte – can appear utterly useless for most of the game, then get knocked half-unconscious and transform miraculously into a gunslinger of Favrian proportions.
The NFL Twilight Zone also has the power to turn diminutive cornerbacks into supermen – as we saw last night when Antoine Winfield disappeared into the phone booth and emerged decked out in tights and cape. The stats look impressive on their own – 8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 1 TD – but they don’t begin to quantify how outside-the-pale Winfield’s performance really was. It wasn’t just the lucky big play either – being underneath the blocked field goal, catching it in stride and racing for the score. Winfield played defense like a human scalpel last night, slicing through the Saints to find ball carriers. And he proved his mastery of the blitz too, timing the delay perfectly to fly in, hit Drew Brees, jar loose the ball and pounce on it for the turnover.
On the Other Side This Time
The Tennessee game became a nightmare of turnovers, penalties and gaffes for the Vikings. Monday night, however, it was the opponents who found themselves suffering bad dreams. New Orleans coughed it up 4 times to the Vikings’ 0, and committed 11 penalties to the Vikings’ 7. And the other breaks all seemed to go the Vikings’ way too. Blown calls? The Saints have a pair they can complain about: A facemask on Reggie Bush that wasn’t called (Bush would fumble the ball away on the same play), and a reviewed play where Adrian Peterson appeared to fumble, but the officials somehow ruled he had held onto the ball just long enough. Still, the Saints have mostly themselves to blame for the debacle. It was a holding penalty that ended what would’ve been their second touchdown drive of the first quarter, a bad kick that led to the Vikings’ early game-tying score, a series of mistakes that helped the Vikings slow down what appeared an unstoppable Drew Brees-led offense, and an obvious interference penalty that allowed Minnesota to get in position for the game-winning field goal.
The biggest Vikings’ break, however, was one that seemingly defied reason. Gus Frerotte, who had just returned to the game after being knocked senseless by a defender, stood bravely in the pocket to deliver a high, deep heave to Aundrae Allison in the endzone…except it wasn’t Allison who ended up catching it. Somehow, Bernard Berrian came flashing in from the other side, dove and snatched the ball for the touchdown. An apparent blown play (two men running simultaneously to the post) resulted in a 27-27 tie – and paved the way for one of the most improbable, indescribable wins in recent Vikings history.
The jubilation of crazy victory shouldn’t drown out the grumblings of concern. First on the agenda is the punt coverage. Reggie Bush may in fact be really good, but he is not as good as he looked last night when he nearly housed three straight punts (he had to tackle himself to stop the second). The kick-off coverage was also mostly miserable, giving the Saints the kinds of short-field situations that should make defense coordinators want to lose their lunch. Equally irksome was the offense’s inability to move the ball consistently on the ground. Adrian Peterson managed only 32 yards on 21 carries, a paltry 1.5 average, a circumstance partly attributable to defensive backs flooding the box, partly to poor run blocking, and partly to unimaginative play design. Unless the Vikings plan on winning every game in fluky fashion, they’d better start putting Adrian Peterson in places where he can do damage. Conventional wisdom says that more deep balls will force defenses to stay honest, but you tell me: if you’re a D-coordinator, are you going to worry more about Gus Frerotte slinging it or AD wheeling it? Frerotte would have to complete a high percentage of deep passes for defenses to stop putting 8 and 9 men up. Gus and the receivers will have to continue playing the huge role they did last night if the Vikings are ever going to make teams stop keying on Adrian.
- Bernard Berrian had his best game as a Viking, 6 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD
- After his halfback option toss to Visanthe Shiancoe, Chester Taylor now has as many TD passes on 1 attempt as Tarvaris Jackson has on 60.
- Antoine Winfield became the first Viking ever to run back a blocked field goal for a TD in a regular season game (their only previous such play happened in a playoff game in 1976)
- Winfield got nailed for a 15-yard penalty after said touchdown by jumping up and sliding down the base of the goal post a la Steve Smith. The move became a penalty only because Winfield ended up on the ground – a violation of the league’s new policy against players going to the ground during celebrations.
- 5 of Winfield’s 8 tackles resulted in negative yardage for the Saints
- Cedric Griffin led the team with 10 tackles
- Reggie Bush ran for just 29 yards on 12 carries. He made up for it by catching 7 balls for 64 yards and returning 5 punts for 176 yards and 2 TDs.
- Chris Kluwe was supposed to kick the ball out of bounds to keep it away from Reggie Bush. After he failed to do so, coach Brad Childress became angry at him, and said after the game, “If he can’t do that, then I’ll find somebody who can kick the ball out of bounds.”
Topics: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Aundrae Allison, Bernard Berrian, Brad Childress, Cedric Griffin, Chester Taylor, Chris Kluwe, Drew Brees, Gus Frerotte, Kevin Williams, Martin Gramatica, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, Tarvaris Jackson, Visanthe Shiancoe